The federal government quietly announced plans to provide disability payments to U.S. service members who were exposed to tainted drinking water while stationed at Camp Lejeune, a Marine Corps installation in North Carolina.

According to the notice posted in the Federal Register, the government’s official journal, anyone who was stationed or training at Camp Lejeune for at least 30 consecutive days between August 1st, 1953 and December 31st, 1987 may be eligible for disability payments tied to the development of eight diseases that have been linked to the drinking water available on base during that time.

The decision came after VA Secretary Bob McDonald examined evidence regarding a wide variety of ailments suffered by service members who spent time in Camp Lejeune, and found there was “sufficient scientific and medical evidence” to tie the drinking water to said health issues. The diseases tied to the tainted water available on Camp Lejeune during the time stipulated include: adult leukemia, aplastic anemia, bladder cancer, kidney cancer, liver cancer, multiple myeloma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and Parkinson’s disease.

An estimated 900,000 service members were potentially exposed to the tainted drinking water over the years, and estimates regarding disability payout to those affected are as high as $2.2 billion over a five-year period. In order to be eligible for the disability payment, veterans will need to submit evidence of their diagnosis as well as service information tying them to Camp Lejeune during the 30-plus-year window.

“This has been a hard, long slog,” said retired Marine Master Sergeant Jerry Ensminger. “This is not the end of the issue.”  Esnminger’s daughter was born in 1976 while he and his family were stationed on Camp Lejeune. She died of leukemia nine years later.

Documents presented by veteran’s groups working to secure this ruling indicated that military leaders were slow to address issues with the drinking water, even after being presented with evidence to suggest that it could be dangerous. The federal government has since stated that the contamination of the base’s tap water was the unintentional result of leaking fuel tanks and an off-base dry cleaner, but that it occurred prior to federal laws limiting toxins in drinking water.

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Although this step will benefit the thousands of active-duty personnel and veterans who could have been affected by the tainted drinking water, efforts to secure benefits for civilians exposed to the water have not yielded any success thus far.

“I’m hoping that this is the first step of many that will help civilians, civilian employees, [and] children who were born on the base as well—they need to be helped too,” said Gavin Smith, the creator of Civilian Exposure. “I was diagnosed with male breast cancer, which is a very rare disease for young men, and I’m one of over 100 men who were either dependents or Marines or employees of the base exposed to the contaminated water who now have male breast cancer,” he told local news outlet WITN.

Although progress is slow for civilians and dependents who were exposed to the bad drinking water over the years, the Obama administration’s decision to permit service members to file for disability as a result of their exposure likely bodes well for others who are continuing to suffer the repercussions of drinking Lejeune’s water, but who cannot receive disability payments through the VA system.

An advocacy group called “The Few, The Proud, The Forgotten” has been actively campaigning on behalf of veterans and civilians alike who were affected by the issues with the base’s drinking water. Members of the group and VA representatives will be meeting on January 21st in Jacksonville to continue their discussion as they work toward a solution that assists all of those afflicted by the myriad of illnesses brought on by the tainted water.

Image courtesy of the Associated Press