On August 6, President Obama signed into law the Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012 (H.R. 1627). Key to the new law is a bipartisan promise from Congress and the president to provide health care to Camp Lejeune veterans and their families suffering from diseases related to carcinogens that flowed freely into the military base’s water supply for 30 years.
Retired Sergeant Jerry Ensminger, whose daughter Janey died from leukemia at age nine due to exposure to the toxic Camp Lejeune water, calls the law “the first step in achieving justice.”
Responsibility Shifted to the VA
However, the law makes the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) responsible for providing health care services to Camp Lejeune veterans. Ensminger isn’t happy about that provision. He calls it the “law’s biggest flaw” because he says the military caused the water contamination and, therefore, its health care coverage, Tricare, should cover Camp Lejeune veterans and their families. “ . . . we still have not gotten the whole truth, nor the accountability of the people who were responsible for perpetrating this.”
Other service groups are also uncomfortable with making the VA cover Camp Lejeune health care. “We certainly support the government’s responsibility to take care of dependents harmed while living on military bases by environmental or toxic hazards,” says Disabled American Veterans legislative director, Joseph Violante. “But we believe it shouldn’t be through VA especially with Tricare (offering) insurance where they can go anywhere they want.”
Camp Lejeune Health Care Cost
One concern is that Congress will take from other programs to avoid spending. “We already get chewed out by Congress that VA funding has increased exponentially over the last 10 years and they can’t continue to do that,” Violante said. The first five-year cost for treating Camp Lejeune veterans and families is expected to be $162 million.
The new provision could also clear the path to VA health care for veterans from other military bases with environmental problems. Violante said, “they are opening the door for more people to come in, and then telling us they don’t have the money to fund us at the rate we need to be funded. This puts us into a terrible situation. We’ll be rationing health care here soon.”
A Package Deal
Despite these concerns, the new law represents a bipartisan effort to increase accountability and transparency at the VA in order to better serve veterans.
Rep. Jeff Miller, Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs stated, “This legislation is a culmination of more than a year’s worth of work on behalf of America’s veterans, and an example of what lawmakers can accomplish working together in a bipartisan manner.”
As President Obama signed H.R. 1627 into law he said it “ends a decades-long struggle for those who served at Camp Lejeune.”