Greensburg Daily News, Greensburg, IN

May 14, 2013

Camp Lejuene vets may be entitled to medical assistance

Pat Smith
Greensburg Daily News

Greensburg — Have you heard about it? Tom Imel, Service Officer for the American Legion Post 129, wants to know if you have heard of this and what you should do if you were stationed at Camp Lejeune from Jan. 1, 1957 and Dec. 31, 1987.

Camp Lejeune was first ready to be used as a U.S. Marine Corps base in 1942. The camp has continually helped get men and women ready for combat and for humanitarian missions. Unfortunately, for many years the camp’s water supply was deadly. Those were the years between Jan. 1, 1957 and Dec. 31, 1987. Anyone that served at Camp Lejeune for more than 30 days could have been exposed to drinking water that was contaminated with chemicals that could lead to deadly diseases. Even those stationed at the camp prior to 1957 are being considered as potential victims.

The camp is, as military bases generally are, huge. No question about it, while stationed there at any time during those 30 years, service men and women enjoy all of the advantages of such a huge military base. It really is a town with all of the things they would have in their home towns. They have childcare, excellent shopping, education opportunities, hunting and fishing, restaurants, boating and swimming and it has banks, a library, hobby shops, fitness centers, 11 miles of beach, theaters and fitness centers as well as the usual commissary.

Those advantages don’t mean anything though if the contaminated water poisoned your body. The drinking water was contaminated with chemicals known as “volatile organic compounds” (VOC’s) including industrial solvents and compounds of fuels. The Marine Corps discovered the VOC’s in the drinking water that was provided by two of the eight water distribution systems on the base in 1982.

The new law requires the Veterans Administration to provide health care for any veteran that served on active duty at Camp Lejeune for not fewer than 30 days between the years mentioned earlier. The contaminated water could possibly cause cancers of the bladder, breast, kidney, lung, and esophagus. It could cause female infertility, hepatic steatosis, leukemia, miscarriage, multiple myeloma, myelodysplastic syndromes, neuro-behavioral effects, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, renal toxicity and Scleroderma.

Any veteran that is eligible for care under the Camp Lejeune authority, regardless of their current enrollment status with the VA, won’t be charged a co-payment for health care related to the illnesses or conditions mentioned above. In addition, any third party insurance company won’t be billed for the services.

Imel wants to make sure that everyone that was on the base knows about the new law and what it can mean for them. If you or someone you know was stationed at the camp before 1987, you should get in touch with Imel at the American Legion in Greensburg.

He is a retired member of the United States Marine Corps and was on active duty for more than 22 years. He was stationed at Camp Lejeune for nine years. He has some of the problems associated with the contamination, but his main concern now is that someone who was also exposed won’t know about it.

Imel showed me the VA notice stating what it takes for registration: “Once all the funds and regulations are in place, a family member will need to show documentation that the service member was stationed at Camp Lejeune for at least 30 days, their relationship to the Camp Lejeune service member (marriage license or birth certificate) and proof of residency on the camp for not fewer than 30 days between Jan. 1, 1957 and Dec. 31, 1987 (copies of orders, base housing records etc.).”

It warns that those registering should not alter or cancel current health insurance because that could put family members at risk for obtaining and paying for health care for anything that is not within the conditions provided for under the law.

As an Accredited American Legion Service Officer, Imel is specially trained to provide expert assistance, free of charge, to veterans and their families. He has helped more than 1,000 service men and women during his 15 years as service officer. Most of it has been with disability benefit applications, but he has also provided information, referrals about education, employment and business as well as death benefits. Three years ago he was named the first Thomas “Thumper” Henderson Award winner for outstanding service from the state, and he received a citation for meritorious service from the national chapter of the American Legion. His wife Wanda is the president of the Legion Auxiliary.