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05-13-09, 11:29 AM #1
TCE/PCE Petition Drive Needs Veterans’ Support
TCE/PCE Petition Drive Needs Veterans’ Support
Robert O'Dowd Salem-News.com
The Marine Corps Times reported 22 military bases with contaminated TCE water in June 2007.
(GARDEN GROVE, Calif.) - The Veterans for Change (VFC), a proactive veteran service organization, drafted a petition to Congress in February 2009 for legislation to include exposure to trichloroethylene (TCE) and tetrachloroethylene (PCE) for military bases contaminated with these toxic chemicals under the VA's Presumptive Disability category.
According to Jim Davis, founder of VFC, the organization’s mission is to promote positive changes in the treatment and rights of all veterans and their families, especially relating to benefits claims, medical treatment, VA facilities, PTSD, Agent Orange, POW/MIA recoveries, and related issues. (See: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/VETERANS-FOR-CHANGE/)
Davis said more signatures are needed to push for the reintroduction of The TCE Reduction Act, which never reached the 110th Congress for a vote.
According to Davis, this legislation will not only benefit veterans, but all Americans since TCE/PCE are two toxic chemicals contaminating many water supply systems throughout the country.
Congressional testimony from Dr. Thomas Sinks, Deputy Director, Agency for Toxic Disease Registry (ASTDR) on June 12, 2007, to the Committee on Energy and Commerce, Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, United States House of Representatives confirms the toxicity of these two chemicals: “TCE is a colorless liquid which is used as a solvent for cleaning metal parts. Occupational exposure to TCE may cause nervous system effects, kidney, liver and lung damage, abnormal heartbeat, coma, and possibly death. Occupational exposure to TCE also has been associated with adult cancers such as kidney cancer, liver and biliary cancer, and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. TCEin drinking water has been associated with childhood leukemia in two studies and with specific birth defects such as neural tube defects and oral clefts in one study.”
Dr. Sinks commented that: “PCE is a manufactured chemical used for dry cleaning and metal degreasing. Occupational exposure to PCE can cause dizziness, headaches, sleepiness, confusion, nausea, difficulty in speaking and walking, unconsciousness, and death. Exposure to PCE-contaminated drinking water has been linked with adult cancers such as non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, leukemia, bladder cancer, and breast cancer.”
Chemicals Widely Used
Both chemicals were used by industry and the military for many years without regard to sound environmental disposal practices. For example, dumping TCE waste into sanitary sewers and sometimes the bare ground, for example, led to the contamination of groundwater and drinking water throughout the United States.
An unknown number of veterans have been exposed to TCE. In 2003 the Air Force reported 1,400 military sites contaminated with TCE.
The Marine Corps Times reported 22 military bases with contaminated TCE water in June 2007. (See: marinecorpstimes.com/news/2007/06/marine_water_list_070625/)
TCE Reduction Act
Senator Hillary Clinton led an unsuccessful attempt to reduce exposure to TCE in the U.S. Senate in 2007.
The TCE Reduction Act of 2008 (or the Toxic Chemical Exposure Reduction Act of 2008) was introduced in the US Senate by then Senator Hillary Clinton on August 1, 2007 and co-sponsored by Sen. Amy Klobuchar [D-MN], Sen. Barbara Boxer [D-CA], Sen. John Kerry [D-MA], Sen. Elizabeth Dole [R-NC], Sen. Joseph Lieberman [I-CT]. Sen. Bill Nelson [D-FL] and Sen. Frank Lautenberg [D-NJ].
The TCE Reduction Act of 2008 (S. 1911) never became law. Congressional sessions last two years, and at the end of each session all proposed bills like S. 1911 that haven't passed are cleared from the books. Never reaching the floor for a vote, S. 1911 expired at the end of the Congressional session.
VFC Proposed Draft Legislation
The VFC’s petition to reintroduce the legislation as the TCE/PCE Reduction Act includes a provision to make honorable discharged veterans who served at any military base on the EPA Superfund list (133 bases as of the latest count) eligible for the Department of Veterans Affairs’ “Presumptive Disability” umbrella when applying for VA disability compensation from exposure to TCE/PCE.
The draft legislation requires the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs to establish, by not later than 180 days after the date of enactment of this Act:
* A health advisory, including cancer risks, for trichloroethylene and tetrachloroethylene in drinking water that fully protects susceptible populations (including pregnant women, infants, and children), taking into consideration body weight, exposure patterns, and all routes of exposure to trichloroethylene;
* An integrated risk information system reference concentration of trichloroethylene and tetrachloroethylene that is protective of the susceptible populations from vapor intrusion, taking into consideration the factors described in that subparagraph;
* To promptly establish a national primary drinking water regulation for TCE and PCE that fully protects susceptible populations (including pregnant women, infants, and children), taking into consideration body weight, exposure patterns, and all routes of exposure; and
* To include honorably discharged veterans eligible for VA presumptive disability for illnesses linked to exposure to TCE or PCE whenever these contaminants are listed as Contaminants of Concern by the Environmental Protection Agency for a military base placed on the EPA National Priority List.
Presumptive Disability Needed
The VA denies claims of veterans without substantial supporting documentation, including an opinion from a medical doctor that the illness was “at least as likely as not” due to exposure to TCE/PCE in the military. For many veterans this is a “catch twenty-two situation.”
The military base they were stationed at has high levels of TCE/PCE. Their illness is one that can be caused by exposure to TCE/PCE. They can’t work because of their disability. The VA requires “proof” that their disability including a medical opinion or nexus statement that links the illness to military service.
A disabled and unemployed veteran is unlikely to have the means to pay for a medical opinion and nexus statement from an expert medical specialist. For example, a telephone call to a Southern California medical doctor and toxicologist showed that a short opinion letter (one typed page) would cost approximately $3,000. In this economy, this is not a small amount of change, especially to a disabled veteran.
The VA’s Presumptive Disability entitlement eliminates the need for an expensive medical nexus statement.
How does "presumptive entitlement" work? If one of the medical conditions linked to TCE/PCE exposure is diagnosed in a veteran and the veteran served in a location contaminated with TCE/PCE, the VA presumes that the circumstances of his/her service caused the condition, and disability compensation could be awarded.
The VA currently has four groups of veterans under the Presumptive Disability category. These include former POWs, Vietnam veterans (exposed to Agent Orange); atomic veterans (exposed to ionizing radiation); and Gulf War veterans.
There’s medical support of the heath affects of TCE/PCE exposure (including the EPA and the National Academy of Sciences). TCE/PCE were widely used chemicals by the military and industry for decades, many bases have documented TCE/PCE contamination, and many veterans were exposed to these carcinogens and suffer the effects of exposure.
For MCB Camp Lejeune and MCAS El Toro Marine veterans the introduction and passage of this legislation will have special meaning.
Despite the years of data documenting the contamination of Lejeune's base wells and a number of deaths linked to the base wells, Jerome Ensminger, a retired Camp Lejeune Marine who witnessed the death of his 9 year old daughter to leukemia from contaminated base water, cautioned that Lejeune veterans can still expect their VA disability compensation claims to be denied but will win on appeal. However, veterans should know that the VA disability compensation appeal process can be lengthy and exhausting with no guarantees.
El Toro Marines can expect VA denials for exposure to TCE/PCE in the base's drinking water, despite the thousands of pounds of TCE/PCE cutting a path through the base wells.
El Toro appears to be a bigger uphill fight for veterans. While Lejeune has lots of evidence of support for contamination of base wells and remains an active Marine Corps base, El Toro was officially closed in July 1999 and the missing documentation raises a number red flags and lots of unanswered questions.
With serious and unanswered questions about the base’s water distribution system and the possible contamination of base wells, an El Toro Marine veteran even with a disease linked to TCE/PCE exposure can expect an uphill fight to win a VA disability compensation claim. Sadly, despite the best motivation, an El Toro Marine veteran with stage 4 bladder cancer is unlikely to have the time or health to win the battle.
Presumptive disability for diseases linked to TCE/PCE contamination is the fairest way to honor the service of veterans. According to Davis, unless the proposed TCE/PCE Reduction Act is passed with the presumptive disability provision, an unknown number of veterans will be denied medical benefits and compensation. Davis urges all veterans and Americans to get support this effort by signing the petition to Congress.
For more information on the VFC petition, email Jim Davis at firstname.lastname@example.org.
IN LOVING MEMORY OF MY LATE HUSBAND, SSgt Roger A. Alfano, USMC
ONE PROUD MARINE
Once a Marine...Always a Marine
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