Camp Lejeune vet wins medical bill battle with VA, but war for acknowledgement rages on

A Henderson Marine veteran who has been at war with the Department of Veterans Affairs over compensation for leukemia he blames on toxic water at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, has won a battle over his medical bills. But his war to get the agency to acknowledge that the polluted water at the Marine Corps base caused his illness – and the maladies of untold other veterans — rages on.

VA officials acknowledged Friday that Richard Zaccara, 72, was wrongly billed for hospital visits and chemotherapy pills over the past three years at the VA Southern Nevada Healthcare System.

But they continued to maintain that his battle with leukemia dating to 2003 is not related to his military service, though he is on a registry of Marine veterans who were exposed to organic solvents when he trained at Camp Lejeune in 1963.

Under the 2012 Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act, military veterans who were exposed to toxic chemicals at Camp Lejeune do not need a service-connected disability to be eligible for free VA health care.

“The veteran should not have been charged copays for these health care costs and we apologize for the error,” VA officials wrote in response to a Review-Journal query. “System enhancements are currently being developed and will be deployed nationally to prevent veterans on the Camp Lejeune registry from being automatically billed for Camp Lejeune-related illnesses or conditions.”

The officials, VA spokesmen Dave Bayard, Nathanial Miller and Charles Ramey, said that Zaccara would be reimbursed for his copays — 29 in all since 2014 totaling approximately $1,750 — and that any future medical costs related to the leukemia would be covered.

While pleased by the decision, Zaccara said the fact that the VA is finally getting its billing system in line with the 2012 law is disappointing. And the fact that the agency considers his illness not service-related is “laughable,” he said.

“Haven’t they read the law? Haven’t they looked at the chemicals involved?” he asked.

While Zaccara has been able to foot the copays, others have been unable to pay their medical bills, according to U.S. Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis, both R-N.C.

They estimate that from 1953 to 1987, nearly 1 million service members and their families were poisoned by Camp Lejeune’s water supply.

While affected veterans are supposed to be receiving health care, “many have lost their homes and their ability to work and financially support themselves because of the disabilities caused by the illnesses they developed from toxic exposure,” they wrote last month in a letter to the Office of Management and Budget, which is reviewing the proposed rule change that would pave the way for compensation for veterans such as Zaccara.

“Many more are teetering on the brink of losing their homes and bankruptcy. This is not just a North Carolina problem; this is a national problem,” the senators wrote.

They want the the office to wrap up its review and allow the VA to grant “presumptive disability status” for nine illnesses, including leukemia, which research by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry has linked to improper disposal of benzene, solvents and compounds such as perchloroethylene, trichlorethylene and vinyl chloride at Camp Lejeune.

SUBJECT MATTER EXPERTS

In their answer to the Review-Journal’s question about what evidence the VA has to back up its conclusion that Zaccara’s leukemia “neither occurred in nor was caused by service,” VA officials relied heavily on a VA physician they did not identify but described as “certified as a subject matter expert.”

They said his claim denial was “an appropriate decision based on the science at the time.”

As of April 2015, nearly 80 percent — 513 of 644 claims for leukemia by veterans who served at Camp Lejeune — were denied by the VA.

The VA officials said they “encouraged” Zaccara to appeal the Dec. 24, 2014, denial of VA benefits, which he did. But they didn’t explain why it took 14 months to send it to the VA office in Kentucky, which handles Camp Lejeune cases.

Until Friday, Zaccara had heard nothing about the outcome of his appeal.

“They say that I was there. They say I was exposed. And they say it was not service-connected,” he said Tuesday in an interview at his Henderson home. “That does not make any sense. It’s mind boggling. It’s humiliating. You get the sense that the VA is waiting for us to die by denying our claims or taking years to process our claims.”

Zaccara said he owes retired Marine Master Sgt. Jerry Ensminger “100 thanks,” for being in his corner and promoting a crusade for Camp Lejeune veterans and their families through his website, “The Few, The Proud, The Forgotten.”

The 2012 Senate bill mandating free VA health care for affected Camp Lejeune veterans that became law was unofficially known as the Janey Ensminger Act after Jerry Ensminger’s 9-year-old daughter, who died in 1985 of a type of leukemia that he believes was linked to Camp Lejeune’s tainted water.

In a statement Friday, Jerry Ensminger said Zaccara’s case “is nothing new in regards to the VA’s attitude and conduct regarding the Camp Lejeune water issue. I have heard from Camp Lejeune veterans from every corner of our nation who tell me that they go to their local VA hospitals to inquire about the Lejeune health care law and no one knows anything about it.”

He said the stumbling block for compensating affected veterans stems from a “negative attitude” among midlevel VA officials, who implemented the use of “subject matter experts” as an additional step in the VA’s claims process exclusively for Camp Lejeune cases.

He noted that the VA has refused to release a list of the experts so that “Congress and the affected community can vet their credentials to ensure they are truly (experts) in the area of toxic exposures.”

“One ‘so-called’ (subject-matter expert) was caught cutting and pasting verbatim phrases directly from Wikipedia citations just last year,” Ensminger wrote. “Another … stated in writing that he could find no scientific evidence that the most prevalent chemical found in Camp Lejeune’s drinking water — trichloroethylene (TCE) — causes cancer” in denying two Camp Lejeune’s veterans’ claims for kidney cancer.” TCE is a known carcinogen.

He said the VA has cited “angry veteran syndrome” in refusing to identify the subject matter experts.

“That statement in (its) own right is an insult to the men and women who serve and defend our nation,” he said.

Zaccara said whatever the reason for the benefits denials, the VA needs to make things right for the veterans who adhered to the Marine Corps motto, “Semper Fi.”

“Now the U.S. government and the VA need to step up and be faithful to us and honor our claims,” he said.

Contact Keith Rogers at krogers@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0308. Follow @KeithRogers2 on Twitter.

ad-high_impact_4
News
Nevada Task Force One Cheers Golden Knights
Nevada Task Force One Cheers Golden Knights
1 dead, 1 wounded in North Las Vegas standoff
A woman was hospitalized with serious injuries on Thursday morning after being shot inside a North Las Vegas house. Police responded about 11 p.m. to a shooting at a home on the 5600 block of Tropic Breeze Street, near Ann Road and Bruce Street. The wounded woman, police believe, was shot by a man, who later barricaded himself inside the house. SWAT was called to assist, and when officers entered the house, they discovered the man dead from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Las Vegas Teen Makes Clothing Resale His Side Hustle
Las Vegas resident Reanu Elises, 18, started buying and selling streetwear online when he was a high school junior. Like many other young adults, the world of online resale applications like Depop and Mercari have made selling clothing online for a profit easy. Now, Elises spends his free time at thrift shops looking for rare and vintage clothing he can list on his on his shop. Now in his freshman year at UNLV as a business marketing major, Elises hopes to open a shop of his own one day and start his own clothing brand. He estimates that he's made about $1000 from just thrifted finds in the past year, which he'll use to buy more thrift clothing and help pay for expenses in college. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas Review-Journal) @MadelynGReese
Fruition Vineyards Encourages Young Entrepreneurs to "Buy, Flip, Dream"
Once a month, young adults gather at Fruition Vineyards on South Maryland Parkway near UNLV to dig through a stack of rare, vintage and designer clothing that's marked down well below it's resale value. Shop founder Valerie Julian began the vent, dubbed "Fruition Vineyards" in August after running her streetwear shop since 2005. The event gives young entrepreneurs the opportunity to "buy, flip, dream" according to Jean. Meaning that they're encouraged to buy the clothing for sale and find a way to resell it for a profit, then reinvest that into whatever dream they pursue: college, a hobby or their own resale business. Shoppers lined up starting an hour before noon on the last Saturday in April for the opportunity and spoke about what they hoped to do with their finds and profits. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @MadelynGReese
Local man goes under cover searching for answers to homelessness
Licensed mental health therapist Sheldon Jacobs spent 48 hours under cover posing as a homeless man in an attempt to gain perspective on the complex issue.
Social Work UNLV Lecturer's Calling
Ivet Aldaba-Valera was the first person in her family to graduate from both high school and college. The 33-year-old UNLV lecturer is now pursuing her Ph. D in public policy at the school and has used her degree in social work to engage with the young Latino and Latina community of Las Vegas. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @MadelynGReese
The world's longest racetrack could be coming to Pahrump
Spring Mountain Motor Resort and Country Club in Pahrump might be the first racetrack in the world longer than 16 miles long once the expansion is complete. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
Gold Point townsperson talks about why he choose to live in a ghost town
Gold Point townsperson Walt Kremin talks about the ghost town in Nevada he calls home. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
Search for missing 3-year-old boy at Sunset Park
Las Vegas police and Red Rock Search and Rescue team search for a missing child at Sunset Park in southeast Las Vegas on Sunday, Sept.2, 2018. (Chitose Suzuki/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai speaks at Las Vegas tech conference
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, who was shot by the Taliban on her way home from school in Pakistan after advocating for girls' education, spoke at VMworld 2018 at Mandalay Bay. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
MGM Resorts International CEO Jim Murren addresses Oct. 1 lawsuits
MGM Resorts International Chairman and CEO Jim Murren addresses criticism his company has received for filing a lawsuit against the survivors of the Oct. 1 shooting. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Father recalls the night his 14-year-old son died jumping into moving traffic
From the Clark County Detention Center, Ezequiel Anorve Serrano talks about the night his 14-year-old son, Silas Anorve, died jumping into moving traffic on U.S. 95. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Palace Station unveils new sports book
Palace Station talks about the new sports book Thursday, August 23, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
One of world's longest racetracks planned in Pahrump by 2020
The racetrack will be 16 miles long by the year 2020 according to Spring Mountain Motor Resort and Country Club owner John Morris. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Henderson police bodycam footage of officer-involved shooting
Henderson police released body-worn camera footage of an officer-involved shooting in a grocery store parking lot at 2667 Windmill Parkway on Aug. 12, 2018. (Henderson Police Department)
Robotics takes off at Las Vegas Academy
Las Vegas Academy’s robotics team made it all the way to the world competition last year, the first year the team competed. Zackary Perry describes how they programmed their robot to compete. The team is an example of what Tesla wants to have in every school in the state. (Meghin Delaney/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Bicyclist suffers major head trauma in hit-and-run
A bicyclist was hospitalized with life-threatening injuries after a Thursday morning hit-and-run crash near the school formerly known as Agassi Prep. Police said the bicyclist was hit by a white SUV, which fled the scene. The injured man suffered multiple injuries including major head trauma. As of 9 a.m., Lake Mead remained closed between Martin Luther King and Revere Street while police investigate.
Las Vegas artist Dave Dave dies at 42
Dave Dave talks about his art and his life in 2016. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Dave Dave, whose dad set him on fire in 1983, dies
Dave Dave, a respected Las Vegas artist who was badly scarred as a boy when his father tried to burn him to death in Southern California, died at Sunrise Hospital on July 15. He was 42. When he was 6, Dave's father tried to kill him by setting him on fire. He was given a sleeping pill and his bed at a Buena Park, California, motel was doused with kerosene. “I remembered being in a lot of pain,” Dave told the Review-Journal in 2016. “When stuff happens to you at that young of an age, you tend to block it out, but I remember the pain was excruciating.” Dave, who was born David Rothenberg, became close friends with Michael Jackson, who met him after the attack, which burned more than 90 percent of his body. “I wanted to meet him, and he wanted to meet me, and that just turned into a lifelong relationship that never ended,” Dave said. “It was amazing being friends with Michael Jackson. He was an amazing person.” Dave attended ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, California, and collaborated with various artists around Las Vegas, eventually selling his art to private collectors. Despite his challenges, he continued to live, thrive and create. Dave Dave
Homicide detectives investigate woman's death
Las Vegas police were called to Tahiti Village Resort early Wednesday after calls that someone had been shot. Police found a woman’s body between a parking garage and boiler room on the resort's property. A guest first reported hearing gunfire. There are no witnesses, but police will examine surveillance videos and look for clues. The woman was not identified, but a purse was found near the body. She did not appear to be a guest at the resort.
LVMPD Discusses Ross Dress for Less Shooting
LVMPD Assistant Sheriff Charles Hank discussed the 15th officer-involved shooting of the year at a press conference at Metro headquarters on Tuesday, Aug. 14. The active-shooter incident took place at the Ross Dress for Less store at the 4000 block Blue Diamond Road in the south Las Vegas Valley. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Metro Asst. Sheriff Brett Zimmerman on Aug. 8 officer-involved shooting
Metropolitan Police Department Assistant Sheriff Brett Zimmerman met with media Monday to discuss the details of the 14th officer-involved shooting of the year. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Clark County School Board president Deanna Wright on travel expenses
Clark County School Board President Deanna Wright says she followed proper expense protocol in trip to Florida last year.
Matt Kelly Elementary School hosted its third annual Back-to-School Red Carpet Program
Matt Kelly Elementary School hosted its third annual Back-to-School Red Carpet Program where community and business leaders joined to welcome students back with an inspirational welcome. Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal @bizutesfaye
Shooting leaves 1 dead in southeast valley
A man was found fatally shot in the doorway of a squatter apartment after an argument ended in gunfire on Sunday night. Officers responded about 10:30 p.m. to the Silver Pines apartments and discovered the man in a breezeway in one of the buildings. The wounded man died at the scene, despite the efforts of another person, who tried to administer medical aid. Witnesses saw a man and a woman flee the scene, but were unable to give police a clear description.
North Las Vegas unveils new school crosswalk
North Las Vegas councilman Isaac Barron talks about the new school crosswalk in front of CP Squires Elementary School Monday, August 6, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
LVMPD Briefing on OIS #13
Assistant Sheriff Tim Kelly held a press conference to discuss details of the 13th officer-involved-shoot for the department in 2018. Video shows the moments before the suspect was shot. The shooting, which has been edited out, occurred as the suspect lunged at an officer outside the apartment. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Sedan and semitrailer collide in south Las Vegas
An early Wednesday morning crash has left one person in critical condition. A sedan and semitrailer collided around 4 a.m. at the corner of Spencer Street and Serene Avenue. Police do not believe impairment is a factor in the crash. Spencer has been blocked off north of Serene while police continue their investigation.
Cybersecurity Professionals Flock to Las Vegas for Black Hat
Black Hat USA, the largest annual cybersecurity conference, is expecting a record 17,000 attendees during its six-day run at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center this week. One thing attendees have in mind is making sure they don't get hacked while they're there. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Police chase ends with suspects captured in east Las Vegas
An early Tuesday morning chase ended with a car crash in an east Las Vegas neighborhood. Police were pursuing the vehicle, which they say was involved in robberies in Las Vegas and North Las Vegas, when the driver crashed at Owens and Statz Street. A man was taken into custody. A woman was ejected from a vehicle and taken to a hospital with non-life threatening injuries. The intersection at Mojave Road and Owens Avenue was shut down while police officers searched for the suspect and investigated. The intersection will remain closed for most of the morning.
TOP NEWS
News Headlines
Add Event
Home Front Page Footer Listing
Circular
You May Like

You May Like