Veterans who are exposed to the contaminated water at the Marine Corps base at Camp Lejeune over a 35-year period can now apply for veterans’ disability compensation using new rules that were just recently finalized. This change in approach with these cases is expected to affect as many as 900,000 veterans. Years of lawsuits and advocacy by veterans’ groups is finally being recognized and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs should be commended for taking this step.
Just like Agent Orange continues to be an issue, I fully expect that Camp Lejeune-related illnesses will continue to be a part of the veterans’ disability compensation landscape for decades to come. Also like Agent Orange, the list of diseases known to be associated with the contamination will continue to grow over time as medical science continues to investigate and develop studies. Like many toxic exposure situations, the full effect of the toxic exposure is not felt immediately. In addition, lengthy periods of time are needed to follow veterans in order to derive appropriate scientific studies that can show correlations between the contamination and the health issues.
For instance, male breast cancer has not been on the list of diseases known to be associated with the Camp Lejeune water situation. However, we have male breast cancer cases of veterans who were exposed to the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune. And these veterans are in touch with numerous other veterans who are also suffering from male breast cancer and the only common denominator is exposure to the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune. But because it’s not on the list, veterans face a challenge in trying to prove the connection.
We continue to urge the Department of Veterans’ Affairs to expand the list of diseases known to be associated with contaminated water at Camp Lejeune. And for veterans who do not have diseases associated with Camp Lejeune water exposure but nevertheless believe it is associated with the water exposure, then I definitely recommend that they continue to investigate those avenues and try to prove a direct connection between their exposure and their disease.
Just because a disease is not on a list, a veteran can still make the claim that it is nevertheless related. Just like Agent Orange situations, even if a veteran’s disease is not on the list of diseases known to be associated with the toxic exposure, he could still develop evidence that shows that in his particular case, given his unique circumstances, the disease could only have come from the toxic exposure. Normally, in these cases one has to show a very unique presentation and the absence of any other etiologies that could explain the disease.
You simply cannot establish these claims based upon statistical data from periods of studies, and instead you have to show that although the scientific literature does not show a high enough correlation, that a unique situation nevertheless was the cause of the disease.
Even though you may believe your disease is associated with toxic exposure at Camp Lejeune, I would counsel veterans not to overlook other more direct theories to support service connection. For instance, there are a plethora of disability compensation claims pending for pancreatic cancer secondary to Agent Orange exposure.
As you may know, pancreatic cancer is not on the list associated with Agent Orange and so these claims are usually denied. However, diabetes is on the list, and long-standing diabetes is a risk factor for pancreatic cancer. Therefore, our office has won pancreatic cancer cases not directly associated with Agent Orange exposure but on a secondary basis due to diabetes that was in fact caused by Agent Orange exposure.
So with all these toxic exposure cases one must look to determine whether or not there are other diseases that are service connected or that could be service connected that are due to the toxic exposure that in turn has caused the other major health problem for which benefits are sought.
The bottom line is that these cases can become medically complicated and it is very difficult to win without expert assistance. For these reasons we would highly recommend that veterans who have toxic exposure cases and serious health problems to contact a qualified veterans’ disability attorney to determine if the case could be won.