(WASHINGTON) — Five weeks after ABC’s Nightline reported on the decades-long attempt to secure health benefits for Marines and their families sickened by contaminated drinking water at Camp Lejeune, residents are finally getting the help they need, 30 years later.
The House of Representatives approved the Janey Ensminger Act on Tuesday. The health care provision, which is part of a larger bill addressing veterans issues, will provide health care to those who lived or worked at the North Carolina military base for at least 30 days from 1957 to 1987.
The bill now heads to President Barack Obama’s desk for his signature.
Health officials believe that as many as one million people may have been exposed in what may be the site of the largest water contamination in American history. Many Marines and their families who drank water laced with cancer-causing chemicals have died and others are still getting sick today.
The Janey Ensminger Act is named for the 9-year-old girl who died of leukemia in 1985. Her father, Jerry Ensminger, a career marine who raised his family at Camp Lejeune, has worked tirelessly with other Lejeune alumni to get the word out about the contamination.
For years, there has been a bureaucratic battle over which agency should be responsible for funding the health care of those affected by the contamination: the Defense Department, which owned the base, or the Department of Veterans Affairs, which covers service-connected illness, injury and disability.
The Marine Corps, which dragged its feet in contacting and alerting those who had lived at Camp Lejeune about the water contamination and possible health consequences, said they still consider the issue important.
Capt. Kendra Motz, a Marine Corps spokeswoman, told ABC News in a statement that the Corps will support the bill if it becomes law and that they “continue to work diligently to identify and notify individuals who, in the past, may have been exposed to the chemicals in drinking water.”
In addition, Motz said they are “supporting research efforts that attempt to determine whether exposure to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune is associated with adverse health issues.”
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Jacqueline Howard, CNN
Jackson Adams, Teton Valley News
Jill Disis, CNN