By Dave Bedworth
“Kidney Cancer – first dad now mom” was the title of the first posting I saw on the Discussion Board of the website “The Few, The Proud, The Forgotten”. The details of the posting made my heart sink into my boots. Once again, a new member had joined the discussion, looking for information and help. Once again, the story was tragic beyond belief. All as a result of exposure to contamination at Camp Lejeune. This member was only five years old when her father was stationed at Camp Lejeune and the family was allotted housing at Tarawa Terrace II. Now both parents have kidney cancer with little financial or medical means to obtain needed treatment. The “déjà vous” feeling this story creates is tinged with both a sickening repetitiveness and anger that the government has not stepped forward to assist these victims of contamination.
As I conducted a little more research it appears that not all of the ongoing events are so colored with sadness. Indeed, a series of events are ongoing or in the pipeline that will bring our veterans and family members closer to the truth.
First, sick veterans and family members from the Camp Lejeune contamination era are meeting at various locations throughout the US. Meetings have already been held in Jacksonville, NC; Orlando, FL; Roanoke, VA; Virginia Beach, VA and Charlotte, NC. Future meetings are planned for Syracuse, NY; Pittsburgh, PA and other Florida cities. The meetings are sponsored by the Bell Legal Group who are gathering information in order to help those who may have a legal suit against the government for injuries. The meetings are bearing fruit in that the exchange of information is making participants more certain that the results of contamination are extensive and deadly. People who attend these meetings are discussing illness patters typical with those who have previously registered with the website. The shock and horror is, unfortunately, sending waves through a new group of people who are learning that their illnesses are potentially caused by their time at Camp Lejeune. Mike Partain’s words from the Virginia Beach meeting speak of this with clarity:
One person stood out in particular, she is a mother with two children conceived/born at Camp Lejeune. She was unsure whether her daughter’s ovarian cancer or her son’s health problems were related to her family’s exposure to the contaminated water. The look in her eyes when she made the realization was heart breaking. I saw the same terror in my own mother’s eyes when she realized that the water she drank when she was pregnant with me caused my cancer and the many odd health problems I have experienced since childhood. It is every mother’s worst nightmare – that something they did brought to harm their child. The pain and look of utter betrayal in this mother’s eyes today almost brought me to tears and I had to look away to keep my composure.
Mike has breast cancer and has been determined to help those from Camp Lejeune who are ill as a result of exposure to contamination. We all owe Mike a great debt of gratitude for his efforts while fighting his terrible illness.
Second, Congressman Brad Miller, NC, Chairman of the House Committee on Science and Technology’s Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight is planning to hold a hearing whereby government agencies will be required to answer questions regarding the situation at Camp Lejeune. This will be an opportunity for America to learn the extent of potential contamination as the responses will be a matter of record. For those veterans and family members who struggle with illness every day, maybe this hearing will be cathartic in that some answers to their individual pain may come to light. It is also possible that the official responses required in this hearing will enable veterans to better document the link between their illnesses and contamination in order to support claims with the Veterans Administration and future litigation.
Third, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), tasked to research the extent of the contamination, is starting to put more of the pieces of the puzzle together. The resulting picture is providing more evidence of illness as other contaminants have been added to the list of toxic substances on their website. The efforts of the ATSDR have also provided a basis for the links between these substances and the bewildering array of illnesses that are being reported by the veterans and family members who lived and worked at Camp Lejeune. In the future, the ATSDR will produce results of water modeling at Camp Lejeune. These results will paint a very clear picture of what type and level of contamination existed in the past. From the data provided by water modeling the ATSDR will then be able to develop a more accurate Public Health Assessment and Morbidity Study.
Through all of the efforts by various parties to find out the truth of contamination at Camp Lejeune it is noted that there has been a serious absence of any senior leader, civilian or military, who has stepped forward to help. The people who fight this battle every day are ill veterans and family members. They have no champion, no General, no Admiral. It is if the veterans and family members are an embarrassment who need to go away and die quickly and quietly.
So I will end this article with a quote from English metaphysical poet John Donne whose words come from the early years of the Seventeenth Century:
“Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”