Dioxin: Regulatory Developments

March 27, 2017 | Complex Torts & Product Liability | General Liability

V.A. Begins Processing Claims from Marines Affected by Toxic Water

On the heels of agreeing to provide disability benefits potentially totaling more than $2 billion to veterans who had been exposed to contaminated drinking water while assigned to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, the federal government has begun processing veterans’ claims for disability benefits.

In mid-January, the Obama administration agreed to payments to eligible veterans stationed at the Marine base for at least a total of 30 days between August 1, 1953 and December 31, 1987.  In particular, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (the “V.A.”) published a rule in the Federal Register providing that “veterans, former reservists, and former National Guard members, who served at Camp Lejeune for no less than 30 days (consecutive or nonconsecutive) during this period, and who have been diagnosed with any of eight associated diseases, are presumed to have incurred or aggravated the disease in service for purposes of entitlement to VA benefits.”

The rule continued, “Under this presumption, affected former reservists and National Guard members have veteran status for purposes of entitlement to some VA benefits.”

The Trump administration has permitted the rule to take effect.

The V.A. Secretary at the time the rule was published, Bob McDonald, determined that there was “sufficient scientific and medical evidence” to establish a connection between exposure to the contaminated water and eight medical conditions – adult leukemia, aplastic anemia, bladder cancer, kidney cancer, liver cancer, multiple myeloma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and Parkinson’s disease – for purposes of awarding disability compensation.

Now, the V.A. has begun to accept claims from veterans who claim disabilities from the base’s water. Veterans must submit evidence of their diagnoses and service information to be eligible.

The claims are being handled for the time being by the V.A.’s regional office in Louisville, Kentucky.

At a hearing of a subcommittee of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, Thomas Murphy, the V.A.’s acting under secretary for benefits, said that the V.A. wanted to keep the claims in Louisville if possible, but that “if they can’t handle the volume, we’re going to have to train another [office] and expand it, so we’ll have to keep a very close eye on that.”

It has been estimated that there were as many as 900,000 active-duty, Reserve, and National Guard members at Camp Lejeune from 1953 to 1987. There are expected to be about 23,000 disability claims filed.

For further information, please contact James V. Aiosa, Paul V. Majkowski, Lawrence S. Han, or your regular Rivkin Radler attorney.

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