Congress OKs Help For Those Hurt By Lejeune Water

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(Photo by Logan Mock-Bunting/Getty Images)

(Photo by Logan Mock-Bunting/Getty Images)

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Janey Ensminger didn’t want to die at the age of 9. She wanted to live longer so she could help people, she told an aunt just weeks before leukemia killed her.

Her father said that happened Tuesday when the U.S. House approved the Janey Ensminger Act, which provides health benefits to Marines and family members exposed to contaminated drinking water at Camp Lejeune from 1957 to 1987. The approval came one day after what would have been Janey’s 36th birthday.

“It’s a heck of a tribute,” former Master Sgt. Jerry Ensminger said of the bill named after his daughter. ” … Through her short life and her death, she’s probably caused more change than most people in their entire lives. It’s a great tribute to her.”

The Senate had amended the bill, which the House then approved on a voice vote after several House members spoke in favor and also criticized the Marine Corps, the Department of the Navy and the Department of Defense.

Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., who held hearings on the issue in 2004, was especially pointed in denouncing the military’s behavior.

“This is long overdue, and the most noteworthy thing that we can observe about the behavior of the military leadership is that they have been uncooperative and have been most diligent in obfuscating the problem and seeing to it that the matter has been unduly dawdled over while our military personnel were both put at risk and placed in a position where their families also shared that risk and hazard,” Dingell said before the vote.

Rep. Brad Miller, D-N.C., said the bill brings some justice to the Marines and their families.

“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,” Miller said.

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. Health officials believe as many as 1 million people may have been exposed to tainted water.

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,” Miller said.

The act, which is part of a larger bill involving veterans, now goes to President Barack Obama before it becomes law.

Capt. Kendra Motz, a Marine Corps spokeswoman, said the Corps will support the bill if it becomes law but that some of the remarks on the House floor “were misinformed and only serve to further confuse an already complex issue.”

The military’s goal, she said, “is to use the best available science in an effort to get our Marine Corps family members the answers they deserve and keep them updated as information becomes available. Since 1991, we have supported scientific and public health organizations that are studying these issues.”

The bill is confirmation by the U.S. Congress that Marines were harmed at Camp Lejeune, Ensminger said.

“All of us were there to serve our country,” he said. “Ninety-eight percent of us were volunteers. And all we wanted to do was serve our nation. And geez, go figure, we were unwittingly poisoned by the people we trusted the most, our own leaders. That’s a heck of a thing to say, isn’t it?”

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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