WASHINGTON — A congressional Democrat has again introduced legislation to help Marine veterans and family members affected by historic water contamination at Camp Lejeune, N.C.
This time, though, Rep. Brad Miller, D-N.C., is working to bring more Republicans on board and broaden the base of support to get the bill through a skeptical, budget-conscious, GOP-controlled House of Representatives.
"If members of Congress know there are people in their district who were exposed to water and have health issues because of it or are concerned they have health issues because of it, then I think it does make a difference," said Miller, who introduced the bill this week with Rep. John Dingell, a Michigan Democrat.
The legislation, the Janey Ensminger Act, would establish a presumptive link between the poisonous water at Lejeune and a variety of cancers and other illnesses thought to be connected to the contamination. The bill would require the Department of Veterans Affairs to pay for the health care not only of veterans but of family members as well.
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An estimated 1 million people are thought to have been exposed to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune until the mid-1980s, including the spouses and children of Marines who lived on the base.
Advocates for the veterans have been encouraging supporters to write and call their members of Congress to get support across the country.
The House bill is named after a girl who died of leukemia in 1985 at age 9. Her father, former Marine drill instructor Jerry Ensminger of White Lake, N.C., has been a driving force behind getting congressional attention on the contamination and its impacts.
Ensminger also is the subject of a new documentary, "Semper Fi," that traces his advocacy on the issue. He said the bill might have a better chance in this Congress as the issue drew more attention and high-profile sponsors such as Rep. Bob Filner of California, the top Democrat on the House Veterans' Affairs Committee.
"In combination with their support, the fact that this is a veterans issue, that this did happen, that this was a case of negligence by the leadership of our military, which is very, very well spelled out, and in combination with the film, I think that will push it over the edge," Ensminger said.
In the last Congress, the bill had nearly 40 co-sponsors but it died in the Veterans' Affairs Committee.
This year, there are 15 co-sponsors, but Miller is working on adding more names. He thinks it will get support even though the bill would increase costs significantly for Veterans' Affairs at a time when the GOP-led House is trying to cut the budget.
"We are running up against that some, but there is a strong sense that justice requires we do right by these families," Miller said.
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