WASHINGTON – Today, Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) testified before the Veterans’ Affairs Committee on toxic exposure at Camp Lejeune (NC). Senator Burr discussed his efforts to hold the VA accountable, his recent meetings with Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Bob McDonald and his success drawing attention to a troubling practice where the VA was ignoring science in denying benefits claims to victims.
Master Sergeant Jerry Ensminger, US Marine Corps-Retired, whose nine year old daughter was born on the base and died as a result of exposure to toxic chemicals, also testified.
Ensminger testified: “Of my four children, who were all born during my military career, my daughter Janey was the only one to have been conceived, carried, or born while we lived aboard Marine Corps Base, Camp Lejeune, NC during the years of contaminated water. When Janey was six years old she was diagnosed with Leukemia, she fought a valiant battle against her disease but she eventually lost the war, she passed away on 24 September 1985 at the age of nine. That is correct, the 30th anniversary of her death was just five short, painful days ago. Janey is but one example of the multitude of tragedies suffered by former Camp Lejeune families who were exposed by this negligence.
He continued: “Mr. Chairman, no other military toxic exposure incident in our history has been documented nor studied as thoroughly as Camp Lejeune. Much of the science is already in and more is coming in future study reports. Many Camp Lejeune veterans and their families have waited, suffered, and yes even died waiting for this scientific evidence. They shouldn’t need to wait any longer for the help they deserve. We were all at Camp Lejeune to serve and protect our nation, none of us ever expected nor deserved to be poisoned, especially here on our own shores.”
Burr testified: “VA doctors were in various cases cherry picking the science, misrepresenting or misinterpreting scientific studies, using questionable sources, and overruling the opinions of veterans’ oncologists. In the glaring case of one Marine veteran, Norman Mcilhenny, suffering from kidney cancer, a VA clinician stated there was no evidence one of the chemicals in Lejeune’s water– the carcinogen TCE – was known to cause kidney cancer. VBA later denied Mr. Mcilhenny’s claim. When VA was later shown evidence that exposure to TCE is widely accepted as a cause of kidney cancer, VA removed the citation in the denial notice, then reissued it, and denied Mr. Mcilhenny again. This is unbelievable, but sadly true. There are many other Lejeune veterans with similar stories.”
About Camp Lejeune:
From 1953-1987, Camp Lejeune residents were exposed to poisoned water from industrial dumping on the base. In 2012, Janey Ensminger Act, co-sponsored by Sen. Burr, named in honor of Master Sergeant Ensminger’s late daughter, was signed into law. The law was designed to provide medical relief to veterans and eligible family members but many have been unable to receive benefits due to red tape and unscientific denials from the VA.