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Project on Government Oversight

Closer Than Ever to Justice for Camp Lejeune Water Contamination Victims

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July 19, 2012

Statement of POGO's Angela Canterbury, Director of Public Policy

Finally, after many years of unnecessary suffering, some justice is within reach for the U.S. Marine Corps veterans and their families who were poisoned by the water at Camp Lejeune.

The Senate voted unanimously Wednesday to approve healthcare for veterans and their families who are victims of the toxic water contamination at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. For more than 30 years, the water Marines and their families drank and bathed in was contaminated by high levels of various volatile organic compounds, including known carcinogens. The “Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act,” H.R. 1627, is a bipartisan bill that reflects an agreement between the House and Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee leadership on a variety of issues affecting veterans.

But while the Senate has acted to assist the victims of Camp Lejeune, the Marine Corps and Navy shamefully continue to deny responsibility and withhold information about the water contamination. Most recently, the Navy has delayed the release of water contamination documents in response to a request by nine members of Congress.

Camp Lejeune has been called one of the worst toxic contaminations in the country. It’s also possibly one of the U.S. military’s most shameful acts of deception and betrayal. Between 1957 and 1987, as many as 1 million civilians, Marines, and their family members at Camp Lejeune were exposed to toxic water. It turns out that for years, the Marine Corps knew but kept the deadly secret, blocking many attempts to uncover the truth.

However, it appears the Marine Corps’ and Navy’s days of hiding information about the toxic water contamination may soon be over. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Ranking Member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) have insisted on receiving all requested documents and plan to make them public. The Project On Government Oversight eagerly anticipates the release as early as today of some of these critical documents, formerly withheld by the Navy.

It is an outrage that the Marine Corps and Navy have denied responsibility for so long. However, thanks to the tireless efforts of truthseekers retired Marine Corps Master Sgt. Jerry Ensminger, who lost his daughter Janey to leukemia; Major Tom Townsend, who lost his son to a birth defect; and breast cancer victim Mike Partain, who was born at Camp Lejeune; and to the telling of their stories in the moving documentary Semper Fi: Always Faithful, Congress is finally exposing the truth. Most importantly, Congress is close to finally providing the healthcare owed to the Marines and their families. The title of H.R. 1627 that does so is named the “Janey Ensminger Act.”

POGO applauds congressional champions for Camp Lejeune veterans and families: Sens. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Kay Hagen (D-N.C.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Bill Nelson (R-Fla.), and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.); and Reps. John Dingell (D-Mich.), Bob Filner (D-Calif.), Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), Brad Miller (D-N.C.), and Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), as well as the many other cosponsors of the original bills to provide healthcare to Camp Lejeune veterans and their families: The Janey Ensminger Act (H.R. 1742) and Caring for Camp Lejeune Veterans Act of 2011 (S. 277).

We urge the House to immediately take up and pass H.R. 1627.

Founded in 1981, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is a nonpartisan independent watchdog that champions good government reforms. POGO’s investigations into corruption, misconduct, and conflicts of interest achieve a more effective, accountable, open, and ethical federal government.

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