Archive for August, 2012

From the N&O: Semper Fi


What matters is whether Marines and their families can get help, and now they will. In that sense, the approval by the U.S. House of a bill to provide health care for those vets and their families who were exposed to contaminated water from wells at Camp Lejeune from 1957 to 1987 is a humane end to a long struggle.

The Senate offered its approval earlier. For this accomplishment, those who’ll get care can thank several members, past and present, of North Carolina’s congressional delegation, notably former Republican Sen. Elizabeth Dole, Republican Sen. Richard Burr, Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan and Democratic Rep. Brad Miller of the 13th District.

Dole several years ago criticized the Marines’ slowness to react to the frequency of some cancers found in those who had been on the base and drunk the water contaminated with trichloroethylene, tetrachloroethylene, benzene and vinyl chloride. Marine officials seemed to want to continue studies or stand by one study that said no certain links existed. But there were too many instances of childhood leukemia, male breast cancers and others to ignore.

Along the way, the Marines also cited national security as another reason not to push too hard with efforts to get more information out on the issue.

Bittersweet victory

After the House passage of the bill to offer health care to perhaps 750,000 people affected by the water contamination, Miller was pleased but remained critical of the Marines and the Navy. He said they “have not behaved well through all of this.” He said the service officials had engaged in secrecy and coverup. The Marines did not respond to a request for comment.

Certainly it’s valid for the public to demand a full accounting of the reasons for all the delay.

But for now, it’s more appropriate to celebrate the victory, and to celebrate also retired Marine Jerry Ensminger of White Lake, who fought for this measure in memory of his daughter, Janey, who died of leukemia at the age of 9. The bill is named in her honor.

The Marine in Jerry Ensminger was in full battle mode for years to find what he believed was justice for his daughter and others who were felled by illnesses he and some scientists believe are directly related to water contamination at Lejeune. (The Marines have noted that standards for water quality were not as stringent in that era as they are now, which is true enough.)

Janey’s words

When the measure finally was passed by the House, the retired Marine, who testified on Capitol Hill over a period of years about the need for help, offered a profound view of the end of the fight: He recalled that the week before Janey died, she had told an aunt that she wanted to live longer because she hoped to make a difference in the world.

“Well,” Ensminger said, “I know she’s watching. And by God, she’s made more of a change in this world through her death than most people make in their entire lives.”

There is a man with some profound thoughts and perspective on the history of this issue and its outcome.

Ensminger says he isn’t through. He believes the Marines and the Navy still need to stand up and acknowledge responsibility. His feelings are understandable and they deserve attention. It should not have taken as long as it did for the way to be cleared for people who need help to get it.

But at least the brave struggle for life that Janey Ensminger carried on, and the brave fight for others that her father conducted in her memory have resulted in something that may help hundreds of thousands of people.