Finally Some Justice for Camp Lejeune Water Contamination Victims: Congress Sends Health Care Bill to President Obama
Statements of Angela Canterbury, Director of Public Policy, Project On Government Oversight
and Retired Marine Corps Master Sgt. Jerome Ensminger
Finally, after many years of unnecessary suffering, the U.S. Marine Corps veterans and their families who were poisoned by the water at Camp Lejeune will have some justice. Yesterday, the House of Representatives voted to send a bill to provide healthcare for veterans and their families who are victims of the toxic water contamination at Camp Lejeune, N.C., to President Obama to be signed into law.
For more than 30 years, the water Marines and their families drank and bathed in was contaminated by high levels of volatile organic compounds, including known carcinogens. The “Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act,” H.R. 1627, addresses a variety of issues affecting veterans. The title for healthcare for Camp Lejeune is named the “Janey Ensminger Act.” The Senate passed the bill unanimously on July 18.
But while Congress has finally 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, a stalwart champion for the freedom of information, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), recently made public many critical documents formerly withheld by the Navy. Congress is finally exposing the truth. Most importantly, Congress has finally done what the Marine Corps has failed to do: care for those who served their nation and paid a terrible price—illness, death, and betrayal.
The Project On Government Oversight applauds Sen. Leahy and the other congressional champions for Camp Lejeune veterans and families: Sens. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Kay Hagen (D-N.C.), 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).
But this bitter-sweet victory would not have been possible without the tireless efforts of Jerry Ensminger, Mike Partain, Tom Townsend, and others who have fought for justice. Thankfully, these American heroes have not rested since they first learned of the toxic water at Camp Lejeune.
The vote yesterday and recent congressional actions are a testimony to the persistence of certain legislators and their staffs, and a tribute to the countless victims who have either passed away or are still suffering the effects of institutional negligence and persistent failures of leadership within the United States Department of Defense.
The passage of this legislation will not be the final chapter of this ongoing national tragedy. The Department of the Navy and the United States Marine Corps have to this day refused to release all of the information relating to this issue. There has been absolutely no accountability for past criminal negligence nor for the ongoing conspiracy by authorities to conceal that neglect.
Camp Lejeune should stand shoulder to shoulder with Love Canal; Woburn, Mass; and the thousands of other contamination sites in our country as stark reminders to our citizens that the environment and the regulations to protect it are not only important...our very existence depends on them!
The moving story of the tireless efforts of Jerry, who lost his daughter Janey to leukemia at Camp Lejeune and for whom the bill is named, as well as those of other truthseekers such as Ma. Tom Townsend, who lost his son to a birth defect; and breast cancer victim Mike Partain, who was born at Camp Lejeune, is told in the documentary Semper Fi: Always Faithful. Learn more on the website The Few, the Proud, the Forgotten.
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.