CAMP LEJEUNE -

Many more Marines and their relatives could be eligible for compensation for illnesses because a federal agency determined that the water at North Carolina's Camp Lejeune was contaminated four years earlier than thought.
    
In a letter to the Department of Veterans Affairs, a federal disease agency says computer modeling shows that drinking water in the residential Hadnot Point area was unsafe for human consumption as far back as 1953. President Barack Obama signed a law last year granting health care and screening to Marines and their dependents on base between 1957 and 1987.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry sent the letter Wednesday.

Upon hearing the news, U.S. Senator Richard Burr who represents North Carolina issued this statement: “There are veterans out there, some of them in dire straits, who have been waiting a long time for these findings. Until now, VA has been unable to help them.  It is my hope that VA will act quickly to amend their policy and review relevant disability claims that have been denied.  This is also good news for veterans’ family members who are eligible for health care under the law enacted last year. These men and women have been suffering through no fault of their own and we owe them the care they need without delay.”

Health officials believe as many as 1 million people may have been exposed to tainted water.  It's not clear how many Marines served at Lejeune in those years.