Born at Camp Lejeune, Can’t Afford Cancer Surgery

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Camp Lejeune’s contaminated wells are now closed but the an estimated 500,000 veterans and dependents  may have been exposed to the contaminated water.   

(REDDING, CAL) – A number of veterans and dependents of Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina continue to suffer from cancer linked to their exposure to organic solvents like trichloroethylene, tetrachloroethylene, and benzene in the base wells.  Teresa Trantham of Redding, CA, a breast cancer survivor, is a former dependent of a Camp Lejeune Marine.  Her cancer may be linked to the contaminated water on the base.   The contaminated wells are closed now but those exposed to the drinking water, there’s no way to reset the clock.

Courtesy: Teresa Trantham

Camp Lejeune is one of the 130 military bases on the EPA National Priority List (Superfund list). Many of them contaminated with the same organic solvents as Camp Lejeune.  There’s no government policy to notify veterans and dependents of their possible exposure to toxic contaminants.  Thousands have served on these military installations.  The number exposed and ill is impossible to estimate. The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee estimated the number exposed at Camp Lejeune may be as high as 500,000.     

The Agency for Toxic Substance Disease Registry (ATSDR)—a Federal government agency responsible for public health assessments of EPA Superfund sites— reported health problems in people of all ages from drinking water contaminated with organic solvents. These include aplastic anemia, bladder cancer, brain cancer, breast cancer, cervical cancer, esophageal cancer, and Hodgkin’s disease.

The STAND, an internet website (www.watersurvivors.com) was established in 2000 by Terry Dyer who was nearly 2 when her family moved to Lejeune’s Tarawa Terrace, where they lived from 1958 to 1973. She and her two sisters all have had radical hysterectomies.  They are the only women in the family to have to undergo this procedure.  She said they suffered miscarriages, thyroid conditions, tumors, cysts, skin diseases, and asthma.  Terry continues to suffer from repeated bouts of bladder cancer.  This website acts as an advocate for Lejeune veterans and dependents.

STAND representatives contacted us about the story of a former Lejeune dependent born on the base that survived breast cancer, is at a high risk for uterus cancer, but has been unable to get any gynecologists in her community to accept her Medicaid health insurance for the surgery. 

Teresa Trantham, age 36, Redding, California, was born at Camp Lejeune in 1974.  She’s a single mother of two boys, Audie, age 14 and Anthony James (AJ), age 8.   

Her life changed drastically in June 2009 when she was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer.  A double mastectomy left her unable to work as a waitress at River View Golf and Country Club.

The Marine Corps disputes the connection of cancer to the Camp Lejeune contaminated base wells.   

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The Agency for Toxic Substances Disease Registry (ATSDR), a Federal agency whose mission is to perform public health assessments of EPA Superfund sites like Camp Lejeune, reported that breast cancer is linked to organic solvent exposure. 

Both Teresa’s father and mother died at age 53.  Her father was a Camp Lejeune Marine and lived with his family in Midway Park, one of the dependent housing quarters on the base.

Was Teresa exposed to organic solvents at Camp Lejeune? Midway Park was serviced by the base’s Hadnot Point water distribution system.

According to ATSDR, “The Hadnot Point drinking water system is still being modeled. We know that trichloroethylene was found at 1400 ppb, trans 1,2-dichloroethylene was present at more than 300 ppb, and benzene and pesticides were found in the water.”   

Until ATSDR completes Hadnot Point’s modeling, no one will know for sure whether Midway Park’s water system was contaminated in 1973-1976.

We do know that Teresa’s parents lived on Butler Drive in Midway Park when she was conceived. 

The Jacksonville Daily News reported on April 17, 2010, that, “From 1943 through 1987, more than 190 infants — whose mothers all lived on Butler Drive — were either delivered stillborn, died at birth, died moments thereafter or succumbed within the first 18 months of life after delivery at the Naval Hospital, according to an exhaustive check of death certificates on file at the Onslow County Courthouse.”

The deaths of Butler Drive’s infants is a concern.   However, the Jacksonville news story is not definitive proof that Teresa’s breast cancer is linked to Midway Park’s drinking water but not it’s not cause for celebration either. 

None of this will bring needed financial support to Teresa and her two boys or pay for her needed surgery.  She has not filed a Federal tort claim and, if even she did, the Navy has all of the tort claims for alleged injuries from Lejeune’s water wells on hold.  No one has been paid a dime. Apparently, the Lejeune veterans and dependents are not in the same ballpark as the Wall Street bankers, automobile companies and AIG.    

Teresa’s immediate medical problem is she needs a hysterectomy.  After her double mastectomy, she is at a higher risk for cancer of the uterus.  Her doctor has recommended the surgery. The problem is that the three hospitals in Redding, California—Shasta Regional Medical Center, Mercy Medical Center, and Patients Hospital—offered her no assistance in finding a gynecologist who would accept her Medi-Cal heath care insurance (California’s Medicaid program). 

Now unable to work as a waitress at the River View Golf & Counrty Club, she barely has enough money to make ends meet.   

Teresa has applied for Social Security disability, but no decision has been made and she said that her follow-up calls have not helped to speed-up the Social Security review process.   

Congressional legislation was introduced this year in both the House (HR 4555, Janey Ensminger Act) and the Senate (Senator Akaka’s original bill) to provide health care coverage to both Camp Lejeune veterans and dependents.

A Senate Veterans Affairs Committee bill introduced by Senator Daniel Akaka (D, Hi) in January 2010, is still awaiting a Committee report before a bill number can be assigned and the bill moved to the Senate floor.

Major differences between the two bills present formidable barriers to the passage of any compromise legislation.  For example, HR 4555 provides for health coverage by the Department of Veterans Affairs while Senator Akaka’s bill would give both veterans and dependents access to the Defense Department’s TRICARE health insurance system. 

For Teresa, the need for medical care coverage is critical. The unanswered question is whether the legislation will be passed in time before it’s too late.

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