LEJEUNE VETS GAIN BY KNOWING DETAILS OF 2012 TOXIN LAW
A 2012 law that requires VA to cover healthcare of former Marines, sailors and family members with ailments linked to 1957-to-1987 water contaminations at Camp Lejeune, N.C., continues to surprise segments of the impacted population.
Some of the law’s details bitterly disappoint those who believe they’ve been harmed by exposure to poisons. But thousands of veterans who served at Lejeune during that era have gained access to VA healthcare and likely don’t know it yet.
The quirkiness of parts of the Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act is coming into sharper focus as the Department of Veterans Affairs takes its final, long-awaited steps to fully implement the complex statute.
“Since the day the law was signed [Aug. 6, 2012] VA began providing health care to Lejeune veterans,” said Dr. Terry Walters, deputy chief consultant for post-deployment health for the VA’s Office of Public Health.
Yet it was only last month that VA began accepting applications from family members requesting payment or reimbursement for private sector care to treat 15 conditions that the law links to the toxin exposure at Lejeune. They are: cancer of lung, esophagus, breast, bladder or kidney; leukemia; multiple myeloma; myelodysplastic syndromes; renal toxicity; hepatic steatosis; female infertility; miscarriage; scleroderma; neurobehavioral effects or non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
To qualify for coverage, family members must show they spent at least 30 days at Lejeune or in utero with mothers there from Jan. 1, 1957, to Dec. 31, 1987.
VA will cover any medical costs not covered by other health insurance but only for treatment of those ailments. VA also will make retroactive payments for such care, but only back to March 26, 2013, the date Congress funded the 2012 law through a separate appropriations bill.
Lejeune veterans with out-of-pocket health care costs for any one of the 15 conditions are not eligible for retroactive reimbursement, Walters explained. That’s because the law presumes VA has provided care to them since the law was signed. And the law doesn’t provide for retroactive coverage before that date.
The law’s greatest weakness for many Lejeune families is that it doesn’t compensate for deaths or illnesses they believe resulted from contaminated water.
“This is a huge issue for these people. They want to be compensated,” Walters said. “The law only provides for health care. A lot of people get those two things confused.”
VA needed two years to start family member coverage, she said, because VA effectively had to create a supplemental health insurance plan by writing rules, hiring clinical care reviewers, creating computer systems and billing mechanisms, and developing a method to transmit medical records from civilian doctor offices to VA’s financial service center for review.
“We’re been in the business of providing health care to veterans for a very long time. It’s why we exist,” Walters said. “But providing health care or medical services to family members is somewhat new business. That’s why it took a while to flesh out the program, figure out how exactly we were going to comply with the law and provide health care [coverage] to family members.”
[To apply online, visit: https://www.clfamilymembers.fsc.va.gov.]
Many Lejeune vets still may not know that the 2012 law grants them access to VA healthcare if they spent at least 30 days there over those 31 years -- even if they don’t have one of 15 illnesses listed. Word is beginning to spread, however. Through Sept. 30 this year, 16,320 Lejeune vets had applied for VA healthcare
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