The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) mishandled up to 1 in 3 veterans’ claims relating to water contamination at Camp LeJeune, according to a report released Thursday by the department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG).
Some 1 million people may have been exposed to contaminated water at the training facility between August 1953 and December 1987, according to the OIG report. OIG investigators found that the department prematurely denied more than 17,000 of the claims before sending the claimants’ letters asking for further documentation of exposure.
In another 2,300 cases, the department recorded incorrect effective dates for benefit eligibility, according to the report. Not all the mishandled cases would necessarily have resulted in benefit payouts, but veterans were underpaid by at least $13.8 million over a four-year period due to failure to assign the earliest effective date, according to the watchdog.
The contaminants in question are associated with a number of medical conditions and complications, including kidney cancer, liver cancer, Parkinson’s disease and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The VA has also expanded eligibility for disability payments to people who have a different condition than the eight listed that they can prove is connected to exposure to contaminated water.
“The OIG found that errors were less likely to occur at the Louisville Regional Office, which processes most Camp Lejeune-related claims; staff from other VA regional offices lacked experience processing these claims,” the report states. The watchdog recommended the Veterans Benefits Administration either develop a plan to reduce the processing errors at regional offices or centralize Camp Lejeune-related claims at the Louisville office.
Earlier this month, President Biden signed the Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act, which included $300 billion for benefits for veterans exposed to burn pits but also includes a provision allowing lawsuits against the federal government in connection with exposure to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune.