For a select numbers of veterans who were stationed at the U.S. Marine Corps Camp Lejeune in North Carolina between the mid-1950s and mid-1980s, any instances of adult leukemia may be eligible for VA disability benefits, based on the presumption of service connection to extensive drinking water contamination that was found to have occurred there.
Leukemia is a type of cancer that attacks your bone marrow and lymphatic system, and which usually causes an increase in malformed, dysfunctional white blood cells. It’s one of numerous cancers that have been linked to exposure to certain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that were found to be contaminating the water supply at Camp Lejeune.
VA has established a list of presumptive conditions—including leukemia—that have been linked to exposure to these VOCs. This presumption means it’s easier for eligible, affected veterans to prove a direct service connection between their diagnosis of certain forms of cancer and exposure while on active duty. The severity of situation has also led to laws that provide additional healthcare benefits and compensation for veterans their families.
Leukemia from Camp Lejeune Water Contamination
Leukemia is one of several conditions that has been tied to exposure to contaminants such as trichloroethylene (TCE), perchloroethylene (PCE), benzene, and vinyl chloride, among other VOCs. Two water wells that had been used for decades for drinking and bathing water at the camp were shut down in 1985 after these contaminants were found in them, potentially affecting thousands of service members and their families.
Starting sometime around 1957 and continuing on until 1987, industrial solvents and degreasers like the VOCs mentioned above were disposed of or buried improperly on or nearby the base. This contamination of the water supply has since been linked to numerous forms of cancer, along with cases of birth defects, pregnancy problems, infertility, and other health problems in those stationed at the camp.
The Camp Lejeune Act of 2012 allowed for cost-free healthcare treatment to veterans who have been honorably discharged and served for at least 30 days of active duty at the camp between August 1, 1953 and December 31, 1987 for certain qualifying health conditions. The law also provides for reimbursement of out-of-pocket medical costs for family members of veterans who are suffering from medical conditions linked to toxic exposure at Camp Lejeune.
Following that, the failed Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022 was rolled into the Honoring Our Pact Act of 2022, which was signed into law on August 10, 2022. This law provides for monetary compensation to those affected by toxic exposure, and has led to an influx of new claims by veterans seeking compensation and VA disability benefits.
Leukemia Symptoms, Risk Factors, and Treatment
There are many types of leukemia, and symptoms can vary among them, but there are a number of common symptoms to look out for. The most common type of adult leukemia is acute myelogenous leukemia (AML), while the second most common is chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). CLL may be stable for years without requiring treatment. A third form, chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML), does not have noticeable symptoms and is typically found in people older than 65.
An important note to bear in mind is that VA only recognizes adult leukemia as a presumptive condition connected to Camp Lejeune. So while some healthcare benefits extend to veterans’ children who may have been exposed to contaminants, any childhood-onset leukemia is not considered presumptive.
Common symptoms of leukemia include the following. Symptoms are often mistakenly associated with normal illnesses like the flu, but if such symptoms persist, you are recommended to contact your doctor immediately.
- Fevers and chills
- Persistent fatigue or weakness
- Frequently occurring, or more severe, infections
- Unexplained weight loss
- Swollen lymph nodes, or enlarged liver or spleen
- Easy bleeding, including nosebleeds, and/or bruising
- Petechiae, or red spots in your skin
- Excessive sweating
- Bone pain and/or tenderness
Besides exposure to chemicals like benzene and the other VOCs mentioned above, other factors that put you at greater risk of leukemia include family history, previous cancer treatment, genetic disorders, and smoking.
A diagnosis may be achieved by a combination of physical exam, blood test, and bone marrow test. Common treatments include chemotherapy, targeted therapy,
VA Disability Ratings for Leukemia
Most forms of leukemia (with the exception of chronic myelogenous leukemia) are rated by VA under diagnostic code 7703. It is rated at 100% disability when there is active disease or treatment is underway, and for 6 months beyond the last treatment. Following that, the rating is based on recurrence or the residuals from treatment.
For eligible veterans who served at Camp Lejeune within the given timeframes and for the stipulated period of time, a presumption of service connection means you do not need to prove that toxic exposure is responsible for your condition. For veterans who have been diagnosed with leukemia but are not associated with Camp Lejeune in any way, you cannot expect a presumption of service connection, and must instead prove a nexus event that connects your current diagnosis with your service record.
Assistance With Your Claim
With the passing of the Camp Lejeune Act of 2012 and the Honoring Our Pact Act of 2022, veterans are eager to receive the additional compensation warranted by their exposure to contaminants. This has led to an influx in claims with which VA Disability Group PLLC is ready to help. The VA disability claims process can be difficult to navigate alone, and with the potential for additional benefits in the balance, it’s recommended that you utilize the best representation you can find.
Build the strongest claim for healthcare benefits and compensation for you and your family by working with us today. Contact us now at 844-VET-LAWS or contact us via our contact form.