Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., praised the decision to move forward with the change.

Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., praised the decision to move forward with the change. Lauren Victoria Burke/AP

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VA to Make It Easier For Camp Lejeune Vets to Get Disability Compensation

Department is working on final rules that recognize eight medical conditions associated with drinking water contamination at the Marine training base between 1953 and 1987.

The Veterans Affairs Department wants to make it easier for veterans who were exposed to contaminated water while serving at Camp Lejeune to obtain disability compensation.

VA announced on Thursday it is working on final regulations that recognize eight medical conditions associated with service at the North Carolina Marine training base between Aug. 1, 1953 and Dec. 31, 1987. The impending “presumption of service connection” status related to the contaminated drinking water at Camp Lejeune will apply to the following medical conditions: kidney cancer; liver cancer; non-Hodgkin lymphoma; leukemia; multiple myeloma; scleroderma; Parkinson’s disease; and aplastic anemia/myelodysplastic syndromes.

“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,” said a department press release. “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.”

Secretary Bob McDonald also wants to expand benefits eligibility related to the Camp Lejeune water contamination to Reserve and National Guard members who served there during the 1953-1987 time frame. During those years, industrial chemicals contaminated the drinking water of people living and working in the area.

“The water at Camp Lejeune was a hidden hazard, and it is only years later that we know how dangerous it was,” said McDonald, whose agency, along with the Health and Human Services Department, studied the relationship between exposure to the drinking water and incidents of certain health conditions.

Right now, vets who served at Camp Lejeune for 30 days or more between Aug. 1, 1953 and Dec. 31, 1987, are eligible for VA health care for 15 listed health conditions and can receive reimbursement for out-of-pocket medical expenses associated with them.

“Today’s announcement that this exposure will qualify as service-connected is a critical first step toward providing disability compensation for men and women harmed in the line of duty,” said Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Ranking Member Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn. “Generations of Marines, sailors and their families lived and worked at Camp Lejeune, and now the VA and Secretary McDonald must do everything in their power to expedite this regulation and conduct aggressive outreach to potentially-affected veterans.”

North Carolina Republican Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis praised the decision to move forward with the change. “The VA has conceded that it will no longer deny disability benefits to Camp Lejeune victims based on ridiculous scientific claims,” Burr said in a statement. “This is victory for those who have long suffered as a result of the toxic exposure to chemicals while serving our country at Camp Lejeune.”

It’s not clear when the new rules will take effect, but a Military Times report indicated that the VA could publish regulations soon in the Federal Register.