The VA recently sent out an update to all persons who have signed up for updates. The document is attached here for those that have not received the update.
In Response to NY1 Camp Lejuene Investigation, VA Says Claims Investigators 'Have No Financial Motivation In Their Decisions'
An exclusive NY1 investigation revealed that the Department of Veterans Affairs denies 89 percent of disability claims where there is "evidence of an association with the contaminants in the water" at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, an issue that impacts thousands of veterans and civilians across the country, including here in New York. In his latest report, NY1's Michael Herzenberg gets reaction from the VA and a lawmaker.
A NY1 investigation found that the VA denies disability benefits to nearly nine out of 10 veterans who say contaminated water at the famed Camp Lejeune Marine Base made them sick and that there is evidence of an association with the contaminants in the water.
"We continue to see bias on the part of the VA not to award disability benefits," said North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr.
Both Burr and North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis say they’ve been pressuring the VA to change.
“The only conclusion one can come to,” Burr said, “is that some in VA believe that it's better to have those folks die before the payments made."
The VA responded with a statement, saying, "We have met with Sen. Burr and will continue to do so to address his concerns and questions. VA claims examiners have no financial motivation in their decisions and in fact are encouraged to respect a philosophy that VA grant if it can and deny only if it must. VA advocates for Veterans, Servicemembers, and their survivors. More than 54 percent of the people that work in VA’s Veterans Benefits Administration (the administration responsible for non-healthcare benefits) are Veterans themselves."
Craig Unterberg doesn't see it that way. The New York City attorney is now fighting kidney cancer and lived on the North Carolina base as a child.
"It's taking too long, and this is an urgent situation there are just some people that are so sick," he said about the VA's process.
900,000 veterans and their families may have been exposed to chemicals from 1953 to 1987 that seeped into the groundwater from industrial sites inside Camp Lejeune and a dry cleaner just off the base.
In 2012, a law made medical care less expensive for those who drank the water and suffer from any of 15 medical conditions.
In December, the VA decided to eliminate obstacles to disability benefits for vets with eight conditions, but its implementation will take at least a year.
Mark Cifelli is a Marine veteran who served at Camp Lejeune in the 1980s. He, with the support of his new bride, is fighting to survive Stage 4 colon, lung and liver cancer. He says his doctors believe the contaminated water at the Marine base is the cause and that the VA rejected his application for disability benefits three times.
Cifelli spoke to NY1 from his suburban Buffalo home.
"There's no reason to make people wait any longer. I might not be around here," he said.
Burr says the VA could do it quicker, pointing to Vietnam. The U.S. used the deforester Agent Orange back then, sickening thousands of our service members. Burr says the VA implemented a fast-track for disability benefits in three months.
Burr says VA officials told him they'd look into that.
The VA told NY1 it is bound by the rule-making time frames established by law.
VA expands review of chemical exposure in drinking water at Marine Corps base Camp LejeuneAs part of VA's ongoing commitment to provide care to veterans and their families, the Department of Veterans Affairs recently announced that it will start the process of amending its regulations to establish presumptions of service connection for certain conditions resulting from exposure to contaminated drinking water at the U.S. Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. This process is in addition to the healthcare VA already provides for 15 conditions to eligible veterans who were stationed at Camp Lejeune for at least 30 days between Aug. 1, 1953 and Dec. 31, 1987 as a result of the Honoring America's Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012. VA also provides reimbursement of healthcare expenses for those 15 conditions to eligible family members who resided at Camp Lejeune during that time period. To read rest of the article click VA MCB CL 0CT.pdf.
Woman shares story of breast cancer survival
Karol Smith Davis grew up in Jacksonville and on Camp Lejeune. Davis remembers spending almost every day of every summer at the pool when she was young. It was fun and there wasn’t much else to do in the area during the 60s and 70s, she said.
But even as a child she had problems. Davis has had issues with her immune system all her life in addition to tumors in both of her breasts. Because of this, she had doctor recommended breast exams twice a year.
In January of 2011, Davis went to her exam and everything was fine. But by her next exam in October, there was a problem. “They told me that I had several things they were concerned about,” she said. After several biopsies it was discovered that Davis had three carcinomas in her left breast and six in her right. She had Stage 3 invasive breast cancer.
By the end of November, the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes. Davis had eight of her lymph nodes removed as well as a mastectomy. She had surgery on her birthday -- Feb. 3, 2012. Cancer affected her life in many ways, Davis said. There were medical issues caused by treatment, especially since she already had a compromised immune system, in addition to the emotional and financial stress added to her and her family. There are many things that aren’t talked about when it comes to living beyond cancer, she said. The list side effects caused by treatment is long, but some things, like having to take pills every day for the following years, losing your eyelashes as well as your hair, loss of libido and vaginal dryness don’t always make it into the conversation. “What people don’t tell you about living with breast cancer is that there are so many other things, residual things, that go along with it,” she said. Davis suffers from lymphedema since her lymph nodes were removed. The flow of lymph, fluid that circulates throughout the body to remove waste from tissues, gets backed-up in her arm, causing extreme swelling and pain. In order to keep it manageable, Davis must wear a compression sleeve on the affected arm -- the right arm, her dominant arm.
“I have to wear mine everyday for the rest of my life otherwise my arm just balloons. It gets so big sometimes I can barely lift it,” she said. The sleeves, like many other items meant to help with quality of life, are not covered by her insurance. Davis is happy to have a caring and loving husband, she said. “He’s a kind man and just loves me,” she said. Davis decided not to have reconstructive surgery on her breasts, lives with an enlarged arm and other issues caused by cancer and its treatment. And her husband has stuck by her, she said. Davis also has a good support system in her children and her friends, she said. Davis and her friends get together and keep each other encouraged, she said.