December 29, 2015

Sgt. Shaft caricatureDear Sgt Shaft
I heard via the grape vine that The VA is expanding eligibility for VA benefits  for veterans that were stationed at Camp LeJune.  Do you have any details?

Gerry B.
Via the internet

Dear Gerry
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) recently announced that it plans to propose expanded disability compensation eligibility for Veterans exposed to contaminated drinking water while assigned to Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune.

From 1953 to 1987, water sources at the base were contaminated with industrial solvents that are correlated with certain health conditions.  Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert A. McDonald decided to propose presumptions of service connection for certain conditions associated with these chemical solvents following discussions between environmental health experts at the Veterans Health Administration and the Department of Health and Human Services Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR).

“The water at Camp Lejeune was a hidden hazard, and it is only years later that we know how dangerous it was,” said Secretary McDonald.  “We thank ATSDR for the thorough review that provided much of the evidence we needed to fully compensate Veterans who develop one of the conditions known to be related to exposure to the compounds in the drinking water.”

ATSDR determined that the drinking water at Camp Lejeune was contaminated with perchloroethylene, trichloroethylene, vinyl chloride, benzene and other petroleum contaminants from leaking storage tanks from 1953 to 1987.  ATSDR also determined that prolonged exposure to these chemicals increases the risk of certain health conditions.

Based upon VA’s review of current medical science and ATSDR’s findings, Secretary McDonald intends to propose creation of a presumption of service connection for the following conditions:

  • Kidney Cancer
  • Liver Cancer
  • Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma
  • Leukemia
  • Multiple Myeloma
  • Scleroderma
  • Parkinson’s Disease
  • Aplastic Anemia / Myelodysplastic Syndromes

The Secretary’s proposal would also expand benefits eligibility to Reserve and National Guard personnel who served at Camp Lejeune for any length of time from August 1, 1953, through December 31, 1987.   These personnel would be presumed to have been exposed to the contaminated water during their Reserve or National Guard service and, in appropriate circumstances, to have been disabled by such exposure during service, thus allowing them to qualify for VA benefits under the statutory definition of “Veteran.”

This would make them eligible for VA disability compensation and medical care for any of the presumptive conditions, and their surviving dependents would be eligible for dependency and indemnity compensation and burial benefits.

VA is working on regulations that would establish these presumptions, making it easier for affected Veterans to receive VA disability compensation for these conditions.  While VA cannot grant any benefit claims based on the proposed presumption of service connection for these conditions until it issues its final regulations, it encourages Veterans who have a record of service at Camp Lejeune between August 1, 1953, and December 31, 1987, and develop a condition that they believe is related to exposure to the drinking water at the base, to file a disability compensation claim with VA.

VA will continue to grant claims for disabilities claimed to be associated with exposure to the contaminants that can be granted under current regulations and review of the evidence in each case. If a claim for service connection for one of the proposed presumptive conditions would be denied under current regulations, the denial will be stayed until VA issues its final regulations. VA will announce when the regulations are final and presumptive benefits can begin to be awarded. For more information on applying for these benefits, visit: http://benefits.va.gov/compensation/claims-postservice-exposures-camp_lejeune_water.asp.

Veterans who served at Camp Lejeune for 30 days or more between August 1, 1953, and December 31, 1987, are already eligible to receive VA healthcare for up to 15 health conditions.  More information, including a full list of covered conditions, can be found online at: http://www.publichealth.va.gov/PUBLICHEALTH/exposures/camp-lejeune/index.asp.


Shaft Notes
Some local Veterans Affairs employees weren’t fired despite severe cases of misconduct — including sleeping in hospital patient rooms or having sex while on the job, according to a News4 I-Team investigation.

A review of agency disciplinary records shows agency leaders issued reprimands or brief suspensions to dozens of employees who’d engaged in misconduct in recent months at local Veterans Affairs (VA) medical centers in Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Martinsburg, West Virginia.

Jeff Miller, the chairman of the U.S. House Veterans Affairs Committee, said some of the discipline was too lenient and that it’s an indication the agency is failing to hold workers accountable for bad actions.

“We’re talking about people’s lives being endangered in some of these cases,” Miller said.

More than 300 employees have been disciplined at the three medical centers, according to records obtained by the I-Team via the Freedom of Information Act.

They include:

  • One VA Maryland Health System employee was reprimanded for failing to treat a patient who’d suffered a head injury in a medical center hallway.
  • In another case, an employee was issued for leaving a medicine cart unattended at the D.C. VA Medical Center.

The I-Team also found a recent series of acts of employee misconduct at the Martinsburg Medical Center.

  • Some employees had sex on the facility grounds, according to the records.
  • In another case, an employee was found sleeping while on the job, beneath a blanket in a patient room.
  • Another employee was investigated for being high on cocaine while on duty.
  • Another worker was arrested for distribution of heroin off-the-job, but was allowed to return to work.
  • In an 2013 incident, the agency suspended a Martinsburg employee for bringing a loaded gun and a knife onto the grounds.

Miller said the I-Team’s findings indicate the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs fails to hold all of its employees accountable for bad actions.

In a statement, the Department of Veterans Affairs said, “Where performance or conduct issues warrant removal, VA takes appropriate action to terminate employment.”

 

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