Lejeune Veterans Urge Obama to Pass Bill

POSTED: 7:54 AM Dec 16 2011   UPDATED: 10:39 AM Dec 16 2011

Forty Marine veterans and family members have sent a letter to President Barack Obama, urging him to help pass the Caring for Camp Lejeune Veterans Act.

The bill would provide health care to those who became ill after they were exposed contaminated to well-water at Camp Lejeune.

Below is the letter they sent:

Dear Mr. President:We, the undersigned, are constituents of the largest male breast cancer cluster ever identified - 73 men. Though we come from different backgrounds, hail from different states and vote for different parties, we are united by a common thread: at some point in our lives all us lived or worked aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune when the base's drinking water supply was highly contaminated by toxic chemicals including the recently declared human carcinogen: trichloroethylene (TCE).From the mid 1950's until 1987, an estimated 1,000,000 Marines, sailors, their family members, and loyal civilian employees aboardCamp Lejeune were exposed to tap water containing extremely high concentrations of volatile organic compounds and known carcinogens such as benzene, vinyl chloride and trichloroethylene (TCE), in addition to perchloroethylene (PCE), a probable carcinogen.This incident is the largest documented case of drinking water contamination at a U.S. domestic military facility. Thanks to the efforts of retired Master Sergeant Jerry Ensminger, whose daughter, Janey, was conceived at Camp Lejeune and died at the age of nine of acute lymphoblastic leukemia, we discovered that the Marine Corps leadership allowed the contamination to exist in the drinking water system for four and a half years despite repeated warnings from independent scientific laboratories.Decades have passed and yet we continue to learn more about the true extent of the contamination amidst false assurances of full disclosure from the Marine Corps leadership to Congress, the media and the public. Forexample, as detailed in a September 2010 House Science and Technology subcommittee hearing, documents revealed that over 1 million gallons of fuel had leaked from underground tanks near drinking water supply wells on the base. This admission, contradicted earlier claims made by Marine Corps officials who estimated a loss of 30,000 to 50,000 gallons from their fuel farm. Such inaccuracies demonstrate that the Marine Corps and the Department of the Navy have not just failed to protect the health of their own; they have betrayed the trust of those who served this country with honor.What happened to us is no coincidence. Male breast cancer accounts for less than 1 percent of all breast carcinomas, according to theNational Cancer Institute. The disease is especially rare in young men under the age of 56; notably, 30 of us were diagnosed before the age of 57. Although 100 times less common among men than women, male breast cancer is just as deadly. And it is but one disease occurring among those who lived and worked at Camp Lejeune; many more struggle with other rare cancers, chronic diseases and birth defects. Mr. President, it is time the Marine Corps live up to its motto: Semper Fidelis, "Always Faithful."Almost 25 years have passed without a policy that provides health care for those made ill by these chemicals. The Department of Veterans Affairs does not automatically provide health benefits for exposure-relatedillnesses associated with the chemicals found in Camp Lejeune's drinking water and does not cover dependents exposed on the base. However, bipartisan efforts are underway in Congress to provide medical care and services for the veterans and families suffering from the effects of the contamination. The Caring for Camp Lejeune Veterans Act of 2011, introduced by Senators Richard Burr and Kay Hagan, was unanimously approved by the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs, but it has yet to be brought to the floor for a vote. A similar bill introduced by Rep. Brad Miller, the Janey Ensminger Act, has also received bipartisan support in the House but no vote has been taken.In the meantime, we are ill. Some of us are dying. As more and more people call attention to this calamity, we ask for your active engagement alongside the Department of Defense and lawmakers in Congress toensure that care and services are provided immediately to the men and womenwho, while serving our country, were unwittingly exposed to toxic contaminants in their drinking water.These Americans and their families have already sacrificed much. It is time they are shown the loyalty they deserve.