RALEIGH, N.C. — Marines and family members sickened by contaminated drinking water at Camp Lejeune will medical care for their illnesses under legislation approved Tuesday by the U.S. House.
"The Marines who have championed this legislation served our democracy when they wore our nation's uniform and they served our democracy by their determination to obtain justice for the people harmed by the toxic drinking water at Camp Lejeune," 13th District Congressman Brad Miller said.
Miller spoke Tuesday before the House voted on the Janey Ensminger Act, named after a girl who died of leukemia at the age of 9. Her father, Jerry Ensminger of Elizabethtown, has led the fight to get health care for the victims and to get information about the contamination released.
The U.S. Senate already approved the bill, which now goes to President Obama to be signed into law.
The legislation covers Marines and family members who lived or worked at Camp Lejeune from 1957 to 1987. They drank and used water contaminated with toxins linked to cancers and organ damage.
Documents show Marine leaders were slow to respond when tests first found evidence of contaminated ground water in the early 1980s. Some drinking water wells were closed in 1984 and 1985, after further testing confirmed contamination from leaking fuel tanks and an off-base dry cleaner.
“There should have been as much loyalty down the chain of command as there was up the chain of command, and there wasn’t,” Miller said.
Ensminger and others "took on their own government, including the Marine Corps that they had served and to which they are still loyal, but which has been shamefully reluctant to accept responsibility for the water contamination," the congressman said.
Miller and U.S. Sens. Richard Burr and Kay Hagan sponsored the bill.
“Our hope is that, with this help, these families can finally start to heal from this tragedy,” Alex Rindler, policy associate at the Environmental Working Group, said in a statement. “Today, we celebrate an America that came together to take care of its own, but we are also reminded of those still in need of treatment.”