New Bern, NC – The Janey Ensminger Act begins with "a presumption of service" for people who lived or worked on Camp Lejuene for at least thirty days between 1957 and 1987. U.S. House Representative Brad Miller says, this was the only fair way to deal with those that have come forward claiming illness from the contamination.
"Putting people to the task of having to prove that they would not have gotten male breast cancer for instance except because of the water is just impossible, and that's not fair to those folks, just as it wasn't fair to the people exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam to prove that they wouldn't of gotten one of these rare cancers anyway."
In a case similar to the one being addressed at Camp Lejuene, chemicals such as Agent Orange and other herbicides that were sprayed in Vietnam during the war had harmful effects on both Vietnamese citizens, and U.S. soldiers. Over a thirteen-year period lawsuits were brought against corporations, and experts studied the effects of these chemicals on humans and animals. In 1991 the Department of Veteran Affairs implemented the Agent Orange Act, which provided compensation to those affected by the chemicals sprayed in Vietnam. The Janey Ensminger Act, similar to the Agent Orange Act, is fast tracking the availability of health care through the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs.
"What we did was say that if you get one of these rare cancers you don't have to prove that you would not have gotten it anyway. You can just show that you were at Camp Lejuene, you were exposed to that water, you drank it, you bathed in it, you cooked with it, and now you have this cancer that's associated with exposure to that water."
It is not unusual for legislation to be passed without a plan for implementing it, and there are marked differences between Agent Orange and the Ensminger Bill. Congressman Miller says the Veteran Affairs Committee is tasked with helping work out the bill's specifics.
"The Veteran's Administration is setting up procedures for people to apply for the health care benefits for treatments of these specific diseases, these specific health conditions that come from exposure to the water."
There are 15 illnesses on the list that make one eligible for health care. They are Esophageal cancer, lung cancer, bladder cancer, breast cancer, kidney cancer, leukemia, multiple myeloma, myleodysplasic syndromes, renal toxicity, infertility, miscarriages, Hepatic Steatosis, Scleroderma, neurobehavioral effects, and non-Hodgkins Lymphoma.
The current paperwork needed for health care by the Veterans Administration is fairly simple, a slightly easier rendition of a W-2 form. Communications Director for the Veterans Administration mid-Atlantic health care network, Bruce Sprecher says one of the new provisions of the bill has never been encountered by the Administration before.
"This is the first time as far as I am aware of that VA will be responsible for family members. "
Sprecher points out that one of the biggest advantages to veterans is that when applying for health care their amount of yearly income does not factor into the care they receive. The Bill does not provide coverage for procedures that have already taken place. According to a statement released by the Veterans Administration on August 8th Congress has to delegate spending regulations to the Veterans Administration before it begins providing health care for family members. Right now, the bill only guarantees health care will be provided.
"This bill was for healthcare but if you come to us and there's something wrong with you and you can tie it to your service, and then you're also entitled, you may be entitled to disabilities pensions as well."
The primary supporters of the Janey Ensminger Act are still fighting to get monetary allowances. People affected by Camp Lejuene's past water contamination can only get money by filing a disability benefit claim through Veterans Affairs. A primary backer of the bill who was born, and raised for a short time on Camp Lejuene, Mike Partain, says he accepts the bill with the hope that the Marine Corp will come forward with information that has not yet been released.
Mike Partain was one of the first to confront the military, and claim that the water was responsible for a serious illness he suffered. Partain was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007 at the age of 39. He runs a website called the few the proud and the forgotten , with Ensminger, among others, that primarily functions as a way to communicate with others who may have been affected by the contamination. So far, he has documented 80 male breast cancer cases, half of which were people diagnosed under the age of 56. He is investigating Marine Corp documents, and says that he will continue to do so until he can find the extent of the damage that the contamination caused.
"With the health care bill that was signed into law on Monday that frees Jerry and I up to really focus on the documents and what the Marine Corp knew, what they didn't know, what they should've done and what they didn't do, and we'll be working on that for the next couple of years."
As Partain continues his investigation, he will also focus on the work he does thru his website, tftptf.com. He hopes more veterans will have the opportunity for benefits, and be able to find more diseases that are associated with the water.
"God forbid if I get sick I want the benefits, but more importantly I want my name and my condition and the results of my exposure to be counted and reported back to congress, because there is a reporting requirement with this bill that makes the va report back to congress how many people are reporting these diseases and that's important and we need that."
Partain thinks everyone affected at Camp Lejuene should be getting disability benefits, but for people who did not serve, that is especially difficult.
"Right now veterans have to go through the Veterans Administration to address those grievances through the va and the dependents such as myself have to file a federal tort claims act, and sue the government under the federal tort claims act."
The situation becomes more difficult for civilians that worked on base between 1957 and 1987 because they are not even covered by the bill.
"The employees on the base are not covered on the bill, they are actually covered by the Federal Employees Compensation Act."
Partain says the bill has a lot of faults, but after four years of helping push for the bill, is satisfied that people affected by the contaminated water will be accounted for.
"The people who were getting sick, and calling us and emailing us, looking for help and not being able to get treatment because they don't have money, now have a way to get treatment, they have hope again."
The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry is examining the connection between the camp Lejeune water contamination and the occurrence of male breast cancer in a study they expect to be completed in 2014. Set for release in November of this year is a water model, which will show how bad the contamination was on Mainside, the area of Camp Lejuene where the most people were exposed. The model seeks to determine the end date of the contamination, among other things.
Officials at Veterans Affairs have not yet released what will happen after a person, affected by the bill, applies for health care, or the time it will take for that person to be approved for health treatment. According to Communications Director at the Veterans health administration, Bruce Sprecher, officials at the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs are working out the details of the bill.
Although studies of the water have been ongoing for thirty years, finding the people who've been affected by the water contamination may not take as long. The website Partain helps run has attracted at least 1500 people reporting various diseases they believe are connected to the water contamination incident. When the bill passed on Monday, it also made the Marine Corp accountable for what went on at Camp Lejuene before the chemicals were discovered in 1982.