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Feb-10-2010 11:17printcomments

Congressional Tug-of-War Over Veterans' Heathcare?

An unknown number of veterans and dependents were exposed to environmental hazards on military installations. DOD refuses to accept responsibility for the health effects of exposure. Two bills introduced in the Senate and House provide for health care coverage. Major differences in the bills need to be worked out.

Toxic water

(WASHINGTON D.C.) - The Department of Defense (DOD)’s refusal to accept responsibility for the health effects of exposure to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, has left veterans and their dependents, many without health care, out in the cold.

Both the Senate and the House have introduced bills to provide the needed heath care, but the differences between the bills will require bipartisanship compromise.

The Senate bill includes environmental hazards at all military installations (except for those in Iraqi and Afghanistan) while the House bill covers only Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

Other differences are potential deal breakers. The Senate bill requires that DOD provide health care through its TRICARE insurance program while the House bill gives the VA the responsibility for both veterans and dependents health care.

On January 28th, the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs voted 9 to 5 along party lines in favor of an original bill sponsored by Senator Daniel Akaka (D, HI) to provide health care through the DOD TRICARE insurance program to Camp Lejeune veterans and dependents and exposed to environmental hazards from the contaminated base water wells.

The Akaka bill, “Examination of Exposures to Environmental Hazards During Military Service Act of 2010” requires that DOD provide compensation or health care to other veterans and dependents of other military installations whenever an Advisory Board found evidence of exposure to environmental hazards.

The bill excludes exposure to an environmental hazard at a military installation during a period when imminent danger pay is authorized. My read on this is that the exposure from contaminants in the Iraqi burn pits is excluded.

An Iraqi veteran who has been exposed to the toxins from the burn pits and is experiencing a breathing problem should file a disability claim with the VA. The C&P exam should include a Pulmonary Function Test (PFT) and as Jim Strickland, Veterans Advocate, noted “that will be an important baseline marker for your future.”[1]

In a press release, Senator Akaka noted that “Based on what I have seen, it appears clear that elements in the Department of Defense have been less than forthcoming in addressing these concerns [potential exposures to toxic substances at Camp Lejeune. That failure does not relieve the Defense Department of its responsibility, nor mean that the burden should be placed on the Veterans Affairs Department.”

Scientists with the National Research Council (NRC) admit that "evidence exists that people who lived or worked at Camp Lejeune Marine Base in North Carolina between the 1950s and 1985 were exposed to the industrial solvents trichloroethylene (TCE) or perchloroethelyne (PCE) in their water supply."

The NRC report funded by the Navy stated that, "...strong scientific evidence is not available to determine whether health problems among those exposed are due to the contaminants." Among these heath conditions are birth defects, childhood leukemia, liver damage, and male breast cancer.

Other scientists disagree with the NRC report’s findings, expressing disappointment that the NRC report which took two years in the preparation “reached puzzling and in some cases erroneous conclusions.”[2]

The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee has jurisdiction over the Department of Veterans Affairs. The Akaka bill will be reported by SVAC and go on the Senate calendar. There is no requirement that SASC be involved. It’s possible that SASC will seek to be involved but that has not happened to date, according to a Congressional source.

The problem is the Senate Armed Service Committee’s leadership supports DOD, according to another Congressional source.

Senator Akaka’s bill is not the first Congressional attempt to address the need for medical care for those injured by the health effects of exposure to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune.

Senator Richard Burr (R, NC), Ranking Minority member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, in July 2009 introduced S-1518, “Caring for Camp Lejeune Veterans Act of 2009.”

The Department of Veterans Affairs is the designated health care provider in S-1518. However, Senator Burr’s bill could not clear the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs.

Senator Burr vowed to continue the fight and to attach his bill to any bill on the Senate floor, whenever the occasion arose.

Acknowledging DOD’s hostility to providing health care benefits, Senator Burr commented: "The committee's vote today [January 28th] supposes that somehow by immaculate conception health care will appear for these veterans and their families."

A companion bill to S-1518 was introduced in the House on February 2nd.

Representative Brad Miller (D, NC) introduced “The Janey Ensminger Act,” which requires the Department of Veterans Affairs to provide health care to veterans and their family members who have experienced adverse health effects as a result of exposure to contaminated well water at Camp Lejeune.

The bill is named after Janey Ensminger, age 9, daughter of retired Marine Master Sergeant Jerry Ensminger who died from leukemia after exposure to contaminated drinking water at Camp Lejeune.

Camp Lejeune, however, is not the only base where veterans and their dependents were at risk for exposure to environmental hazards.

There are 130 military installations on the National Priority List (EPA Superfund list) and 1,400 military sites contaminated with trichloroethylene (TCE)—a degreaser widely used by the military and industry for many years and a major pollutant in water systems throughout the United States.

According to a Congressional source, it would take from 2 to 4 months to produce a Committee report on the Akaka bill, assuming the SASC does not object. If the jurisdictional issues raises its ugly head, don’t look for a quick passage of legislation.

"Hoosier poet" James Whitcomb Riley is credited with the quote: “When I see a bird that walks like a duck and swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, I call that bird a duck."

By making DOD the provider of health care and introducing the possibility of SASC objection, the Akaka bill is in danger of being a “dead duck.”

Closer Look at Senator Akaka’s Bill

For Camp Lejeune, eligible individuals would receive health care through DOD’s TRICARE insurance program. The bill gives DOD the authority to compile a list of eligible individuals exposed to environmental hazards at Camp Lejeune. Look for short list. It makes more sense to give this responsibility to a neutral party like the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR).

For other military installations, the bill establishes an Advisory Board with authority to submit a report with a recommendation that DOD should provide compensation or TRICARE health care benefits to veterans and their dependents exposed to environmental hazards. One obvious problem is this gives DOD the discretionary authority to reject Advisory Board’s recommendations. Look for lots of rejections.

Unlike other military installations, Camp Lejeune veterans and dependents are not given the choice of financial compensation or TRICARE health benefits. TRICARE requires eligible individuals to pay insurance premiums. There’s no provision in the bill to waive health insurance premiums.

For Camp Lejeune only, the bill provides a “Sunset” provision, which states that “eligibility for benefits under this section shall terminate on the date that is 5 years after the date of the enactment of the Act.” This assumes that all Lejeune veterans and dependents on the base when the water wells were contaminated have been notified of their eligibility for TRICARE health benefits within 5 years.

The bill establishes an Advisory Board and Science Review Panel with scientists with backgrounds in environmental exposure or environmental exposure assessments, health monitoring or other related fields would be an integral part of the administrative process.

The Advisory Board (except for Camp Lejeune) is responsible for providing expert advice relating to exposures of current and former members of the Armed Forces and their dependents. If there’s no evidence of exposure, the board makes a recommendation of such a finding to VA and DOD. Although no specifically addressed in the bill, the VA would likely use the board’s findings to deny a veteran’s disability claim.

With exception of Camp Lejeune where health care to eligible individuals is mandatory, the Advisory Board only has authority to submit reports with recommendations that DOD should provide compensation or TRICARE health care benefits to veterans and dependents exposed to environmental hazards. These recommendations are very likely to be dismissed by DOD who can readily provide scientific arguments supporting denial of compensation or health care.

There’s no provision in the bill to review the independence of scientists. For example, scientists who are employed by defense contractors or universities with DOD contracts or grants should be excluded from the Advisory Board and Science Review Panel.

Logically, it make sense to have an independent advisory board with access to scientists with environmental exposure backgrounds to evaluate military hazard claims. Without a major change in attitude on the part of DOD, it makes little sense to give DOD discretionary authority to make decisions about compensation or health care benefits.

Over the next several months, we’ll know the outcome of the tug-of-war between the Senate and the House. Stay tuned. In the immortal words of Yogi Berra, “It ain’t over till it’s over.”



Bob O’Dowd is a former U.S. Marine with thirty years of experience on the east coast as an auditor, accountant, and financial manager with the Federal government. Half of that time was spent with the Defense Logistics Agency in Philadelphia. Originally from Pennsylvania, he enlisted in the Marine Corps at age 19, served in the 1st, 3rd, and 4th Marine Aircraft Wings in 52 months of active duty in the 1960s. A graduate of Temple University, Bob has been married to Grace for 31 years. He is the father of two adult children and the grandfather of two boys. Bob has a blog site on former MCAS El Toro at This subject is where Bob intersected with Bob served in the exact same Marine Aviation Squadron that Salem-News founder Tim King served in, twenty years earlier. With their combined on-site knowledge and research ability, Bob and Tim and a handful of other ex-Marines, have put the contamination of MCAS El Toro on the map. The base is highly contaminated with TCE, trichloroethelyne

  • . You can email Bob O’Dowd, Environmental and Military Reporter, at this address:

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    Interested in below subjects May 18, 2011 9:57 pm (Pacific time)

    I am interested in hearing from anyone with toxic exposure in the Phillippines, Texas or in Turkey. I am also interested in hearing from morse non morse code breakers that were exposed to radiation from occupation.

    xoutken October 14, 2010 9:44 pm (Pacific time)

    I'm a kidney cancer survivor. I was stationed at camp lejune from 76 to 77,not one person in my family has ever had any form of cancer. I'm the first this keeps me so upset I can't sleep at night and now my company pulled out of where I live and now I'm out of work in this economy. I feel let down from the usmc and our gov. I give up

    Editor: Well you landed among friends here; has 13 former U.S. Marines on the writing staff.  We care and so do millions of Americans.  Please don't give up, and do feel free to drop me an email, >, and remember the real motto of the Marines; that is 'Semper Gumby' - always flexible..  

    Ray Lippitt August 11, 2010 7:08 pm (Pacific time)

    I think we shouldn cut the government, not th VA

    Frank III February 17, 2010 9:24 am (Pacific time)

    Recently, I found out that some of the Marines who were at Camp Lejune, N.C. in 1976 and 1977 are eligible for 'period of war' Veterans compensation Benefits when the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee processes their paperwork. Here is what I found out: On December 16, 1950 President Truman declared a National Emergency (Proclamation No.2914) for recent events in "Korea and Elsewhere". The 82nd Congress passed S.101 (To amend the Reoganization Act of 1949) which was passed into Public Law 82-921 on January 21, 1951. This Public Law made the National Emergency (No.2914) become a Declaration of War by the U.S. Congress for the "Korean War of the Cold War". This War has a begining date of December 16,1950, and ending date of September 14, 1978(Public Law 94-412). It is time for the Secretary of the VA Shinseki to accept this "Korean War of the Cold War" for registered Veterans at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

    Frank III February 17, 2010 9:11 am (Pacific time)

    It is nice to read the stories from other Marines who are finding out about this Water Comtamination Problem at Camp Lejune, N.C.There must be some Generals and former Secretary of Defense's who are stopping all the Camp Lejune Veterans from getting the VA Compensation Benefits for drinking this water. I was stationed at Camp Lejune in 1976 and 1977 drinking and swimming in this water.

    Leon Sellers February 16, 2010 2:49 pm (Pacific time)

    How many deaths have to happen? How many lies have to be uncovered? My parents died very premature with cancer. Colon and Breast. I am disabled at 50 years old with many of the diseases and symptoms reported. No Department is too large to hide and lye about the bad and evil problems they created and ignored. I thank all the reporters and news agencies who keep this issue alive. Leon Sellers

    WifeofUSMC February 15, 2010 10:17 am (Pacific time)

    It's a shame how the government has just looked at this and thrown it under the carpet as if we are dealing with nothing. It upsets me to see the government is just so dam relaxed about this. My husband and I and our two children were stationed there in Camp Lejuene from 82 to 85. We were never notified by mail, ever. We were told about this situation just last year, 2009. We are all registered. We have all gone through unexplained illnesses. My husband now has prostate cancer and seizures. Have not been able to work now for over 2 years and still fighting for his SS but to know avail. It's been a struggle, it's very hard. Just living off my income, which ain't much a month. But by the grace of God we are still here. My heart and my prayers go out to each and every family that has been affected by this is some way. Keep fighting, don't give up. We all shall overcome.....Semper Fi

    jim watters February 15, 2010 6:34 am (Pacific time)

    I too was poisoned and have terminal kidney cancer. The V.A did approve my claim for 100% disability.The U.S Marine Corpse (intentionally spelled this way)has left their camp LeJeune wounded,including women and children,Behind!! Semper Fi? No longer a motto the Marines can lay claim to. Colonels sold out to become generals, etc., atc.

    ED DUNN February 15, 2010 6:32 am (Pacific time)

    I received my letter from the USMC in August, 2008, via the IRS. Very decent of those folks to let me know this. Seeing as though for the last 20 years I have experienced lots of health issues that have shortened my work career immensely. I have bounced from job to job, doing what I was able to do just to keep afloat. in 2006 I couldn't work anymore. Now I fight with SSA and the VA for disability. Not an easy task at all. We survive on my wife's 11.00 an hour. While this bunch of a**holes fight over whether or not we are "worthy" of a few bucks. If they give us too much, they might have to adjust their lifestyle. This whole mess just sickens me. I have been a patriot. I enlisted in the Marines during Vietnam, when the trash of our society took off to Canade. I will no longer recommend to a young person to enlist in the military, EVER, thanke to this.

    GarlandGirls February 15, 2010 5:58 am (Pacific time)

    " I lived at Tarawa Terrace in the early 70's with my parents and 4 sisters. We have all had some very significant health issues..the same as many other residents. As a daughter, mother, step-mother and aunt to US Marines, I find it totally unacceptable that our government can turn their backs on this tragedy. I say we vote those idots out of office. It is time that we hold our elected officials accountable. God bless our military...they are our country's heros. "

    pete devereaux February 15, 2010 5:41 am (Pacific time)

    I am really glad to have someone cover this story. IT makes me sick how the marines are trying to cover this up, and noot do the right thing. I am a former marine with Metastatic Breast Cancer from this base and hope that they finally admit fault and take resposibility in my lifetime.

    Steph February 14, 2010 9:47 pm (Pacific time)

    I wanted to personally thank you for helping to bring this situation to light. My husband served in the USMC at Camp LeJeune (1986-1991) and bravely fought for his country during Panama and Dessert Storm. My mother-in-law just found a brief comment in a magazine on this and a website to contact which didn't work. I searched the web and found another one. HOW DID WE NOT KNOW ABOUT THIS!!!! The more I read, the sicker I got at my stomach. The health issues listed my husband has suffered from for 15 yrs and now knowing what I know I'm just stunned at where to begin to see if this is the cause of his health issues. Saying you can't reach our soldiers. Let me make this simple. "Our President" man's up and makes an announcement on National Tv/Radio over and over until the word gets. Don't take care of the suffering in Haiti if you can't take care of your own suffering here! Thank you so much for making more people aware! Dept of the Navy-STAND UP AND DO RIGHT FOR YOUR SOLDIERS! SEMPER FI!

    Oliver D. Roberts February 14, 2010 9:27 pm (Pacific time)

    I really don't understand why the defense dept and the Marine Corps won't face up to there responsiable. I know for a fact that there are alot of sick people do to them eather working on the base or living there not to mention that out of 100 counties in North Carolina that people die by cancer we here in Onslow County rank 6th in Cancer related deaths. Now we were charged to live in the on Base Housing. What ever happened to the Marine Corps Motto Semper Fi ( Always Fateful)They juest need to give us all Tri-Care and Exchange Privlages if they are not going to pay for the treatments. We sould not have to fight our own Goverment for the Services we deserve do to them hiding the truth for so many years.

    William February 14, 2010 9:20 pm (Pacific time)

    Marine Corps, Navy, civilian personnel, and their dependent family members who lived or worked aboard Marine Corps base, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, were exposed to long term chemical release of volatile organic compounds and other toxic poisons in the water and environment from 1957 through 1987. Many of these compounds have been recognized by the EPA as carcinogens and as causing a myriad of other adverse health effects when they are consumed, inhaled, or come into contact with the human body. The quantities of the toxic chemicals that contaminated the drinking water at Camp Lejeune were hundreds of times higher than levels deemed safe by science. Our government has known this now for over 50 years and still done nothing to right the terrible wrongs that it perpetrated on those who it asked to serve it's interests. This cannot be allowed to stand! Not at Lejeune and not at the bases in Japan and not at the other 130 Supper fund National Priorities List sites!! We need to provide appropriate compensation and medical care to those adversely affected by these deadly chemicals. The USA is honor-bound to care for those injured during their service. Sincerely, William Will/usmc_wlh1975 Always faithful should mean something....

    USMC_WLH1975 February 14, 2010 8:33 pm (Pacific time)

    The DOD has set records for being one of the most corrupt government entities in recent history. They ask American families to put it all on the line and fight and die for America. These families do so willingly. Then, later, it is discovered that DOD has so polluted the bases on which these families lived that many of them are developing debilitating health problems and more than a few are dying. The DOD can spend $500.00 on a hammer, but wants to spend not a cent on helping these families? What is wrong with this picture? Heads should roll over this and more than a few generals and Secretaries should find themselves under criminal investigations. This is not something which should be subjected to politics as usual in the House and Senate. This is a matter of American honor and integrity and it should be supported in a bipartisan fashion for that reason. Politicians who fail to see that should look for other employment in the next election for their Senate or House seat. The time has come to do the right thing!!!

    Linda Ranes February 14, 2010 7:30 pm (Pacific time)

    DOD would love Sen Akaka's bill. It limits their responsibility and allows them to eliminate as many victims as they want. As one of the victims Sen Akaka's bill is totally unacceptable. To me it is like putting a wolf in a henhouse to watch the hens. I support HR4555.

    Lewey728 February 14, 2010 7:30 pm (Pacific time)

    Why can't they just do what's right and just in this matter?! I'm one of the ones that served during this time. I wondered for years where I acquired male breast cancer, having NO family history of this disease. Two things NEED to happen right now: 1) People that served need to be reached. 2) Those that have been affected need to be taken care of. Early diagnosis and treatment are essential. With early diagnosis (and a career in the medical field) I am able to call myself a 9-year survivor. Others have not been so fortunate. Some continue to live the nightmare. I, for one, would like to know that my government will be there for me if the time comes again when I'm forced to wonder why I have another illness I can't explain. Thank you for your article. It explained the issues and the struggles we all face. David

    Van February 14, 2010 9:22 am (Pacific time)

    This is so widespread, the contamination on our military installations, I see no solution. The DoD lies at every turn and is incapable of fessing up to what they've done and are still doing. They knew of this problem for at least 32 years. Congress held hearings about this particular issue in 1987. The problem, the contamination, is going to cost the American taxpayers in the hundreds of billions of dollars and that is before any compensation is paid if any. TCE/PCE isn't the only problem, not by a longshot. As much as I hate to say this Lejeune isn't the worst, probably not in the top 100 of contaminated bases. But Lejeune is the opening the DoD dreads. The DoD knows exactly what they've done in contaminating so many of our military personnel. But this will be treated just like AO, the illegal and immoral experiments or radiation. They will make up an arbitrary list of health maladies so they can control who gets what and how much. They will say they're studying the issues but nothing will ever be done. It will not matter who studies it, NAS, NIH, EPA, ATSDR, IOM or others. The studies will be done how the DoD wants it and that will be to keep the costs down irregardless of how guilty they are and how much damage was done. Eisenhower warned us and now we have what he was referring to. A Corporate DoD that has essentially murdered our finest citizens, all in the name of profits for a few. You people at Lejeune, you're fighting once again for all of us. I am ashamed of this government and our DoD for all they've done to us. They can't be allowed to this any more.

    Dan Cedusky "ColonelDan" February 14, 2010 9:06 am (Pacific time)

    Thanks for the article, keep shining the light on the problems. From: Dan Cedusky, Champaign IL, Col, AUS, Ret, Life member Legion, DAV, AMVETS, MOAA, USDR, NGAUS Pass the word about Free email news about Veteran issues to other Vets and Posts. Veteran Issues is an email newsletter. It's purpose is to inform individuals, and organizations of issues and news of importance to Veterans and Military Retirees. Join one of the oldest, largest, and fastest growing free veteran newsletters, founded in Oct 98. This is not a chat list.

    Michael Glenn February 13, 2010 2:18 pm (Pacific time)

    Thanks for enlightening the public Bob, and thanks to Senator Burr and Hagan, and thanks to Congressmen Miller, Stupak, Dingle and My Man Shuler, and the rest. My son has never been able to drive a car, because the Navy poisoned him and he is blind, as is his sister. Both have type 1 diabetes and have to give themselves shots of insuling 5 times a day. Their health is ruined, they live in poverty and the government won't pay them their ten year old torts so when they die young (diabetes is the 6th cause of death in the US) they will leave their kids orphaned and in poverty. We need action now, not later when they are in the mortality study. Michael Glenn

    Jim Davis, Veterans-For-Change February 11, 2010 3:22 pm (Pacific time)

    To me, personally neither bill cuts it. Placing control for medical care and benefits in the hands of the DoD, is a grievous and serious mistake at best when it should be the responsibility of the VA and in their control as bad as their system is! We’ve got some of the best computer technology in the world at our fingertips, so why hasn’t the VA come up with a claims system by which the system would make decisions and when it can’t then dump it into a human intervention stack? Claims could be processed with far less errors and a heck of a lot faster than any human could. And when the Marine Corps knew as far back as 1957 of the ground water and physical contamination of TCE/PCE and at least 30-45 other known chemicals did they not stand tall as they say and lay it on the table and be forthright with all? I grew up a Maine Brat, and this is NOT the Marine Corps my dad love, cherished, honored and sacrificed for during his 26.5 year career! What ever happened to “Duty, Honor and Country?” Did honor get thrown out with the baby’s bath water? All these studies that go on for years is another ridiculous method used by both the VA and DoD, we’ve seen studies come out and done in 18 months or less but because the report says it like it is, they refute or ignore it so as to avoid paying out billions of dollars in benefits and care! Is this how we treat all those who wore the uniform, gave those in Congress the luxury of running and remaining in office? This just goes to show several things, 1) Most people who vote, don’t do their homework and pay attention to those elected as to what they vote on, when they vote or if they vote on any particular issue, especially those concerning veterans! 2) Although we will never see it, would be nice if made mandatory that all those who serve in government should be required to serve at least on tour of duty in the military before being allowed to hold office in Congress! Then, well maybe then, they would have a better grasp at what is going on in our veterans lives, how illnesses affect them and their families, and just how devastating these illnesses can be. And then maybe they’d not drag their feet and wait so long to provide the necessary benefits and care needed by all! Frankly if all those who vote, do vote, start voting out all those due for election this year, and lets get some fresh new blood, with new ideas and a whole new perspective on all the issues, and maybe we’ll see change. And if not, come next election vote them out too until we finally get a Congress willing and open to serve those whom elected them! Jim

    Candy Little February 10, 2010 1:17 pm (Pacific time)

    Bob, Love your "DUCK" comment. On a serious note, there are major flaws that need to be worked out. In the Akaka Bill having DoD as quote " THE GATEKEEPER" of healthcare for those that they poisoned is "insane". They have not in the past made any movements toward correcting their mistakes, so to think that they will do so in the future, is nothing short of living in "OZ". That would put DoD in a holier-than-thou postion of deciding who lives and who dies with only one stamp saying "DENIAL". Senators Burr's Bill lacks "bite" it should be "drastically" amended to or re-written. There are alot of Survivors who have alot at stake here and should not be part of a power struggle between DoD and receiving treatment. Neither has provisions for an outreach program to notify everyone that was exposed. Clarification of the Akaka Bill "Sunset" can be interpreted in different ways. Vagueness is not our friend. If the Marine Corps can run advertisements, why can't they run advertisements/public service announcements, for those they knowingly contaminated, after all they say they "CARE"! Me personally, get your overalls on it's to late for the boots! The VA system as it stands, is already over-whelmed. What provisions will be guaranteed to properly staff and treat the future onslaught of known exposed victims? Will the doctors be trained in recognizing latent illnesses from past exposures? Speaking for myself, I don't want someone scratching their "watch" and winding their "ass" when it comes to treatment. As you can see we are aways from getting it "right". Since it's taken this long we need to get it "right" the first time.

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