Meeting addresses historic Lejeune water contamination
A Community Assistance Panel meeting was the first of three sessions hosted Saturday in Jacksonville about the toxic water aboard Camp Lejeune and government plans for compensating those exposed to it
by Naomi Whidden, originally posted on January 21, 2017
Cries of disapproval from hundreds of veterans and residents were directed at senior advisors with VA Benefits Administration and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry during a meeting this weekend addressing the historic drinking water contamination aboard Camp Lejeune.
A Community Assistance Panel meeting was the first of three sessions hosted Saturday in Jacksonville about the toxic water. It allowed CAP members and the community to discuss VA and government plans for compensating those adversely affected by the contaminated drinking water aboard Camp Lejeune.
A notice recently published in the Federal Register will provide disability benefits totaling more than $2 billion to veterans who had been exposed to contaminated drinking water while assigned to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. VA health care is already being provided to eligible veterans stationed at the Marine base for at least 30 days cumulative between Aug. 1, 1953, and Dec. 31, 1987, and who have one of eight medical conditions presumed to be connected to the exposure to the base’s water.
Brad Flohr, a VA senior advisor for benefits, says CAP members are asking questions that other communities across the U.S. are asking.
“The Community Assistance Panel has concerns about the VA’s subject matter experts, who are medical professionals who provide opinions and claims…basically the panel is wanting to know who these people are and what their qualifications are,” Flohr said.
Some CAPS members spoke on the lack of transparency from the VA, and others addressed the need to expand rights for dependants who were raised on Camp Lejeune and have a serious medical condition because of the contamination.
“I was asking questions about the creation of subject matter expert program,” CAP founder Jerry Ensminger said. “Prior to that program, all the proof a veteran needed was a nexus letter from a doctor. Once too many veterans applied for benefits, the VA created this subject matter expert program.”
According to Ensminger, the SME program began overruling nexus letters — a document linking a veteran’s disability to their time in service — provided by practicing oncologists.
“There’s a lot of dodging going on. Some of these SMEs aren’t oncologists or even medical doctors, some are just physician’s assistants,” Ensminger said.
Despite a meeting scheduled later in the day to address public concerns, veterans and residents in attendance at the morning meeting voiced their disapproval as VA officials told CAP members and the community to contact Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., over expanding claims to dependants affected by the contaminated drinking water.
The Secretary of Veterans Affairs doesn’t have the authority to expand compensation for dependants, that legislature that can only be amended by Congress, Flohr said.
VA officials said their goal is to do all they can to assist veterans, dependants and survivors who have been disabled due to the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune.
A special session scheduled to follow the CAP meeting later in the day would feature Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry scientists discussing their findings from public health activities on the impact of exposure.
“These meetings give people an opportunity to see what we’ve been going through and it gives them the opportunity to talk to scientists and ask VA questions,” Ensminger said. “This is good.”
A public meeting was scheduled to follow the ATSDR panel to answer the community’s questions about the Camp Lejeune water contamination and VA claims. The meeting is scheduled to be live-streamed.