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Veterans battle government for disability, health care

Theresa Clark is dying. The 54-year-old Marine Corps veteran is sure that the Stage 4 breast cancer that is killing her, and now has her seeking Social Security disability benefits, is the result of toxins she was exposed to while serving in the Marine Corps at Camp Lejeune. She is likely not alone.

Clark, according to one paper's telling of her story, is one of about 1 million service people, family members and others who bathed in or consumed water on the base between 1957 and 1987. It's now known that the water was contaminated with potentially hazardous levels of various toxins. One study says the carcinogen benzene was found in concentrations 70 times higher than current federal standards allow.

The paper goes on to say that so far the government has notified only about 231,000 people of their likely exposure, some of whom are sure to live in California. And it was only two years ago that Congress passed legislation to extend special coverage to people who can show they have conditions linked to the contamination.

Likely adding to the shock over this situation is one legal strategy the government has tried to use to block some damage claims. As the story notes, Camp Lejeune is in North Carolina and the government has attempted to derail suits by citing a state law that bars tort actions more than 10 years after hazardous exposures. Of course, cancers linked to such exposures often don't show up for decades.

Contradictory decisions by several courts on the validity of the suits have reportedly put the cases on a path for possible U.S. Supreme Court review this year. In the meantime, there are many veterans who are outraged at what they see as lame action by the military in response to the crisis.

As Clark puts it, "I was once proud to be one of the few, the proud. Now, not so much."

The relationship between military and Social Security disability benefits can be complicated. In some cases, a veteran may be eligible for benefits from both. Knowing what your rights are and obtaining all the benefits you are entitled to under those rights is something an experienced attorney can help with.

Source: St. Paul Pioneer Press, "Ruben Rosario: Ex-Marine in a fight for her life after Camp Lejeune exposure," Ruben Rosario, Feb. 2, 2014

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