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Aging Marine Corps veterans who were exposed to water contaminated with benzene and other toxic chemicals at North Carolina’s Camp Lejeune decades ago are finally due to get long-awaited compensation checks from the Veterans Administration.
The VA began processing claims on March 14 after years of lawsuits and appeals, an act of Congress and a presidential order.
The claims arise from the discovery, made in the 1980s, that drinking-water wells at the base had been contaminated with benzene, trichloroethylene, vinyl chloride and other petroleum contaminants from leaking storage tanks and an off-base dry cleaner since 1953.
Exposure to the water for as little as 30 days has been linked to a list of health problems for veterans and their children: adult leukemia, aplastic anemia, bladder cancer, kidney cancer, liver cancer, multiple myeloma, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and Parkinson's disease. A law passed by Congress in 2012 acknowledged the link, but the process of actually qualifying for compensation kept running into legal problems about proving causality in individual cases.
Just before he left office, President Barack Obama signed an order freeing $2 billion in federal funds to pay the claims and easing the process by which veterans could qualify. Under the order, they only have to show a diagnosis of one of the conditions listed and proof that they served at Camp Lejeune for at least 30 days between 1953 and 1987.
The Legal Counsel for the Elderly’s Veterans Advocacy Project, affiliated with AARP, helped some veterans with their disability claims.