Garner, N.C. — As Congress mulls legislation to improve how suspected clusters of diseases are investigated and documented, a Garner couple just wants the military to provide answers to long-running cancer concerns at Camp Lejeune.
The U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee heard testimony Tuesday on a bill aimed at helping communities determine whether there's any link between unusually high rates of cancer in small areas and contaminants in the surrounding environment.
The Natural Resources Defense Council presented research to the committee identifying 42 sites nationwide where the group wants the government to investigate the potential effects of toxic chemicals on human health, including the small Chatham County town of Bynum and the Camp Lejeune Marine Corps base.
The federal government estimates that 750,000 people may have been exposed to cancer-causing substances in Camp Lejeune’s water supply between the 1950s and 1980s. Although base officials acknowledge that chemicals from a former dry cleaner contaminated several drinking water wells on base, they aren't convinced the contamination caused health problems of veterans and their families.
Mike Seese was stationed at Camp Lejeune for years as a Navy medic. He retired in 2006, got married and moved to Garner, where he and his wife planned to start a family.
Seese said he went to a doctor to have his vasectomy reversed and learned he would never have children.
"I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. What they found was I also had cancer of the bladder," he said. "When you get surprised with something like this, with two cancers, it changes your life."
Donna Seese said she feels like she has to fight for her husband, noting "he just sort of shut down."
"We've been hit really hard with this, not only emotionally but in financial ways," she said.
The military has denied many of their medical claims, so the couple pays most bills for treatment themselves.
"It's the red tape you have to go through, the waits," Mike Seese said.
U.S. Sens. Richard Burr and Kay Hagan are backing legislation to provide care for veterans and their family members who have experienced health problems because of Camp Lejeune's contaminated well water.
Donna Seese also has written to President Barack Obama to ask for his help.
"I'm going to reach out to everyone I can," she said.
Camp Lejeune spokesman Capt. Brian Block said the base continues to back scientific studies of the cancer cases.
"Those who believe that drinking water at Camp Lejeune caused their illness are part of our family, and we understand that they want answers. We want answers too," Block said in a statement.
Mike Seese's cancer is in remission, but he said he still wants the military to support him for his 26 years of service.
"You have to hold some accountability to the officials at Camp Lejeune," he said.