03.29.17

Sens Burr, Nelson, Rubio and Tillis Fight for Health Care for Camp Lejeune Toxic Exposure Victims

WASHINGTON – Today, Senators Richard Burr (R-NC), Bill Nelson (D-FL), Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Thom Tillis (R-NC) introduced The Janey Ensminger Act of 2017, which requires the Veterans Administration (VA) to provide medical care for all diseases that can be scientifically linked to exposure to toxic chemicals at Camp Lejeune.

The legislation also requires that the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), a federal agency within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, review all relevant scientific literature every three years to determine if sufficient or modest causal links have been found between toxic exposure at Camp Lejeune and additional diseases and conditions. This will ensure that veterans and their families will not have to wait to get medical care as researchers learn more about the long-term health consequences of the toxins found in the water at Camp Lejeune. The legislation is named for Janey Ensminger, the daughter of Master Sergeant Jerry Ensminger, who was born on base at Camp Lejeune and died as a result of exposure to toxic chemicals.

“The Veterans Administration continues to deny clear scientific links between debilitating diseases and exposure to certain toxic chemicals in the drinking water at Camp Lejeune,” said Senator Burr. “The Janey Ensminger Act requires the VA to do the right thing and give veterans the medical care they need. The military negligently poisoned these service members and they shouldn’t have to fight the VA every time that government researchers find a link between a disease and the toxins that were in their drinking water.”

“We have a responsibility to care for those who have served our country and their families,” Senator Nelson said. “The VA should be giving any veteran who was stationed at Camp Lejeune and now battling one of these scientifically-linked illnesses the benefit of the doubt.”

“Veterans and their families who were poisoned at Camp Lejeune deserve prompt medical care,” said Senator Rubio. “For far too long, those stationed at Camp Lejeune and suffering from various cancers and diseases have been uncertain about their coverage. This is completely unacceptable. I am proud to stand on the side of veterans and support legislation that ensures those affected at Camp Lejeune get the care they need.”

“While progress has been made to ensure that veterans and their families who were poisoned at Camp Lejeune receive the benefits they have long deserved, some victims are still not receiving the care to which they are entitled because the VA has refused to accept the most up to date scientific data and research available,” said Sen. Tillis. “The Janey Ensminger Act of 2017 prioritizes science over politics and trusts the federal government’s scientific experts outside of the VA with decisions about medical coverage to ensure that every veteran who might have been affected at Camp Lejeune gets they care they need and deserve.”

“The VA is neither staffed nor equipped to evaluate veterans for toxic exposures or to make legitimate decisions concerning their benefits,” said Jerry Ensminger. “If we are to believe that our elected leaders are truly sincere about fiscal responsibility and cutting wasteful spending, they will support and vote yes on this bill.

“We have government agencies which were created and mandated by Congress to evaluate exposures to toxic substances and the health effects they cause. The American taxpayers pay to staff and maintain those agencies through their federal taxes. For one reason or another, the VA and other departments of our federal government choose not to utilize those agencies. They prefer to contract non-governmental entities to acquire their evaluations regarding toxic exposures, which means the taxpayers are paying double. This bill will stop some of that wasteful spending.”

Master Sergeant Ensminger has been a tireless advocate for members of the military and their families that were harmed by toxic exposure at Camp Lejeune. In September 2015, Ensminger testified before the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.

Ensminger

WATCH: Ensminger: Janey is but one example of the multitude of tragedies suffered by former Camp Lejeune families who were exposed by this negligence.

In August of 2012, President Obama signed the Honoring America's Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012 bill into law. This law, authored by Senator Burr, requires the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to provide health care to veterans and their family members who have certain diseases and conditions as a result of exposure to well-water contaminated by human carcinogens at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.  However, the VA has resisted providing health care benefits to many of these veterans and their family members because it has not recognized the scientific links between the exposure to toxins and certain diseases that have been found by government researchers at the ATSDR.  

Earlier this month, the Department of Veteran’s Affairs began granting compensation to veterans suffering from illnesses caused by contaminated water at Camp Lejeune. Veterans who served at Camp Lejeune for 30 days or more from 1953 to 1987 and are suffering from a service connected illness are now eligible to receive disability compensation.

Text of the Janey Ensminger Act of 2017 is available here.

A one pager on the legislation is available here.