Retired Master Sgt. Jerry Ensminger says the Department of Veterans Affairs has done too little to help the more than one million servicemembers and their families exposed to tap water tainted by industrial dumping at Camp Lejeune between 1953 and 1987.
Ensminger testified before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Tuesday on a bill that bears his daughter’s name. Janey Ensminger died in 1985 at age nine as a result of contaminated water on the base.
Ensminger, along with Senators Thom Tillis and Richard Burr, is pushing the VA to expand medical care for a range of health problems linked to the toxic water.
A bill passed in 2012 extended medical care for eight diseases related to the contamination, but Ensminger told the committee the VA has been slow to process those claims. He also accused the VA of using outside contractors to limit access to treatment.
“We have no access to the procedure or what scientific materials the contractor used in deciding their evaluations,” he said. “Where is the transparency in this process? There is none.”
He argued it is a conflict of interest for the VA to hire contractors to screen medical claims.
“Most veterans don't know that the VA, an interested party, writes a charge to an external government entity, another interested party, to provide them with an evaluation,” said Ensminger.
The proposed legislation would require the VA to instead consult with the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry to determine what health complications could arise from exposure to the toxic tap water. It would also mandate treatment for all illnesses that can be scientifically linked to the contaminated water.
Ensinger said the new bill would increase access to medical care and likely save money.
“Hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars were spent,” he testified. “A lot of money that could have been spent caring for our veterans rather than devising methods in attempts to cheat them out of the benefits they deserve.”
In 1985, the drinking water at the Camp Lejeune military base was found to contain levels of volatile organic compounds up to 280 times higher than the federal maximum allowed. Exposure to the chemicals has been linked to birth defects, cancers and a range of chronic diseases.