By SUZANNE DERSHOWITZ
The Chairmen and Ranking Members of the Veterans' Affairs Committees in both the Senate and the House have sent a letter to President Obama asking him to provide health care services for Camp Lejeune veterans right away. The message from Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Richard Burr (R-NC) and Representatives Jeff Miller (R-FL) and Bob Filner (D-CA) expresses a real sense of urgency, and POGO agrees that sick veterans exposed to contaminated drinking water at Lejeune should not have to wait one more day for the government to provide them with adequate healthcare.
Some of the lawmakers who sent this letter are also sponsoring bipartisan legislation that would deliver health care to veterans and their family members who are ill from exposure at Lejeune between 1957 and 1987. POGO also has been advocating for its passage.
The letter, dated April 20, aims to help those who need it immediately in the face of our less-than-speedy legislative process. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has existing resources which could be reserved for just this purpose without derailing other initiatives. According to Air Force Times, in February Rep. Miller proposed that the VA create a special healthcare category covering Lejeune veterans. “The cost of care could be paid, Miller suggested, by $5 billion in excess health care funds the VA discovered when preparing the 2013 budget.” The Senators and Representatives who signed onto this letter are asking President Obama to identify a portion of those appropriated funds (or other funds which can be repurposed) to be set aside for sick Camp Lejeune veterans and their families.
The signatories vocally disagree with VA Secretary Eric Shinseki’s suggestion that policy decisions affecting those exposed to the contaminated water are “premature.” Shinseki has urged decision-makers to postpone a decision until more scientific evidence is revealed linking water contamination at Lejeune to illness, referring to scientific studies that will be released over the next two years. The Chairs and Ranking Members point to already existing scientific evidence that warrants helping those who need it without delay. Sen. Burr’s press release pointed out that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has already acknowledged that trichloroethylene (TCE), a chemical which contaminated the water supply system at Lejeune, is directly linked to cancer.
Semper Fi: Always Faithful, a film about Master Sgt. Jerry Ensminger, a retired Marine who lived at Camp Lejeune and lost his daughter to leukemia, was honored just last week at the annual Ridenhour Awards. He has worked tirelessly to uncover the real facts behind the Marine Corps’ cover-up of the deadly water contamination at Camp Lejeune. POGO has joined him in demanding the truth.
The Chairmen and Ranking Members believe that “only by working together, on a bipartisan basis, can we have the biggest impact on the lives of those who have already waited long enough.” POGO agrees that the VA should take care of Lejeune vets now, but legislation is still needed to mandate care for all victims. Take action to support the Janey Ensminger Act (H.R. 1742) and the Caring for Camp Lejeune Veterans Act (S.277) here.
Suzanne Dershowitz is POGO's public policy fellow.