Monday, October 8, 2012

Louisville Denies Most Lejeune Claims
VA denies most compensation claims from toxic water wells. Marine veterans left to their own resources.
(LOUISVILLE, KY) - The latest statistics from the VA’s Louisville office on Camp Lejeune’s disability compensation claims show an 84% denial rate for medical conditions claimed by veterans for Camp Lejeune’s contaminated water wells.
According to a Congressional source, 16% of Camp Lejeune’s claims for medical conditions linked to the contaminated water were approved by the VA’s Louisville office as of September 2012. The Louisville office approved  517 medical conditions out of 3,233.
On January 11, 2011, the VA established an office in Louisville to process all Camp Lejeune associated with the contaminated water wells.  According to this directive, “As the ATSDR, which has been contracted by the Department of the Navy, continues to research the effects of exposure from this incident, VA must be prepared to evaluate claims based on such exposure in a consistent manner. By centralizing jurisdiction to the Louisville RO, VA enhances its ability to process these claims efficiently and consistently.”
We don’t know the reasons for the high rate of denials. By establishing an office dedicated to processing Camp Lejeune compensation claims, the VA’s Louisville personnel should be  more knowledgeable about Lejeune’s contaminated well water than the Regional Offices
The unanswered question is the VA looking for reasons to deny these claims and simply processing denials faster to avoid complaints about backlogs?
For example, lung cancer is linked to cigarette smoking as well as exposure to organic solvents. At one time, cigarettes were included in rations and Marines were not discouraged to quit smoking. It follows that veterans who don’t deny smoking and have lung cancer would be at some high risk of denial. That may explain some of the denials; other claims without medical nexus opinions are candidates for denial. At some point, the VA will have to brief Congress on the efforts of the Louisville office, including the claims processed, approved and denied and the reasons for the denials.
The same Congressional source provided information for Lejeune dependents and civilian workers and their dependents that lived on the base during the 30 year period (1957-1987) when the base water was contaminated with volatile organic compounds, including benzene, vinyl chloride, tetrachloroethylene (PCE) and trichloroethylene (TCE).
Civilian workers and dependents that lived with them at Camp Lejeune during the period 1957 to 1987 are not covered by any existing Federal law.  Civilian workers injured by the contaminated water are ‘out of luck.’ Workers and dependents can file Federal tort claims but the Navy is sitting on all Camp Lejeune tort claims, possibly awaiting the results of ATSDR scientific studies.  The Congressional source said that: “At this time, DOL [Department of Labor] cannot cover civilian [workers] dependents and children per the statute they operate under. I don’t know if any of that would change in the future if Congress decided to take it up.”
With regard to health insurance, this same source recommended that no dependents cancel health insurance since “VA hasn’t clarified the conditions or financial limitations for VA to be payer of last resort. Cancelling insurance is not something anyone should do as we don’t yet know if just having insurance, even if it was inadequate, would disqualify someone from getting VA to pay for care.”
In December 2010, Barbara Barrett, reporting for the McClatchy Newspapers, “VA takes steps to deal with mounting Lejeune water claims” wrote that, “VA would train a specialized workforce in Louisville to handle disability compensation claims related to the base’s contaminated water wells.
According to Barrett, the “move is more than bureaucratic; it could prove significant to Marine veterans across the country who are suffering from cancers and other diseases that they think are related to the poisonous chemicals that flowed through Lejeune’s water from the mid-1950s to the mid-1980s.”
The facts are the Louisville office has been a significant development for Lejeune veterans and the VA.  But, not one in favor of Marine veterans.
The VA is reducing its backlog of claims, denying most of them.


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