Caring for Camp Lejeune Veterans Act of 2009 – An Update

241

In August of last year the families and veterans who were made ill from the contamination at Camp Lejeune were elated. After years of hard work trying to get their cause recognized, the roughly 150,000 Americans made ill by exposure to this contamination were going to get substantive recognition via a legislative proposal in the United States Senate!

Instead of posting obituaries on their websites they finally were able to hold on to some hope that their plight might be recognized and that medical care and benefits may be forthcoming to aid them in their fight against the plethora of illnesses that blighted their lives.

They had a stalwart champion in Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina. Senator Burr is the ranking member on the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs and he had shown a deep commitment to propose the “Caring For Camp Lejeune Veterans Act” or S-1518 as it became known in the clinical political process. Other Senators on the committee potentially looked as if they were in favor of S-1518.

For the families and veterans who fight illness on a daily basis it looked as if their government was actually going to do the right thing at last.

But on the morning of 28th January 2010 the reality of Washington politics hit everyone hard in the face as the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs voted along party lines to kill S-1518 in favor of a bizarre proposal by Senator Akaka of Hawaii that would have placed the responsibility for medical care and benefit support in the hands of the Department of Defense (remember, the guys who poisoned the families and veterans in the first place). The entire series of events can be viewed at:

http://veterans.senate.gov/

One of the Committee members, Senator Brown (Ohio), had previously met with parents of one of his constituents. The parents and constituent are all ill as a result of exposure to Camp Lejeune contamination and the Senator promised them he would help. His vote and participation on 28th January did not honor that promise. Below is an excerpt from a letter to Senator Brown from this constituent:

“Dear Senator Brown:

I wanted to take a moment to express my complete dissatisfaction and disgust towards your actions within the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee today. You have met with my parents, in person, and made a point to tell them that you would err on the side of the veteran. I would truly love to hear your explanation as to how this was accomplished by voting against Senator Burr’s bill relating to Camp Lejeune.

Not only did you vote against this bill, you couldn’t be bothered to stick around for the actual vote and had the Chairman proxy for you. If you are going to let down your constituents who are in most dire need, I would suggest that you at least give us the common courtesy of staying for the mark-up and having your vote come from your mouth- not someone else’s.

Senator Burr is a man that I have a great amount of respect for because he actually does what he says he is going to. He fought for all of those who were exposed at Lejeune. Those of you who voted against his bill should be ashamed. You are in no way “supporting the troops.” I’m not sure how anyone could think that we would wish for the Department of Defense- the very same entity that allowed our poisoning to occur- to have any say in our health care coverage. To have the health care allow for five years of coverage is absurd. I am 27 years old and have fought a life-threatening illness due to the negligence of the DoD and U.S.M.C. and now I am supposed to be grateful for five years of coverage from the very people who have done everything within their power to deny and delay? I think not. The message this sends to me is that five years from now, you and all of the others who voted for Akaka’s ridiculous and distasteful bill, expect us to be dead.”

The pain and anger in the quoted letter speaks eloquently. This is the face of the reality these families and veterans have faced for many years. While they are closer to recognition and support than they have ever been, it is heartbreaking to be treated in such a shabby, dilatory and dismissive manner by elected persons whose job is to serve the people of this nation.

Effectively the “Caring for Camp Lejeune Veterans Act” is now dead in the Senate. However, all is not without hope. As a result of the attention that this issue is gaining in Washington and around our nation, there is a legislative proposal in the House that holds hope for our poisoned patriots. The proposal is entitled the “Janey Ensminger Act”. This Act is named after the daughter of Jerome Ensminger who has campaigned tirelessly to find out the truth about contamination at Camp Lejeune. Jerome watched Janey die of leukemia over a two and a half year period. Janey was nine years old when she died in 1983. In 1997 Jerome noted the public health assessment concerning Camp Lejeune released by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) suggested a link between exposure to contamination and illnesses like leukemia. Jerome then dedicated his life to finding out the truth. He is almost there now with the advent of this Act.

Our leaders and politicians are learning that the truth will come out regarding contamination and illness at Camp Lejeune. By persistence, determination and decency on the part of those who care, Jerome and his friends are forcing the truth into the open. Scientists and decent politicians like Senator Burr are flocking to the cause because they will not tolerate the ongoing tissue of denial, obfuscation and avoidance. If any reader wishes to add their voice to the cause of families and veterans who are suffering, please contact your elected officials to support the Janey Ensminger Act. As the Russian-American philosopher Ayn Rand once wrote:

“You can avoid reality, but you cannot avoid the consequences of avoiding reality.”

A disabling encounter with prostate and brain cancer put David Bedworth in a situation where he could not work and had limited abilities as a result of treatment. However, brain surgery stimulated a long dormant creative surge in literature, music and poetry. He contributed to The Student Operated Press and collaborated with his sister on a collection of illustrated poems. He also worked with a group of ill veterans and family members who were exposed to contaminants at the Marine Corps Base at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. Sadly, he passed away, but his work remains, reminding us of the man he was.