WASHINGTON President Obama will sign a bill on Monday to give health care to thousands of sick Marine veterans and their families who were exposed to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune, according to a White House official.
The signing will occur during a ceremony at the Oval Office. The time of the ceremony and guest lists have not been released. But several guests from North Carolina are expected to attend.
Mike Partain, who survived breast cancer after living on the base, helped lead the fight for health care along with retired Marine Jerry Ensminger. They said they were invited and plan to attend. Part of the bill is named after Ensmingers daughter, Janey, who died of a rare form of leukemia in 1985 at age 9.
Its been a long time coming, Ensminger said. But like I said before, this is not the end. I got a lot of kick left. I want the truth.
For years, the bill failed to gain momentum. But last month the Senate and House passed the measure after their respective Veterans Affairs committees agreed on a bill that would provide health care for people who lived or worked at the Marine Corps base from Jan. 1, 1957, through Dec. 31, 1987. They also must have a condition listed within the bill thats associated with exposure to chemicals in the water.
Sen. Richard Burr, a Winston-Salem Republican, introduced the bill. He and other N.C. members of Congress, including Sen. Kay Hagan, a Greensboro Democrat, and Rep. Brad Miller, a Raleigh Democrat, have been working to convince members of Congress to provide health care for the sick Marines and their families.
It is expected to help as many as 750,000 veterans.
Miller was the original sponsor of the Janey Ensminger Act, which was included in a modified version of Burrs bill that passed in the House. He called it a shame that the Marines have been reluctant to accept responsibility for the water contamination.
The Marines said they have worked diligently to identify any individuals who might have been exposed to the chemicals in drinking water, but officials maintain the evidence remains inconclusive. Capt. Kendra Motz said several government reviews have also concluded that the Marines have never sought to cover up information.
Unfortunately, to date, the science has proven inconclusive, she said in an email.
Burr disagrees. And he said the Navy has yet to answer why it withheld documents.
The next step, he said, is continuing to study whether non-military personnel, such as contractors, on the base may have been infected. While the threshold is different, he said its important to debate whether the government is responsible for their care.