Based on evidence from several internationally-recognized scientific authorities (including the National Academies of Sciences), the Secretary of Veterans Affairs 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 occurrence of eight health conditions, as recommended by the VA Technical Workgroup (TWG). On September 9, 2016, the VA issued a regulation proposal to amend its regulations.
The proposed eight presumptive diseases are:
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 presumptive diseases are presumed as disabled during the relevant period of service, thus establishing active military service for benefit purposes.
In short, the VA is recognizing that contaminated water at Camp Lejeune is responsible for serious diseases that many veterans have contracted as a result of their military service.
Ordinarily, in order for a veteran to be granted direct service connection for VA disability purposes, he or she must meet three criteria. First, the veteran must have a current medical diagnosis of a disease or condition recognized by the VA as a disability. Second, there must be evidence of an in-service injury or incident. Finally, there must be a qualified medical opinion linking the current disability to the veteran’s military service.
Service connection by legal presumption means that veterans are to be presumed service-connected unless there is affirmative evidence to prove that a particular veteran’s condition is not related to service. If a veteran has a current disability that is presumed to be associated with a specific injury or contaminant exposure incurred while serving, the veteran should not be required to obtain medical evidence in order to obtain VA disability benefits. The VA establishes which disabilities and diseases it believes are related to the circumstances of a veteran’s service.
Currently, presumption is given for certain chronic diseases, tropical diseases, diseases specific to former prisoners-of-war, diseases specific to radiation exposure, diseases associated with exposure to mustard gas and Lewisite, diagnosed and undiagnosed illnesses from the Gulf War, and diseases associated with exposure to herbicide agents, including Agent Orange.
The VA proposal would make the above disabilities presumptive to those who served at Camp Lejeune between 1953 and 1987.
But what about other disabilities or diseases caused by contaminated water at Camp Lejeune that the VA is not proposing to make presumptive?
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.
Although a proposed regulation change does not become law until it is finalized and published, if you meet the criteria for the proposed presumption you should file a claim for VA disability benefits as soon as possible. The time that the VA receives your claim may govern the effective date of that claim. By establishing a claim date, you may be entitled to an earlier effective date if and when the proposal becomes finalized and published.
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) 682-0751 to speak with a member of our team or contact us online. Your consultation is free.
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