RALEIGH, N.C. — Janey Ensminger didn't want to die at the age of 9. She wanted to live longer so she could help people, she told an aunt just weeks before leuekemia killed her.
Her father said that happened Tuesday when the House of Representatives approved the Janey Ensminger Act, which provides health care to Marines and their family members exposed to contaminated drinking water at Camp Lejeune from 1957 to 1987.
"It's a heck of a tribute," former Master Sgt. Jerry Ensminger said of the bill named after his daughter. "Through her short life and her death, she's probably caused more change than most people in their entire lives. "
Ensminger says his daughter was one of as many as a million people exposed to the bad water at the Marine base near Jacksonville, N.C.
The Senate amended and approved the bill on July 18. The House approved it on a voice vote after several House members spoke in favor and also criticized the Marine Corps, the Navy and the Department of Defense.
Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., who held hearings on the issue in 2004, was pointed in denouncing the military's behavior.
"This is long overdue, and the most noteworthy thing that we can observe about the behavior of the military leadership is that they have been uncooperative and have been most diligent in obfuscating the problem and seeing to it that the matter has been unduly dawdled over while our military personnel were both put at risk and placed in a position where their families also shared that risk and hazard," Dingell said before the vote.
The Tampa Bay Times has reported extensively on the water contamination since 2009, including stories noting that the Marine Corps had failed to caution its personnel about polluted water despite numerous early warnings. The Times was the first to report that men with ties to the base were suffering from rare breast cancer. Documents show Marine leaders were slow to respond when tests first found evidence of contamination in the early 1980s.
The act, which is part of a larger bill involving veterans, now goes to President Barack Obama before it becomes law.
Times staff writer William Levesque contributed to this report.