The Service Connection November-December 2016

Veterans’ Law Newsletter

Volume 1, Issue 3 (Service Connection November-December 2016)

Changes to Camp Lejeune Disability Claims

 

The Secretary of Veterans Affairs has decided there is sufficient scientific and medical evidence available to establish a presumption of connection between exposure to contaminants in the water supply at Camp Lejeune and the development of eight different health conditions.

From 1953 to 1985, service members and their families stationed at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina bathed in and ingested tap water contaminated with carcinogenic chemicals including dry cleaning solvent, degreaser, and benzene, which is commonly found in gasoline.

Military officials were first warned about the presence of these chemicals in 1981, after new regulations passed by the Environmental Protection Agency required regular tap water testing. In 1982, a private company was contracted by the Military to examine the problem. The contracter delivered repeated warnings to base officials, but the contaminated wells remained in use. In 1983, Lejeune officials sent a report to the EPA claiming that there were no environmental problems at the base. Water testing was scaled back.

When a company contracted by the EPA found benzene in the base’s water in 1984, Marine officials finally shut down the contaminated wells. It wasn’t until 1999 that Marine officials began notifying former base reidents that they may have consumed carcinogens.

The VA hasn’t granted service-connection to many victims of the well contamination, but this new regulation could change that fact.

The VA proposes to presume exposure for all active duty, reserve, and National Guard personnel who served at Camp Lejeune for no less than 30 cumulative days from August 1, 1953 through December 31, 1987.

Individuals who served at Camp Lejeune during this period and later developed one of the following diseases are presumed as disabled during the relevant period of service.

The eight presumptive diseases are:

  • Leukemia
  • Aplastic anemia and other myelodysplastic syndromes
  • Bladder cancer
  • Kidney cancer
  • Liver cancer
  • Multiple myeloma
  • Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
  • Parkinson’s disease

In short, the VA is finally recognizing that contaminated water is responsible for rampant illness and death among veterans formally stationed there.

The proposed regulation changes will not affect a veteran’s ability to establish service connection on a non-presumptive basis. A veteran may still show direct service connection of chemical exposure at Camp Lejeune providing that he or she has a current diagnosed disability recognized by the VA, served at Camp Lejeune, and provides a qualified medical opinion linking this disability to military service.

If you served at Camp Lejeune and believe that you meet the conditions of the proposed presumption or if your claim has been denied, please call 888.883.2483 to speak with a member of our team or contact us online at ptsdlawyers.com.

Another Patton

George S. Patton IV during one of his three combat tours in Vietnam.

By John Stevens Berry Sr.

It was after I returned from Vietnam that I saw the movie Patton. At the time, I was struck by the resemblances between General George S. Patton and his son Colonel George S. Patton, with whom I served in Vietnam.

Patton Jr. held rank of Colonel at that time (I believe he retired as major general) and commanded the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment from Black Horse Base Camp, which was in Xuan Loc.

I had heard of him before I met him. Men who served under him often spoke of his courage, his strength of leadership, and his decisiveness. A Donut Dollie had told me “he has a presence and intensity that simply fills the room.”

The resemblances between father and son were in some ways remarkable, and I do not believe it was a case of a son trying to copy his father. I think it was genetics that made them both such strong, sometimes controversial individuals.

I liked the 11th ACR. They had a regimental drink called an RPG, which was one-third tomato juice, one-third beer, and one-third vodka. It was not a good idea to try to drink with men from that unit.

Because Black Horse was in the general court martial jurisdiction of II Field Force, I was the chief defense counsel for that outfit. They also required legal aid to come out every few weeks. This was normally performed by Chief Warrant Officer Wilford Heaton. He would take a jeep and driver, usually in a convoy, to Black Horse to write wills and settle other legal matters outside the courtroom. He was always allowed to sleep in Patton’s trailer because Patton spent his nights out in the woods in an armored vehicle, trying to draw enemy fire.

Heaton was gone for a period of time, so I took over his duties. The trailer was nice, and it was interesting attending early morning staff meetings, which almost always included the passing around of weapons captured during night patrols.

A few specific memories of Colonel Patton:

I saw the Christmas card that got him into so much trouble: Photographs of dead Vietcong underneath which it said “Peace on Earth.”

I remember the controversy that arose when politicians were telling the public that “Vietnamization” would solve our problems and Patton said, “All Vietnamization will do is change the color of the bodies.”

I remember when his helicopter was shot down and he radioed in orders that his bloody shirt not be destroyed or laundered because he wanted it for his museum!

I also remember him once sitting on a court martial. The defendant was late getting into the courtroom (you could always identify the defendant; he was the one not wearing or carrying a weapon!) and Patton, sitting as president of the court, drew his revolver, spun the cylinder, and said to me, “Here Captain, take this and go get him out of the stockade so we can get started.” Why keep someone like that on the court when you have a peremptory challenge to get rid of him? Simple. The guy always thought of himself as the GI’s best friend. And he was.

We lost touch, of course, but I heard that before he died, after he had retired as a major general, he got into farming and actually had a large produce stand by the road in New England, where people would come to buy his produce and hear his war stories. He was a good soldier, an unforgettable human being, and no doubt a very real son of his father, the great General George S. Patton, who led the 3rd Army through Germany in World War II.

In the years since Vietnam, it is inevitable that we forget many events and the people involved in them. But Colonel George S. Patton was, I am certain, remembered by everyone who served with him. May that old soldier rest in peace.

Lorraine’s Corner

Lorraine worked at the VA for 37 years before joining our team.

By Lorraine Chrastil

If the VA determines that monetary payments have been made to a claimant, such as in a case where the Veteran failed to report a divorce, causing VA to continue to pay the additional monthly compensation amount payable on account of the spouse, an overpayment will result. The VA will, after required notices to the claimant, create a debt. The notice of the amount of overpayment will be received from the VA Debt Management Center in St. Paul, Minnesota. You have the right to request a waiver of the overpayment. If a waiver of overpayment is not received within 30 days, the VA will withhold your benefits until the debt is paid.

The VA may waive all or part of an overpayment if the claimant was not at fault in the creation of the overpayment, repayment of the debt would cause financial hardship to the claimant, etc.

Please contact us immediately if you receive a notice of overpayment.

Image: The Jonathan Abel Collection (COLL/3611), Marine Corps Archives & Special Collections, Quantico, Virginia

Christmas in Vietnam

By John Stevens Berry Sr.

Vietnam is a country of many religious traditions. Buddhism is the primary religion, and has a number of offshoots, including Hoa Hao, which involves water and flowers offered in sacrifice. There are a number of holidays including Trung Nguyen, or Wandering Soul’s Day, when the hungry spirits seek food left out for them. There is Trung Thu with its moon cakes, lanterns designed like boat and fish, and colorful parades with drums and cymbals.

But because of the years of French influence, Christianity is also present and there were, from place to place, Christian churches and Christian symbols of Christmas. II Field Force was across the road from a widows’ village, comprised of widows and orphans. It was off limits, a fact that the Vietcong found useful when they occupied the village as a staging area for a Tet attack.

But there was some opportunity for contact, especially for daylight teaching of English to the children, on the rare occasions when a soldier found himself at leisure to do so.

I took advantage of this opportunity to read Dylan Thomas’s classic A Child’s Christmas in Wales aloud to a small group of Vietnamese children on Christmas Eve.

On Christmas Day, I went to the stockade. My mother had sent me a wooden box of excellent chocolates, so I smuggled it in in my large briefcase, got all my clients together in a group in the mess hall, and we each had a Christmas chocolate and a small discussion of memories of home.

It was a small thing, but symbolic of our service over there. I had done what I could.

Merry Christmas from all of us at the Berry Law Firm