The Marine Corps has run out of excuses for refusing to take responsibility for the health of thousands of veterans and their families affected by polluted water at Camp Lejeune. A new and long-awaited federal study released this week shows that personnel stationed at the base during the years its water supply was polluted died of cancer far more frequently than those who lived at a base without tainted water. The findings call out for the Marines to finally give this betrayal of America's military families the attention it deserves and for Congress to provide those who suffered health problems full benefits.
The study by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry compared 8,964 deaths of people who lived at the North Carolina base from 1975 to 1985 to the deaths during the same period of those stationed at Camp Pendleton in California, where the drinking water supply was never contaminated. As the Tampa Bay Times' William R. Levesque reported Thursday, the findings show that death rates attributed to all cancers at Camp Lejeune were 10 percent higher than at Pendleton. For some cancers, the death rate was alarmingly higher. Among them: kidney cancer (35 percent higher), liver cancer (42 percent), esophageal cancer (43 percent) and multiple myeloma (68 percent).
Members of a panel advising the federal agency said the study provides persuasive evidence linking the sickened people to the polluted water. The report also noted that the rate of kidney cancer and other related deaths at Camp Lejeune was higher than that in the U.S. population. That was unexpected, given that the base's makeup was younger and, as a whole, healthier than the population nationwide.
The findings are troubling — but they are only a snapshot of the total picture. The federal agency now needs to conduct a broader study that examines the incidence of cancer among those veterans still living. With up to 1 million people — including nearly 20,000 Floridians — having lived and worked at Camp Lejeune from the 1950s to the 1980s, when its drinking water supply was contaminated with chemicals, it stands to reason that huge numbers need ongoing medical care. Only a fuller study that examines how many might have lived with cancer or other diseases will give the government the baseline it needs to serve these veterans and their families.
The Marines Corps should not continue to drag out the process, and Sen. Bill Nelson should keep pushing the issue as well. These military families have been left in limbo for too long, and time is not on the side of this aging population. These veterans do not deserve to be mistreated twice by being denied access to care for health problems caused in service to the nation.