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Feb-22-2009 12:25printcomments

Veterans Support Reintroduction of 'The TCE Reduction Act'

Presumptive disability for diseases linked to TCE contamination is the fairest way to honor the service of veterans.

The old El Toro Marine Corps Air Station photographed in the summer of 2008. Salem-News.com photo by Tim King

(SOMERDALE, N.J.) - The Veterans for Change (VFC), a small but proactive organization, plans to petition Congress to reintroduce “The TCE Reduction Act,” and to include exposure to trichloroethylene (TCE) for military bases with TCE contamination of groundwater under the VA's Presumptive Disability category.

The Veterans for Change’s (VFC) mission is to promote positive changes in the treatment and rights of all veterans, especially relating to benefits claims, claims appeals, medical treatment, VA facilities, PTSD, Agent Orange, POW/MIA recoveries, diabetes, dioxins and related issues affecting veterans and their families. (See: groups.yahoo.com/group/VETERANS-FOR-CHANGE/)

Recognizing the need for VA disability compensation of many veterans exposed to trichloroethylene (TCE), Jim Davis, founder of the VFC, told the Salem-News.com that he plans to launch a nationwide petition to push for the reintroduction of The TCE Reduction Act, which was never reached the 110th Congress for a vote.

An excellent metal degreaser, TCE was used by both industry and the military for many years without regard to sound environmental disposal practices. Dumping TCE waste into sanitary sewers and sometimes the bare ground, for example, led to the contamination of groundwater and drinking water throughout the United States. .

An unknown number of veterans have been exposed to TCE, a known carcinogen. In 2003 the Air Force reported 1,400 military sites contaminated with TCE.

The Marine Corps Times reported 22 military bases with contaminated TCE water in June 2007. (See: marinecorpstimes.com/news/2007/06/marine_water_list_070625/)

Senator Hillary Clinton led an unsuccessful attempt to reduce exposure to TCE in the U.S. Senate in 2007.

The TCE Reduction Act of 2008 (or the Toxic Chemical Exposure Reduction Act of 2008) was introduced in the US Senate by then Senator Hillary Clinton on August 1, 2007 and co-sponsored by Sen. Amy Klobuchar [D-MN], Sen. Barbara Boxer [D-CA], Sen. John Kerry [D-MA], Sen. Elizabeth Dole [R-NC], Sen. Joseph Lieberman [I-CT]. Sen. Bill Nelson [D-FL] and Sen. Frank Lautenberg [D-NJ].

According to the Congressional Research Service: “The Toxic Chemical Exposure Reduction Act of 2008 or the TCE Reduction Act of 2008 - Amends the Safe Drinking Water Act to require the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to publish a health advisory for trichloroethylene that fully protects, with an adequate margin of safety, the health of susceptible populations (including pregnant women, infants, and children), taking into consideration body weight, exposure patterns, and all routes of exposure.”

“Requires the Administrator: “to promulgate a national primary drinking water regulation for trichloroethylene: (1) that is protective of susceptible populations; and (2) the maximum contaminant level of which is as close to the maximum contaminant level goal for trichloroethylene, and as protective of those susceptible populations, as is feasible.”

“Requires consumer confidence reports to disclose the presence of, and the potential health risks to susceptible populations from exposure to, trichloroethylene in drinking water.”

“Requires the Administrator to: (1) publish a health advisory for trichloroethylene that fully protects the health of susceptible populations from vapor intrusion; (2) establish an integrated risk information system reference concentration of trichloroethylene vapor that is protective of susceptible populations; and (3) apply such reference concentration with respect to any potential vapor intrusion-related investigations or actions to protect public health with respect to trichloroethylene exposure carried out pursuant to the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 and the Safe Drinking Water Act.” (See: govtrack.us/congress/bill.xpd?bill=s110-1911&tab=summary)

The TCE Reduction Act of 2008 (S. 1911) never became law. Congressional sessions last two years, and at the end of each session all proposed bills like S. 1911 that haven't passed are cleared from the books. Never reaching the floor for a vote, S. 1911 expired at the end of the Congressional session.

The VFC’s petition to reintroduce the TCE Reduction Act includes a provision to make honorable discharged veterans who served at any military base on the EPA Superfund list (133 bases as of the latest count) eligible for the Department of Veterans Affairs’ “Presumptive Disability” umbrella when applying for VA disability compensation from exposure to TCE.

The VA denies disability claims of veterans without substantial supporting documentation, including an opinion from a medical doctor that the illness was “at least as likely as not” due to exposure to TCE in the military.

For many veterans this is a “catch twenty-two situation.” The military base they were stationed at has high levels of TCE. Their illness is one that can be caused by exposure to TCE. They can’t work because of their disability. The VA requires “proof” that their disability including a medical opinion or nexus statement that links the illness to military service.

A disabled and often unemployed veteran is unlikely to pay for a medical opinion and nexus statement from an expert medical specialist. A telephone call to a Southern California medical doctor and toxicologist showed that a short opinion letter (one typed page) would cost approximately $3,000. In this economy, this is not a small amount of change, especially to a disabled veteran.

The VA’s Presumptive Disability entitlement eliminates the need for an expensive medical nexus statement.

How does "presumptive entitlement" work? If one of the medical conditions linked to TCE exposure is diagnosed in a veteran and the veteran served in a location contaminated with TCE, the VA presumes that the circumstances of his/her service caused the condition, and disability compensation could be awarded.

The VA currently has four groups of veterans under the Presumptive Disability category. These include former POWs, Vietnam veterans (exposed to Agent Orange); atomic veterans (exposed to ionizing radiation); and Gulf War veterans.

There’s medical support of the heath affects of TCE exposure (including the EPA and the National Academy of Sciences). TCE was a widely used chemical by the military for decades, many bases have documented TCE contamination, and many veterans were exposed to this carcinogen and suffer the effects of exposure.

For MCB Camp Lejeune and MCAS El Toro Marine veterans the introduction and passage of this legislation will have special meaning.

Despite the years of data documenting the contamination of Lejeune's base wells and a number of deaths linked to the base wells, Jerome Ensminger, a retired Camp Lejeune Marine who witnessed the death of his 9 year old daughter to leukemia from contaminated base water, cautioned that Lejeune veterans can still expect their VA disability compensation claims to be denied but will win on appeal.

However, veterans should know that the VA disability compensation appeal process is lengthy and exhausting with no guarantees.

El Toro Marines can expect VA denials for exposure to TCE in the base's drinking water, despite the thousands of pounds of TCE cutting a path through the base wells. Both Lejeune and El Toro have extensive TCE contamination of base water. There are some differences that make El Toro a bigger uphill fight for veterans.

While Lejeune has lots of evidence of support for contamination of base wells and remains an active Marine Corps base, El Toro was officially closed in July 1999 and the missing documentation raises a number red flags and lots of unanswered questions.

At El Toro, the Navy and EPA estimated 8,000 pounds of TCE in the groundwater in the area of the base wells. The city of Irvine estimated the amount closer to 700,000 pounds.

The Navy disputes the higher amount and reported that there’s no evidence of contamination of the base wells, despite the fact that the TCE plume cut a path right through the base wells, no Navy documentation on the location of 7 of the 8 well screen intervals (the first point that water and contaminants enter a well), no available documentation on the chemical analysis of wells while they were in operations, no dates the wells were abandoned, no justification for the purchases of municipal water when there was no known shortage of water in the aquifer under the base, and the one well screen interval found by the Navy’s consultant engineer had 50 feet in the contaminated aquifer.

Even with serious questions about the management of the base’s water distribution system, any El Toro Marine veteran claiming exposure to TCE from the base wells will have an uphill fight.

Presumptive disability for diseases linked to TCE contamination is the fairest way to honor the service of veterans.

For more information on the VFC petition, see groups..yahoo.com/group/VETERANS-FOR-CHANGE/.

Keep a lookout for more news reports on the progress of the Veterans for Change petition.

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 mwsg37.com. This subject is where Bob intersected with Salem-News.com. 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, Salem-News.com Environmental and Military Reporter, at this address: consults03@comcast.net

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