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Senate Veterans Committee Allows Camp Lejeune Health Care Bill to Move Forward

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On Wednesday, a Senate committee approved legislation that would provide health care to Marine veterans and family members who lived at Camp Lejeune Marine base. Contaminated water at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina caused thousands of veterans and their family members to suffer from various illnesses, reported the Miami Herald.

Advocates have been lobbying for the legislation for years but it still needs approval from the full Senate and House of Representatives. Health care for those affected by the contaminated water sources can only be provided by the bill until Congress appropriates money for it in a separate process.

During the mid-1950s to the mid-1980s, it is estimated a million people at Camp Lejeune were exposed to water contaminated with tricholoroethylene, tetrachloroethylene, benzene and vinyl chloride. Medical experts have linked the contamination to birth defects, childhood leukemia and a

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variety of other cancers.

The bill, called the Caring for Camp Lejeune Veterans Act of 2011, was sponsored by Senator Richard Burr of N.C., who is also the senior Republican on the Veterans Affairs Committee. He considered Wednesday’s vote “the farthest leap yet” since the previous chairman opposed the bill and in May, at the hearing both the Veteran Affair and Defense departments opposed the legislation.

“It’s significant,” said retired Marine Staff Sgt. Jerry Ensminger, whose nine-year-old daughter, Janey, died of childhood leukemia in 1985.

The bill will require the VA offer health care for Lejeune-related illnesses and is estimated to cost $3.9 billion over the next 10 years. Burr argues the cost is less and only affects less than 750,000 people. Sen. Patty Murray of Washington wanted the bill to make the Defense Department, who is responsible for the contamination, pay the medical bills, reported the Miami Herald.

“We now have another shot at doing the right thing for the thousands of Navy and Marine veterans and their families who were harmed during their service to our country. While we continue to seek more answers, we can minimize further suffering by allowing Lejeune veterans and their families to receive the care they need and deserve,” Burr said in a statement Wednesday.

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