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Jan-29-2010 13:00printcomments

Military Environmental Hazards Bill Faces Hurdles

Congressional jurisdictional issues and Defense Department resistance to accepting responsibility for harming veterans and dependents are major impediments to passing a final bill and ultimately providing medical care.

Barrels of PCE (perchloroethylene)and TCE (trichloroethylene)
Barrels of PCE (perchloroethylene)and TCE (trichloroethylene)

(WASHINGTON D.C.) - There’s a definite need for more “adult supervision” in Washington. Yesterday, the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs passed an original bill, “Examination of Exposures to Environmental Hazards During Military Service Act of 2010.” The vote was 9 to 5 along party lines. Nine democrats voted for the bill while 5 Republicans against it. Senator Jim Webb (D, VA), a Navy Cross Marine veteran, did not vote.

Jurisdictional issues between the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs and the Senate Armed Services Committee need to be resolved before the bill can come up for a vote on the Senate floor. The Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs has jurisdictional authority over the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) while the Senate Armed Services Committee has jurisdictional authority over the Department of Defense (DOD). If this sounds a little bit like a turf battle between two gangs, you get the general idea.

To those of us living outside of the Washington beltway, Senator Akaka’s bill sounded like a victory for the victims of Camp Lejeune’s well water contamination and for many others from military installations across the country.

Senator Akaka’s bill directs the DOD to provide TRICARE coverage to veterans and dependents injured by Camp Lejeune’s well water contaminants.

The bill requires Camp Lejeune veterans and dependents to pay TRICARE health insurance premiums, which makes them eligible for hospital care, medical services, and nursing home. The bill requires that this health care be provided within 90 days of the enactment of the bill. However, directing DOD to provide health benefits to Camp Lejeune water contamination survivors is a little bit like leading a horse to water. You can lead the horse to water but you can’t make it drink. DOD has resisted all attempts to accept responsibility for the harm caused to veterans and dependents from environmental hazards.

The thirteen page Akaka bill provides for the establishment of an Advisory Board appointed by the President with input from the VA and DOD. The Advisory Board would provide advice to the VA and DOD on matters relating to the exposures of current military, veterans and their dependents to environmental hazards on military installations. Except for Camp Lejeune, the Advisory Board has the authority to recommend to DOD the payment of compensation or to offer TRICARE to the victims of environmental exposure. The bill requires the Advisory Board, with a supporting staff of environmental scientists, to evaluate cases of potential environmental hazards at military installations. The bill does not require the Advisory Board to evaluate the exposures at Camp Lejeune but to compile a list of the Agency for Toxic Subsances Abuse (ATSDR) in order to complie a list of individuals exposed to environmental hazards at that base. The bill requires DOD to offer TRICARE (health insurance) to affected Lejeune veterans and dependents. However, DOD continues to insist that there’s no scientific evidence to support that environmental hazards at Camp Lejeune were the cause of diseases and deaths of veterans and their dependents and would likely drag their feet on implementing this requirement.

If you think that DOD’s response is something like that taken by scientists employed by tobacco industry insisting that cigarettes do not cause cancer, you won’t be far off. The health effects of exposure to trichloroethylene (TCE) and other Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) include cancer and other serious diseases. In fact, a recent CNN report on Camp Lejeune found over 50 male Marine veterans with breast cancer, a very rare disease among males.

I like Senator Akaka’s approach since it covers exposure at all military installations and includes an Advisory Board with access to scientific expertise to evaluate claims for environmental exposures. If the Advisory Board’s scientific evaluations supported exposures to environmental hazards to warrant compensation, then a recommedation would be made to DOD to offer financial compensation or TRICARE health benefits. But, getting DOD to comply with Advisory Board’s recommendations may be nearly impossible.

Veterans Service Organizations, including the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans, Paralyzed Veterans of America, and Vietnam Veterans of America support Senator Akaka’s bill. The concern with the possibility of overwhelming the VA Medical Care System with a million Camp Lejeune veterans and dependents appears to the major factor for the VSO’s support of TRICARE.

According to a Congressional source, Senator Akaka’s numbers on the Lejeune exposed population are 1 million, which is the high end of the exposed population, not those actually affected adversely. VA’s own numbers indicate approx 25,000 dependants would potentially be eligible and CBO estimates only approximately 8,000. The VA would get funding to expand its services to meet this increased need, but it’s unclear how TRICARE would deal with the same. As noted the Lejeune contamination does not need an Advisory Board or a Science Panel. However, the inclusion of an independent Advisory Board and Science Panel would be beneficial to an honest evaluation of environmental exposures at the other military installations.

The need for a unbiased system to evaluate environmental hazard claims from multiple military installations is supported in the following comments from Senator Akaka: “The Committee will also consider legislation to address circumstances where service members and their families may have been exposed to environmental toxins. The Committee held a hearing in October regarding potential exposures in a variety of circumstances, from the Ranking Member’s home-state to Japan and the Middle East. This is a serious and complicated issue: serious because of the charges that have been made about potential exposures, and complicated because of the difficulty of establishing an unbiased system to scientifically determine whether specific exposures are likely to have caused specific injury to current or former service members and their dependents.”

“The Committee Print, as introduced, would develop a system to review possible military exposures and provide care for those who are likely to have been exposed. In crafting the requirements to provide health care for affected individuals, I have sought to balance the burden between VA and DoD. Certainly VA can share in the responsibility to care for affected troops and veterans. However, requiring VA to treat an unknown number of military dependents – estimates for one exposure site alone indicates half-a-million dependents would be eligible –threatens to come at the expense of disabled veterans. As we discuss potential amendments to this section of the Committee Print, I urge my colleagues to consider whether we are willing to jeopardize the quality of care for wounded veterans in order to relieve DoD – who already provides care for dependents – of that responsibility.”

Senator Richard Burr (R, NC), the Committee on Veterans Affairs’ Ranking Member, has been an outstanding supporter of Camp Lejeune veterans and dependents. Senator Burr sponsored S-1518, “Caring for Camp Lejeune Veterans Act of 2009.” S-1518 would require the VA to provide hospital care, medical services, and nursing home care to veterans who were stationed at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, while the water was contaminated at Camp Lejeune.

The major advantage of S-1518 is that the VA provides the medical services to eligible veterans and dependents without the need to pay for insurance premiums and involve a reluctant DOD in the process. Because of the potential to overwhelm the VA Medical Care system, the Veteran Service Organizations (VSOs) do not support S-1518, according to an informed Congressional source. Their concern is that care for Camp Lejeune water victims may overwhelm the VA and prevent needed care to wounded warriors.

One obvious drawback of S-1518 is that its scope is limited to Camp Lejeune. In contrast, Senator Akaka’s bill recognizes that exposure to environmental hazards affects a number of military installations. In fact, EPA data shows over 130 military bases on the National Priority List (EPA Superfund). Creating separate legislation for multiple military installations makes little sense.

If ever there was a need for bipartisanship, it’s with the resolution of exposures to environmental hazards and the resultant adverse health effects on veterans and their families. Given the reluctance of DOD to willingly participate in this process, it makes sense to use the VA.

If the VA Medical Health Care System is used to provide these services, an Advisory Board like the one described in Senator Akaka’s bill could effectively be used to screen environmental hazard claims with help from a science advisory panel with backgrounds in environmental exposure or environmental exposure assessments, health monitoring and related fields. This would eliminate the DOD hurdle and put the program into the VA system where it belongs.

For veterans and dependents exposed to environmental hazards and who suffer from the consequence, the Congressional jurisdictional issues and DOD reluctance to accept responsibility for health effects of contamination is one more cross for them to bear. King Solomon, “Where are you?”

We Surrender

"We’re the Battling Bastards of Bataan
No mama, no papa, no Uncle Sam
No aunts, no uncles, no cousins, no nieces
No pills, no planes, no artillery pieces
And nobody gives a damn!”

By Frank Hewlett, 1942

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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    Mike Lpka February 9, 2010 7:32 am (Pacific time)

    As a Marine who was stationed at Camp Lejeune and have suffered 3 of the same types of cancer (Renal ) I have lost one kidney ,Lymph nodes near the spine and finally a tumor on the Aorta. If you do not include Service Connectability then the teeth have been removed from the Bill. I have had to quit work and am fighting the system to be taken care of. Semper Fi

    Dennis Monroe February 2, 2010 4:22 pm (Pacific time)

    As a former Marine stationed at Camp Lejuene and a kidney cancer surviver. Thank you for your help it is appreciated hopefully someone will step up to the plate and do what is right.

    marine_brat February 2, 2010 12:16 pm (Pacific time)

    Thanks for publishing our plight!

    Patti G February 2, 2010 10:39 am (Pacific time)

    I hope our congress will support Senator Burr and the Caring for the Families of Camp Lejeune Act. The legislation would provide much needed medical help to former Marines and their wives and children who like my family were exposed to toxic water at the base and are ill today. I don't feel it should be up to the Military or the Department of Defense, as they in effect tried to keep this from us and did for many years. Please contact your congressman to suppport Senator Richard Burr's bill for the Camp Lejeune victims.

    PubliusMD February 2, 2010 10:24 am (Pacific time)

    Thank you for covering this issue. While you appear to have a grasp of the details of the toxic water at Camp Lejeune, I believe you reach an incorrect solution. Its been 30 years, 6 US Presidents, 9 Marine Corps Commandants since the waters were known to be toxic. The water continued to be served for another 4 years before the wells were shut down. What punative actions have been applied to the Navy and Marine Corps leadership? None! What medical assistance or compensation has been provided to those suffering health effects - None! Now we have Marine Corps hero, former SECNAV, current US Senator Jim Webb, abstaining in his vote? I should be an illegal alien rather than a former enlisted Marine; living with leukemia for the last 9 years. The federal government would have protected me had I been an illegal alien. Instead, I have incurred thousands of dollars in medical expense due to combat a defect which the federal government inflicted upon my dumb unknowing enlisted ass. Sempre FI Senator Webb! Bob you're point of there being other toxin issues at other military bases is a good point. But I would have thought that senate bill 1518 could have been ammended as time goes on to address these situations rather than to stop all the progress the Camp Lejeune veterans and their dependents and civilain employees have been advocating for DECADES! I agree with an earlier poster that stated that some may not even have the money to pay for tricare. After decades of being treated as disposable fully depreciated assets, don't you think that the federal government should man up and admit a tragic denial of concern for our well being has taken place over the 3 last decades, and at the very least pay for our continuing medical care as a service connected disability?

    Ralph Perez February 2, 2010 9:00 am (Pacific time)

    The least they can do is give us medical care, after they knowningly poisoned us.

    shieldholder February 2, 2010 6:57 am (Pacific time)

    when you are already 100% disabled from the cancer caused by this and have trouble scrapping money to eat tell me how we are supposed to pay for tricare. get real people we need help now to survive not more bills which we cannot afford to pay.

    Debi February 2, 2010 6:44 am (Pacific time)

    Thanks for helping to get the word out. Families who still can fight deserve help. Those of us who are already widows and fatherless of a Marine dead from cancer are only left with our grief.

    Heather February 2, 2010 6:38 am (Pacific time)

    Someone please show the verry people that protect us and the familys that we not only support but respect them and there familys. You would think that was a hard task for are government.

    Jim Davis, Veterans-For-Change January 29, 2010 8:05 pm (Pacific time)

    YAHOOOOO! Well maybe they might put someting good together and put on the VA where it belongs and not the DoD!!!

    Ghane Glaze January 29, 2010 7:35 pm (Pacific time)

    What about the son's and daughter's of already deceased Mother's and Father's. I don't know if this Bill is going to do my Mother and Father any justice.

    Candy Little January 29, 2010 5:29 pm (Pacific time)

    Bob, Keep their feet to the fire. Major changes need to be made in order to do us justice.

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