Veterans Disability Info Blog

Did Camp Lejeune Water Cause Esophageal Cancer?

As Significant Numbers of USMC Vets Suffer, Our VA Disability Law Firm Demand Answers

It started with a raw, sore throat that made swallowing difficult. You expected that to clear up in a few days, but it worsened. Then came heartburn and indigestion that kept you awake at night and didn’t improve even with over-the-counter remedies and a diet change. Eventually, you consulted a doctor who sent you for tests. Then, more tests. The bad news followed: cancer of the esophagus, a rare disease that only about 200,000 cases are reported in the United States each year. You wonder at your bum luck, but maybe luck had nothing to do with it. You’ve heard the reports about water contamination at Camp Lejeune. You recall your service there decades ago, and you have to ask yourself, “Could the chemicals at Camp Lejeune have caused this?” If you’ve arrived at this point, you are not alone. Camp Lejeune veterans are reporting cases of esophageal cancer at statistically improbable rates, leading many to conclude there’s a causal connection between Camp Lejeune water and this rare form of cancer.

Overview of Esophageal Cancer

The esophagus is the pathway from the throat to the stomach. According to the Centers for Disease Control, two types of cancer develop here:

  1. Adenocarcinoma — The most common type of esophageal cancer in the United States affects the tissue that produces the mucus that lubricates your throat so you can swallow. Adenocarcinoma typically appears in the lower part of the esophagus.
  1. Squamous cell carcinoma — This type begins in squamous cells that line the esophagus, and generally starts in the upper and middle parts of the esophagus.

In either case, the disease starts with small tumors, which can be removed surgically in the early stages. Unfortunately, only about 25 percent of esophageal cancers are detected at this stage. That’s because the esophagus is made to expand when you swallow, so small masses are not an impediment. Only after the cancer has grown do most patients realize they have a serious medical problem. Esophageal tumors grow very rapidly, so by the time the patient gets a diagnosis, the cancer has often spread, making it very difficult to treat.

Treatments for esophageal cancer include:

  • Surgery — In the early stages, doctors can remove just the tumors or perform a complete esophagectomy, removing some or most of the esophagus and surrounding tissue. Surgeons reconstruct the esophagus by raising part of the stomach into the patient’s chest and throat.
  • Radiation — Targeted beams of radiation kill cancer cells. Healthcare providers often employ radiation prior to or after surgery.
  • Chemotherapy and medication — Toxic chemicals are used to kill cancer cells or arrest a tumor’s growth. Other medical interventions include photodynamic therapy, which uses photosensitizers, light to destroy tumors, and drugs that target HER2 proteins in cancer cells. Additionally, doctors can prescribe drugs that turn the body’s immune system against the cancer cells.

As with every type of cancer, early detection and treatment improve the patient’s chances of a favorable outcome. When the diagnosis comes late, healthcare providers cannot arrest the cancer. They can still provide palliative care to ease a patient’s suffering and improve their quality of life.

Common Causes of Esophageal Cancer

Even for a disease as rare as esophageal cancer, there are distinct risk factors, which include:

  • Tobacco use — Smoking can dry the mucous lining of the throat, making it easier for the toxins in tobacco smoke to take hold. However, using smokeless tobacco is also risky.
  • Alcohol — Chronic, heavy consumption of alcohol
  • Obesity — Being overweight or having obesity may cause inflammation in your esophagus that could become cancer.
  • Barrett’s esophagus and chronic acid reflux — These conditions, characterized by stomach acid rising into the esophagus causing chronic heartburn, force a change in the cells at the lower end of the passageway. This cellular mutation can lead to cancerous growths.
  • Human papillomavirus — HPV is a common virus, known to cause cancer of the cervix, vagina, and vulva in women, the penis in men, and the anus in both men and women. It can also cause cancer in the throat.
  • Other disorders — Esophageal cancer is linked to some rare, sometimes inherited, conditions, such as achalasia and tylosis.
  • Occupational exposure to certain chemicals — Workers who are exposed to dry cleaning solvents over a long period have an elevated risk of developing esophageal cancer.

It is the last item that the attorneys at our VA disability law firm are most interested in since a chemical used as a dry-cleaning solvent is listed among the contaminants in Camp Lejeune water.

What Was in the Water at Camp Lejeune?

U.S. Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina was established in 1942. During its operation, a combination of service-related activity and offsite private industry contributed to the contamination of the base’s occupants’ water for drinking and bathing. It wasn’t until 1982 that the Marine Corps discovered specific volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the drinking water coming from two of the eight water treatment plants on the base.

Those compounds include:

  • Trichloroethylene (TCE)
  • Tetrachloroethylene (PCE)
  • Benzene
  • Vinyl chloride (VC)

These toxic compounds are known to cause a variety of illnesses, including many types of cancer, and birth defects.

Is Esophageal Cancer One of the Diseases Linked to Camp Lejeune Water?

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), based in Atlanta, Georgia, is the federal agency tasked with investigating the Camp Lejeune contamination. A bureau of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, ATSDR’s mission is to protect communities from the harmful health effects of hazardous substances, both natural and man-made. ATSDR researches hazardous waste sites’ health impacts, which is essentially what Camp Lejeune became over decades of negligent mismanagement.

In January 2017, ATSDR issued a report entitled, ATSDR Assessment of the Evidence for the Drinking Water Contaminants at Camp Lejeune and Specific Cancers and Other Diseases. This report formed the basis for the Veterans Administration’s Final Rule on eligibility for benefits due to Camp Lejeune conditions. The Final Rule listed eight presumptive conditions:

  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
  • Multiple myeloma
  • Liver cancer
  • Kidney cancer
  • Bladder cancer
  • Aplastic anemia / myelodysplastic syndromes
  • Adult leukemia

For these conditions, the VA acknowledges a service connection for disability compensation to veterans who:

  • Served at Camp Lejeune or MCAS New River for at least 30 days between August 1953 and December 1987
  • Did not receive a dishonorable discharge

Veterans with a presumptive condition who satisfy these two requirements do not have to prove anything more to qualify for disability benefits. However, esophageal cancer is not on this list. What does that mean for veterans with this disease?

Requirements for Filing a VA Disability Claim for Esophageal Cancer

At this point, you might ask, “If esophageal cancer is not on the list of presumptive conditions, how can I apply for disability benefits?” Remember, you are entitled to benefits for any service-related illness that renders you disabled. The difference is that you must prove your esophageal cancer is service-related, because the VA will not presume that it is. So, how can you prove a service connection?

Returning to the ATSDR Assessment, we see that the Agency did not find sufficient evidence to conclude that the major contaminants identified in Camp Lejeune water cause esophageal cancer. However, the evidence did suggest a strong enough association to place esophageal cancer on the list of 15 covered conditions for which Camp Lejeune veterans can receive medical treatment. These conditions include:

  • Bladder cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Esophageal cancer
  • Female infertility
  • Hepatic steatosis
  • Kidney cancer
  • Leukemia
  • Lung cancer
  • Miscarriage
  • Multiple myeloma
  • Myelodysplastic syndromes
  • Neurobehavioral effects
  • Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
  • Renal toxicity
  • Scleroderma

If your esophageal cancer is disabling, according to VA metrics, and you can demonstrate that Camp Lejeune water more likely than not caused that cancer, you will be eligible for disability benefits.  We also expect that as more veterans come forward, presenting new evidence that they are suffering from associated conditions, the VA will have to promulgate new rules, adding to the list of presumptive conditions. Until that happens, it’s up to veterans like you—aided by the attorneys at our VA disability law firm—to fight for inclusion of all debilitating illnesses that can be traced back to Camp Lejeune toxins.

Your Right to Appeal a Denial of Camp Lejeune Disability Benefits

Unfortunately, the VA rejects a very high percentage of first-time disability claims, especially when the claim isn’t for a presumptive condition. Most often, the applications lack sufficient documentation to convince the reviewer that a disability exists or has been properly rated, or that the condition is service-related. These elements of your claim are crucial when filing for a condition like esophageal cancer that has only been “associated with” Camp Lejeune water. 

However, it’s also important to understand you have the right to appeal. Experience shows that with knowledgeable and determined counsel, disability claims have a better chance of success on appeal. Our firm has recovered millions of dollars worth of current and past-due benefits for our clients. We are determined to fight for your right to the benefits you deserve.

Recovering Additional Compensation for Camp Lejeune Esophageal Cancer

The importance of this section cannot be overstated. Thanks to a recent act of Congress, Camp Lejeune veterans are not limited to VA benefits. The Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022 created a right for Camp Lejeune veterans and families, injured by toxic water, to sue in federal court for damages. This means you can recover the type of personal injury damages available to civil lawsuit plaintiffs. These include:

  • Reimbursement for medical expenses, past and future, related to the condition
  • Reimbursement of lost income, past and future, related to the condition
  • Compensation for physical pain, mental suffering, loss of quality of life, loss of enjoyment of life, loss of consortium, and other noneconomic losses

A civil lawsuit can potentially yield a far greater return than a VA disability claim, even after you deduct for legal expenses and VA compensation offsets. Thus, CLJA represents a major step forward in the dignified treatment of disabled veterans. Of course, the law does not allow double-dipping, so you must offset any money received from VA. But you will still retain the all-important compensation for your pain and suffering, which can be substantial. Those amounts can help you and your family live in comfort and might even provide a legacy for your children.

Contingency Fee Arrangements Mean You Pay Nothing to File a Civil Lawsuit

Perhaps the best news about a Camp Lejeune water lawsuit is that you pay no upfront costs. Our veterans’ rights attorneys finance the lawsuit, assuming all the risk. Then, when you win an award, you pay us a portion of that amount. If we don’t recover damages for you, you owe us nothing. But remember, you only get one chance to file a civil claim, so you must choose a law firm carefully. Our VA disability law firm has an outstanding track record in Camp Lejeune cases, and we offer a free consultation and case evaluation, so you can better decide if we’re the law firm for you.  We have over 100 years of combined  experience working on veterans’ matters and we were working on Camp Lejeune cases long before the recent law was passed, and long before all the big television advertising law firms even heard of Camp Lejeune.

Contact a Leading VA Disability Law Firm to Discuss Your Camp Lejeune Water Case

If you or a loved one has been harmed from water contamination at Camp Lejeune during military service, you must act now to protect your rights. Gang & Associates, LLC, headquartered in New Jersey, represents Veterans in all 50 states, U.S. territories, Europe, Asia, and South America. Call us today or contact us online to schedule a free consultation. Se habla Español.

We are Here to Help

If you are having trouble obtaining benefits, contact us online or at 888.878.9350 to discuss your case.