The Veterans Administration Failed to Take Care of People Injured By Toxic Camp Lejeune Water
In theory, the Veterans Administration was supposed to award benefits to those who were sickened by the toxic water at Camp Lejeune. In practice, the VA made this anything but easy. Veterans who should have been entitled to benefits found their claims denied. Sometimes, it seemed like the VA was denying claims simply for the sake of denying them.
Although it took many years, the federal government finally acknowledged its role in the mass exposure of veterans and their families to toxic water at Camp Lejeune. This exposure occurred over a 35-year period, when base officials should have known that there was a likelihood that the water could be contaminated. Instead, the base failed to fully shut down toxic water sources until 7 years after concrete concerns were first raised. Over this time period, approximately one million people were exposed to a variety of deadly toxins.
A Law Passed a Decade Earlier Promised Benefits
In 2012, Congress passed the Camp Lejeune Act. The bill provided Healthcare and funding to those who served at Camp Lejeune and developed an illness that was connected with toxic water.
People who ingested and bathed in toxic Camp Lejeune water develop the following illnesses:
- Adult leukemia.
- Aplastic anemia and other myelodysplastic syndromes.
- Bladder cancer.
- Kidney cancer.
- Liver cancer.
- Multiple myeloma.
- Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
- Parkinson’s disease
According to the VA, these illnesses were eligible for a presumptive service connection. In other words, these illnesses were presumed to be caused by military service. Camp Lejeune veterans who developed these illnesses should have been eligible for veterans benefits with few or no questions asked. In some scattered cases, these benefit claims were approved and paid, with some mistakes. Most injured veterans were forced to endure a difficult and frustrating experience.
Veterans Could Receive Benefits for Other Illnesses
VA policy allowed for veterans to receive benefits for other conditions that may be linked with toxic Camp Lejeune water. However, these veterans needed to include evidence as part of their claim. They needed to prove that their exposure to contaminated water caused the illness. If the veteran was able to prove this causation, VA policy would have allowed them to receive benefits.
Here are some of the other illnesses that are connected with contaminated Camp Lejeune water. Veterans would need to provide more information than they would have had to for the eight illnesses listed above.
- Breast cancer
- Esophageal cancer
- Female infertility
- Hepatic steatosis
- Lung cancer
- Neurobehavioral effects
- Renal toxicity
Family members of Veterans who also resided at Lejeune during the qualifying period are eligible
The VA promised that dependent family members of Veterans who also resided at Camp Lejeune during the qualifying period are eligible for reimbursement of out-of-pocket medical expenses related to any of the 15 covered health conditions. The agency represented that it would pay for medical expenses that were paid in the two years prior to the claim, minus amounts that were covered by health insurance plans. Family members could receive payment for medical expenses, but they could not receive disability benefits.
The VA required that servicemembers and their families provide them with proof that they were on the base during the affected period and that they suffered from one of the covered conditions.
The VA Did Not Do What They Promised on Paper
All of this looked good on paper, but the Veterans Administration failed to live up to its own word and its promises to people who are tragically exposed to grave harm. Veterans who actually filed claims for these benefits found that the reality was different from what may have looked good in a press release.
The VA’s website tells you that you may be able to file a claim related to Camp Lejeune water. Whether it was a stricter interpretation of the agency’s policies or just plain incompetence, the VA is known to have botched thousands of these claims. Even when the agency granted benefits, it made numerous mistakes in paying them, costing veterans and their families money that they need.
The Inspector General Found Numerous VA Errors
The Veterans Administration’s Inspector General recently issued a scathing report about how the agency handled claims. The IG described a number of findings that should be appalling to any reader. The report was innocuously titled “Improved Processing Needed for Veterans’ Claims of Contaminated Water Exposure at Camp Lejeune. Most government reports have these harmless sounding titles, but the contents of them show a different reality.
The VA report found the following errors:
- Over 21,000 of the total 57,000 claims that were filed were incorrectly denied
- Even when the VA granted benefits, it still shortchanged veterans by thousands of dollars. The agency was supposed to back date claims, But it wrongly dated 2300 claims, costing veterans roughly $14 million dollars
- The VA had an astronomically high denial rate of up to 71% of the claims that were filed.
- Claims reviewers prematurely denied over 17,000 claims.
- The VA wrongfully denied 1500 claims because of technical and procedural issues.
The government delayed informing them of their exposure
One of the major problems that held victims back from filing lawsuits and getting compensation was the fact that the government delayed informing them of their exposure. Even when the government let people know that they were exposed, they did not give victims full information. The government hid the whole truth for decades.The issue is that veterans needed the full scope of information when they filed a disability claim. The VA did not care about the equities of the situation, denying claims that they believed to not be fully supported.
Many claims were summarily rejected
Many claims were summarily rejected out of hand by the VA. Had the veterans been given the information they needed, or a full chance to make their case, they may have qualified for the disability benefits.
One of the main problems that the VA faced in processing these claims was its own administrative incompetence. Initially, the agency had Personnel dedicated to handling these claims that were specifically trained in issues relating to Camp Lejeune. However, in 2017, the agency spread handling these claims to other offices. Some of the people dealing with the disability claims did not have any idea of the specific factors tied in with Camp Lejeune. One study found that the error rate for claims handled in offices with untrained employees reached as high as 40%.
The IG recommended that the VA centralized handling of the claims in one office where they are trained Personnel. It also recommended that the VA conduct targeted reviews of the claims that were decided.
The VA has promised to clean up its act
The VA has promised to clean up its act with regard to Camp Lejeune claims. However, this is too late to help many veterans who suffered grave financial difficulties because they were denied the benefits they deserve. Many veterans suffered from years of depression and Financial stress because the VA broke its core promise. Some even attempted suicide because of the extreme stress and anger from having their claims unreasonably and wrongfully denied.
You Can Still Get Benefits, Even if You File a Lawsuit
Now with the passage of the Camp Lejeune Justice Act injured service members and their families may file a claim against the federal government for injuries suffered from the toxic Camp Lejeune water. The law created a cause of action that lasts for two years from the date of Passage.
The Camp Lejeune Justice Act specifically addresses veterans benefits. It clearly states that any lawsuit filed under the ACT does not impact the victim’s future entitlement to disability benefits. The law also does not require veterans to reimburse the government for past benefits received if they are eligible for a settlement for toxic water injuries. You have every right and ability to pursue both a lawsuit and a disability claim if you have been injured by the contaminated water.