A group of veteran advocates is banding together to seek information from a VA program that looked at healthcare claims related to exposure to the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune.
This (subject matter expert) program was developed not to serve veterans; this program was developed to deny veterans their rightful benefits,” Retired Marine Master Sgt. Jerry
Ensminger said during a press conference on Monday when multiple veterans organizations came together to submit a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Ensminger’ 6-year-old daughter, Janey, died from Leukemia in the fall of 1985 after being exposed to the toxic water.
Representatives from The Few, The Proud, The Forgotten, the Vietnam Veterans of America and the Connecticut State Council of Vietnam Veterans of America, with support from Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., who is the ranking member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs filed the FOIA. It seeks records pertaining to a Department of Veterans Affairs program that centered on subject matter experts investigating claims brought to the VA from service members exposed to the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune between 1953 and 1987, according to a press release obtained by The Daily News.
Specifically, the FOIA seeks to obtain information related to the Camp Lejeune Subject Matter Expert (SME) program, which reportedly is a group of anonymous clinicians who have been providing the VA with medical opinions that help determine the validity of disability entitlements made by veterans who claim to have diseases linked to the worst toxic contamination event in U.S. history, according to the release.
The press release states that of the 1 million individuals exposed to poisonous water at Camp Lejeune, the VA had decided on 9,636 veteran disability claims: denying 8,909 and granting 778 — a VA denial rate of 92 percent. Only 8 percent of veterans with a claim related to the Camp Lejeune water contamination incident receive connected benefits.
According to the Jerome N. Frank Legal Services Organization at Yale Law School, which filed the FOIA on behalf of the veteran organizations, the Camp Lejeune SME program — created in 2012— has raised multiple concerns among veterans and medical professionals as to the credibility of the individual SMEs. In one case, an expert allegedly cut and pasted a Wikipedia entry to provide a medical opinion on a rare type of cancer, according to the press release.
North Carolina Republican Senators Richard Burr and Thom Tillis released individual statements on the FOIA request.
“The VA denied credible science for too long and resisted helping veterans afflicted with diseases from the poisoned water at Camp Lejeune,” Burr said in his statement. “The VA’s Camp Lejeune expert panel demonstrates the lack of transparency that plagues the administration.”
Tillis, who sits on the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs said, “When it comes to determining the relationship between toxic exposures and negative health outcomes, the government’s preeminent expertise is not housed at the VA.” He said that VA problems occur when the agency tries to undertake responsibilities without the proper capabilities.