July 22, 2014

Sgt. Shaft caricatureDear Sgt. Shaft,
My inquiry concerns compensation for exposure to contaminated drinking water at Camp LeJeune. Many military dependent children lived at New River MCAS, and traveled to attend Brewster Jr. High School at Camp LeJeune, such as myself. Why aren’t we included in the unfortunate incident of compensation?

Susan T.
Via the Internet

Dear Susan,
The DOD and/or VA make the call on operational dates and conditions that qualify for VA benefits in situations like Camp Lejeune. At this time, they believe there is limited and suggestive evidence of an association between certain diseases and the chemical compounds found at Camp Lejeune during the period of contamination. So the VA is considering disability compensation claims based on exposure to the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune on a case-by-case basis. Perhaps you can provide evidence that indicates you were required to serve on Camp Lejeune for education purposes during the period of contamination (August 1953 through December 1987). The evidence must show you have a current disease and include a medical opinion indicating the disease is a result of exposure to the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune.

You should seek counsel from a Veteran Service Officer (VSO) to determine your actual status. There are two types of VSOs; private organizations and state offices. All VSO counseling services are free and you do not have to be a member of the organization to receive their services. Private organizations are the American Legion, VFW or Disabled American Vets; among others. To find a state VSO in your area click here (http://www.va.gov/statedva.htm), find your state on this site, then look for claims help or the county service officers on the state site.

Shaft Notes
• After Acting Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Sloan Gibson told the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs that VA needs approximately $17.6 billion in additional funding for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2014 through Fiscal Year 2017, Chairman Jeff Miller released the following statement:

“I am committed to giving VA the resources it needs to provide our veterans with the care and benefits they have earned. But if there’s one thing we’ve learned over the last few months, it’s that we can’t trust VA’s numbers. That includes the $17.6 billion in additional funding Acting Secretary Sloan Gibson asked for today. Given that this figure seems to have magically fallen out of the sky today — after years of assertions from VA leaders at all levels that they had nearly every dollar and every person necessary to accomplish VA’s mission — it would be an act of budgetary malpractice to blindly sign off on this request. VA has had hundreds of millions more in medical care funding than it could spend every fiscal year since 2010. So if VA truly needs this additional $17.6 billion, that would mean the VA administrators involved in past department resource allocation decisions are either incompetent, disingenuous or both.”

U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) a senior member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee stated her view in a similar statement. Murray where continued her call to address the systemic problems at the VA in order to ensure veterans are getting the care and support they deserve:

“VA is still struggling with major systemic problems, there are many vacancies in key leadership positions, and most importantly, veterans are still waiting too long for care.

“Secretary Gibson, as we discussed yesterday, I appreciate you stepping up during this crisis.

“The Department needs strong leadership right now — because VA is facing serious challenges.

“Rob Nabors’ review identified several of these issues — which we have also been discussing here for some time.

“A corrosive culture has developed in the Department — one that is unworthy of VA’s many dedicated and talented medical providers who only want to help veterans.

“Management failures and a lack of communication is a problem at all levels of VHA. And VA needs more providers, more space, and modern IT systems.

“As we continue to work in the conference committee to craft a final bill, I hope an agreement will be reached so we can send it to the President…

“And start making the changes needed at VA to get veterans into care, create transparency, and hold people accountable.

“The compromise bill will be an important first step. As more reviews are done and more problems are found, we will need to take additional steps.

“And while we continue working on these problems, we cannot lose sight of many other pressing issues.

“Too many veterans still die by suicide each day, and sexual assault survivors still need help.

“VA must continue to make progress toward the commendable — and even more challenging — goals of eliminating veteran’s homelessness and reducing the claims backlog.

“On a more positive note, Secretary Gibson, I appreciate your help in finally getting the money to build the Walla Walla State Veterans Home. We have been working on this for a very long time.

“Now, hundreds of veterans in the area will be able to access the long-term care they need.

“As I have said repeatedly here in this room — when the nation goes to war, it also commits to taking care of the veterans when they return home.

“Their needs are a cost of war, and we will provide for them — no matter what.

“We know many veterans will need VA care for several decades to come.

“Others will come to the VA for the first time many years after their service has ended.

“So today I want to hear about solutions to these systemic problems, and smart ways to strengthen the VA for the long-term.

“Because VA needs to be there for our veterans, ready to help, right away, and every time.”

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