Three advocates who fought for the Camp Lejeune Justice Act: Retired Marine Sgt. Jerry Ensminger of North Carolina, comedian Jon Stewart and Florida resident Mike Partain | Photo provided

Editor’s Note: In recent months, we’ve published news and opinion pieces about the Camp Lejeune Justice Act that sought to help veterans from S.C. and other states injured by the base’s water contamination. This story updates what’s happened recently.

Thousands of South Carolinians stationed over 35 years at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina may be eligible for expanded health care benefits for exposure to toxic water thanks to a new law. Also eligible may be family members who lived on the base from 1953 to 1987 as well as civilians who worked there.

Earlier this week, President Joe Biden signed the bipartisan Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act, also known as the PACT Act. According to the White House, it is “the most significant expansion of benefits and services for toxic exposed veterans in more than 30 years.”

While much of the media focus on the new law was on toxic burn pits that injured veterans serving in wars overseas, the new law includes help for people at Camp Lejeune who drank or bathed in water contaminated by toxic chemicals, such as gasoline and jet fuel, that leaked into wells around the base. As of Aug. 12, 274,981 people registered with the Marine Corps to receive notifications about the poisonous drinking water at Camp Lejeune. More than 7,700 live in South Carolina. 

Those who once lived on the base were elated with news that Biden signed the law.

“God is great working through people of faith,” said retired Navy Chaplain Bruce Hill of Lake City, Florida, who had five years of treatment before his leukemia went into remission. His wife also died of breast cancer. His daughter suffers from an inflammatory bowel disease that compromises her body’s immune system. They all drank Lejeune’s water. Later he added, “The passage of this law proves to many veterans and their families that the justice system still works.”

Winter Haven, Florida, resident Mike Partain, who was born on the base and drank the water, has operated a 19,000-member Facebook group seeking health care justice.  

“It was a bittersweet moment to see President Biden sign this bill into law, to witness history,” said Partin, who attended the event. “As he signed, I thought about those who didn’t make it and are no longer with us. I wondered will the Navy finally come clean and do the right thing for our Navy and Marine service members and their families? We have reached our final chapter in this 25-plus year fight for justice.”

Retired Marine Master Sgt. Jerry Ensminger, a North Carolina resident who stood behind Biden during the Aug. 10 ceremony, added, “It’s about time this happened. Congress needs to look at and modify the legal immunities DOD [the Department of Defense] enjoys. Their nonsensical application of those immunities constitutes an abuse of power!”

Another person featured in past coverage, Rose Ann Boxx of James Island, died in May. Last year, she described how her brother’s death from colon cancer haunted her. They lived on the base in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Boxx got breast cancer in 2016.

Georgetown attorney Ed Bell, an architect of the Camp Lejeune language passed by Congress, worked for years to get Congress to approve the measure.  

“It’s been a long time coming,” he said before walking into the bill-signing ceremony. “Our veterans, our Marines, our families – our government forgot them. Our government actually forgot them. We hope this will change things and make it better.”

NOTE:  Bell is an owner of City Paper Publishing LLC.

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