Hypocrisy in the Obama Administration

In the face of more and more stories about the shabby and inadequate treatment of veterans, the Obama administration has pledged to do better for those who have sacrificed so much for the nation. But it’s blocking justice for those who served at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.

The sprawling base on the Atlantic coast was opened in 1941 to train Marines for the beach landings that would help win World War II, and it has since grown into the headquarters for the Marine division in the eastern half of the United States. But with expansion came environmental problems.

As many as a million Marines and family members spent time at Camp Lejeune from the 1950s to the mid-1980s when the drinking water was tainted with toxic chemicals from military wastes and fuel spills that had seeped into the groundwater. Babies conceived or born at the base were especially vulnerable if their mothers used the contaminated water.

The poisoned wells were discovered and shut down in 1985, but it would take another 12 years for the government to tie the polluted water to health problems. Yet more than a dozen deadly illnesses attributable to toxins such as trichloroethylene (TCE) and benzene are still showing up in people who lived or worked at Camp Lejeune decades ago. Many suffered great harm without knowing why for many years – and the military continues to deny their claims for damages.

Former Marine Master Sgt. Jerry Ensminger, whose daughter Janey was conceived at the base in 1975 and died of leukemia in 1985, did not connect her death to the contamination until 1997 when the first study was released on Lejeune, and even then was told for years that the Marine Corps was not responsible. Tom and Anne Townsend had no idea why their son died from heart defects and other ailments six weeks after he was born at Camp Lejeune in 1967 – until the federal study was released 30 years later. Mike Partain, whose mother drank contaminated water at the base while she was pregnant with him in 1967, was diagnosed with breast cancer – extremely rare in men – four decades later in 2007.

Congress acknowledged in 2012 that at least 15 diseases, including leukemia and liver cancer, could be linked to Camp Lejeune when it passed the Janey Ensminger Act granting health care to Marines and family members who had lived at the base when toxic chemicals were in the water. Incredibly, two years after President Obama signed the law, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs is stalling on its implementation.

Several studies of the pollution’s effects are bogged down as well at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly three decades after the last contaminated well was shut down in 1985. The delays are preventing the VA from acting on thousands of damage claims filed by veterans, family members and civilian employees who believe they were harmed at Camp Lejeune. Those who have already gone to federal court seeking damages are also in limbo, as the lawyers argue about how a U.S. Supreme Court decision in June affects their cases.

That 7-2 ruling, in a case called CTS Corporation v. Waldburger, was just the latest in a long line of government insults to the victims of Camp Lejeune’s tainted water. In the case, the U.S. Department of Justice sided with the corporate polluter in arguing that a North Carolina law setting a 10-year time limit on lawsuits over environmental pollution should take precedence over the federal Superfund law, which gives people harmed by hazardous wastes two years from the time the contamination is discovered to file lawsuits.

The Supreme Court agreed with the industry and government lawyers, in effect setting up a major roadblock to claims against the military for harm caused at Camp Lejeune, since the pollution ended there in 1985. But the argument that victims of the poisoned water could not seek damages after 1995 is both cruel and absurd, since the first acknowledgment that the water could have caused health problems did not come until 1997.

The state of North Carolina said exactly that in a rare show of bipartisan unity against the federal government’s position. Less than two weeks after the Supreme Court’s June 9 ruling, the North Carolina Legislature unanimously passed a bill stating that Washington is dead wrong about the state’s so-called statute of repose.

“The original law was never intended to apply to groundwater contamination, and this bill absolutely clarifies the original legislative intent,” said state Rep. Tim Moffitt, a chief sponsor of the bill that was signed by Gov. Pat McCrory on June 20.

Now it is up to the Obama administration to get the message and allow victims of Camp Lejeune’s poisoned water to have their day in court.

Key Case in High Court

Since A Trust Betrayed went to press, there has been a major development in litigation filed in the federal courts by victims of the Camp Lejeune pollution. The U.S. Supreme Court decided in January that it will hear arguments in April in a case that could have a huge impact on the ability of LejeuneContinue Reading

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The latest news on Camp Lejeune since publication of A Trust Betrayed:

New Lejeune water contamination report raises concerns, Jacksonville Daily News, March 19, 2015

11th Circuit declines to rehear Camp Lejeune drinking water suit, Westlaw Journal, February 12, 2015

Law expands water contamination dates for family claims, Jacksonville Daily News, December 19, 2014

Why Didn’t Toxic Waste Cause a Cancer Epidemic, Like We Expected in the 1970s?, National Geographic, December 14, 2014

ATSDR Study Suggests Women’s Exposures to Contaminated Drinking Water at Camp Lejeune Might Be Associated with Adverse Birth Outcomes, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, November 21, 2014

Interview with Mike Magner, author of A Trust Betrayed, The Living Well Show, October 2014

VA vows to pay families sickened after exposure to Lejeune water, Charlotte News & Observer, October 20, 2014

Statute of Repose Issues Illustrated in the Dismissal of Camp Lejeune Pollution Claims, Brad Reid Dean of the Institute for Corporate Governance and Integrity, Lipscomb University, Huffington Post, October 20, 2014

File Under Disgraceful: Appeals court rejects Camp Lejeune water lawsuit, Chatham (N.C.) Bulletin Board, with link to Charlotte Observer, October 14, 2014

U.S. court rebuffs Marine Corps families in polluted water case, Reuters, October 15, 2014

I-Team: Toxic-water victims at Camp Lejeune can’t sue, WTVD Raleigh, N.C., October 14, 2014

A 31-year-old man deals with breast cancer, PR Urgent press release, October 12, 2014

Lejeune vets exposed to toxic water have deadline extended, Marine Corps Times, October 7, 2014

Peter Devereaux: With tenacity and a smile, North Andover (Mass.) Wicked Local, October 7, 2014

Lejeune families finally getting help, Jacksonville Daily News, September 28, 2014

Under 2012 law, VA to cover health costs of Marines’ ill dependents at Camp Lejeune, Washington Post, September 24, 2014

New regulation would allow dependents to claim contaminated water health issues, Jacksonville Daily News, September 24, 2014

Mortality study of civilian employees exposed to contaminated drinking water at USMC Base Camp Lejeune: A retrospective cohort study, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, August 2014

Camp Lejeune and the U.S. Military’s Polluted Legacy, Newsweek, July 16, 2014

Drinking from a Poisonous Tap: Over 6 Decades at Camp Lejeune Marine Corps Base, Lou Freshwater, July 2014

Obama administration moves to deny justice for Camp Lejeune veterans, Roll Call: Guest Commentary, July 2, 2014

Excerpt from A Trust Betrayed, Utne Reader, June 2014

Camp Lejeune water pollution victims setback, Living on Earth, June 20, 2014

Governor signs bill helping Lejeune, Asheville families in pollution lawsuits, Charlotte News & Observer, June 20, 2014

Senate approves CTS lawsuit contamination bill, Asheville (N.C.) Citizen-TImes, June 19, 2014

Obama lawyers find finish to Lejeune toxic-water case, North Carolina News, June 12, 2014

Supreme Court supports toxic polluters, imperils Camp Lejeune vets’ litigation, Project on Government Oversight, June 9, 2014

Erin Brockovich discusses Camp Lejeune victims on MSNBC, Project on Government Oversight, April 22, 2014

New Book Examines Camp Lejeune Water Poisoning, Project on Government Oversight, April 17, 2014

New Camp Lejeune documents come to light, Tampa Bay Times, April 8, 2014

Loveland veteran is waiting for answers, Loveland (Colo.) Reporter-Herald, April 6, 2014

Cancer study on Camp Lejeune mired in controversy, Project on Government Oversight, March 31, 2014

Government straddles both sides in toxic water cases, USA Today, March 1, 2014

Camp Lejeune study called ‘significant step’ in understanding cancer cases, Tampa Bay Times, February 20, 2014

GOP bills would allow VA secretary to fire career executives over performance, The Washington Post, February 14, 2014

VA under fire for proposed disability filing rule, Associated Press, January 11, 2014

CDC report shows danger at Camp Lejeune, The Virginian-Pilot, December 11, 2013

CDC’s Camp Lejeune study links birth defects to marine base’s drinking water, CBS News/AP, December 6, 2013