Marine Veteran Sam Maynard was stationed at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, in 1986. Being in the states, there were no insurgents threatening the base, no enemy forces to fight back. There wasn’t even a front line to cover.
Maynard and many others at Camp Lejeune were no less targeted by a killer.
“My service time at Camp Lejeune became my undoing,” Maynard told The Veterans Site. “Before this, I was a normal redneck boy who enlisted in the Marine Corps right out of high school.”
The Cold War had reached a boiling point as the USSR and East Germany continued to brandish military force behind the iron curtain. Maynard felt the U.S. would be going to war.
“Doing my patriotic duty, I joined the Marine Corps of my own accord,” he said.
Maynard graduated from boot camp in San Diego where he received an Expert’s Badge for shooting. After graduation he was shipped out to the east coast, at Camp Lejeune.
It wasn’t long before Maynard started to notice something wasn’t right about the place.
“The ditches’ water had an oily film floating on it, yet there was no apparent reason for this,” he said. “While on nighttime guard duty at Lejeune, the ammunition dump had an eerie fog of vapors rise out of the ground and spread across like a white blanket that covered everything but the bunkers’ tops. It was so odd. The fog would appear at night and then disappear with the sun as if it were never there.”
As the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs now maintains, the oily film and strange vapors were caused by toxic chemicals.
“From the 1950s through the 1980s, people living or working at the U.S. Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, were potentially exposed to drinking water contaminated with industrial solvents, benzene, and other chemicals,” the VA website reports.
The water was contaminated with chemicals from the base water treatment facilities and a dry cleaning company in the local area, the law firm Hill and Pontoon reports.
“The water tasted weird,” Maynard said. “But then, we were unaware of the toxic chemicals in our water.”
The veteran was told the wells were turned off in 1985, then reopened the following year.
“Why? I will never understand, but they did,” he said. “The result: I was poisoned in 1986.”
Maynard was exposed to a toxic slurry of several dangerous chemicals that had been allowed to leech into tap water on the base. According to Hill and Pontoon, the Camp Lejeune drinking water was laden with:
- Perchloroethylene (PCE), dry cleaning solvent
- Trichloroethylene (TCE), degreaser
- Benzene, an indicator of petroleum-based contaminants such as jet fuel, gasoline, and diesel fuels
- Trans-1, 2-DEC, a breakdown of PCE and TCE into a different contaminate
- Vinyl Chloride (VC), used in the formation of PVC, aerosol sprays, as a refrigerant, and to make automotive parts, wall coverings, and housewares
Lejeune veterans exposed to these chemicals have later developed serious diseases. The VA currently recognizes the following through “presumptive service connection”:
- Adult leukemia
- Aplastic anemia and other myelodysplastic syndromes
- Bladder cancer
- Kidney cancer
- Liver cancer
- Multiple myeloma
- Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
- Parkinson’s disease
Camp Lejeune veterans claim there are more.
Maynard said he “experienced many adverse reactions to the poisonous water supply” while stationed at Camp Lejeune, but the most significant did not show up until two decades later.
After his discharge from the military, Maynard went to college and became an electrician at Weyerhaeuser. He held that job for 10 years until 2004, when he became so ill he was confined to a wheelchair.
“The Veterans Administration denied my disability claim every step of the way,” Maynard said. “For six months, I survived on zero income until I received my minimal Social Security Disability Benefits. I dropped from earning a six-figure income to a small Social Security check. Can you imagine the hell I walked through?”
Maynard is sadly not alone. Many veterans and their families have been impacted by the military’s lack of environmental oversight.
Retired Master Sergeant Jerry Ensminger was stationed at Camp Lejeune before he became an advocate for other veterans exposed to toxins at the camp. He lost his daughter Janey to leukemia caused by the contaminated tap water.
Making matters worse, in 2014 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Lejeune families who did not file legal claims by 1994, before anyone really understood the extent of the contamination, could not seek damages. The decision cited a North Carolina statute that bars people from suing more than 10 years after exposure.
“The only avenue I had to seek relief for all the hell she went through, my family went through, was stripped from me,” Ensminger told the Lejeune Community Assistance Panel in 2018. “It was stripped from all of you who had dependents that were effected by this. Our judiciary system stripped us of the very damn constitutional rights that all of us were there serving to protect.”
Ensminger has devoted his life to fiding justice for Camp Lejeune veterans and families ever since.
“All I want is for my case and your cases, if they are valid, to be allowed to go before a court of law based on their own merits,” he said. “That is what they are afraid of. They know the merits are not on their side.”
The VA’s disability compensation program and the Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012 currently offer some financial assistance to poisoned Lejeune veterans and their families. Those who served at the base for at least a year and suffer from one of one of 15 conditions can claim cost-free health care from the VA. Compensation for serious diseases is restricted mostly to cancers, however.
That’s a big problem for Marine veteran Algie Nelson.
As The Chronicle reports, Nelson began his career as a Marine at Parris Island before being sent to Okinawa, Japan. When he returned to Parris Island, Nelson worked as a shooting instructor. He spent his last years in the military at Camp Lejeune.
After a few months at Lejeune, Nelson noticed his skin was changing color. He was suffering from vitiligo, a loss of pigmentation in skin cells. This was followed by renal toxicity years later. Nelson was forced to undergo dialysis.
“In 2013, his sister, who served in the Air Force, donated a kidney to him,” The Chronicle reports.
Nelson’s kidney was covered by the Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012, but he has yet to see any acknowledgement of his skin condition.
For this Marine veteran and tens of thousands of others, the battle rages on.
“Don’t stop,” Nelson told The Chronicle. “The way the government works, they’re depending on you to stop. Once you file an initial claim, they’re looking for you to stop. You’ve got to stick with it.
“We’ve got to keep fighting,” he continued. “… When you join any branch of the service, you’re supposed to come back the same way. If there’s something that happened in that branch of service you were in that affects you and you’re not coming back the same way, the responsibility is on them. The burden of proof is on the government. We shouldn’t have to fight to say it did happen.”
Senators Richard Burr (R-NC), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Jon Tester (D-MT), Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Ben Cardin (D-MD) introduced S. 1563, The Janey Ensminger Act of 2019, to ensure individuals with diseases scientifically linked to toxic chemical exposure at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina receive proper medical care from the Veterans Administration (VA).
An estimated one million people, including veterans and their family members, have been impacted by toxic chemicals at Camp Lejeune. The Janey Ensminger Act of 2019 would help those suffering from illnesses by providing the quality medical care and benefits they’re owed.
“[N]o other military toxic exposure incident in our history has been documented nor studied as thoroughly as Camp Lejeune,” Ensminger said. “Much of the science is already in and more is coming in future study reports. Many Camp Lejeune veterans and their families have waited, suffered, and yes even died waiting for this scientific evidence, they shouldn’t need to wait any longer for the help they deserve.”
Learn more in the video below.
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