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.


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 or 702-383-0308. Follow @KeithRogers2 on Twitter.

Thunder Mountain monument stands as a tribute to Native American culture
Caretaker Fred Lewis talks about Thunder Mountain monument in central Nevada, made from concrete and found items. The five-acre site is a tribute to Native Peoples of the West. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
New CCSD superintendent Jesus F. Jara aims for 1st in the nation
On his third day as Clark County School District superintendent, Jesus F. Jara talks about his vision for the future during a visit to Del Sol Academy of the Performing Arts on Thursday, June 21, 2018, in Las Vegas. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Ceremony Recognizes Refugee Students, Graduates
Rosy Mibulano, a graduate of Las Vegas High School who came to America from the Congo in 2015, was recognized in a ceremony for refugee students in Clark County. Like many other students relocated to Las Vegas from countries around the world, Rosy had a challenging high school experience, from learning English to adjusting to American customs and taking care of her family. On top of that, she wants to go to school to become a nurse so she can take care of her mother, who suffers from diabetes. The annual Refugee Recognition Ceremony celebrates the enormous lengths these young adults go through to create a new life for themselves. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Paul McCartney is worth over $1 billion
Sir Paul McCartney is one of the most celebrated and accomplished musicians in history. He just turned 76 on June 18. McCartney grew to international fame with the Beatles and went on to become a wildly successful solo musician. Paul McCartney’s net worth is estimated at $1.2 billion, according to Celebrity Net Worth. In 2017, McCartney landed the No. 13 spot on Forbes’ list of the world’s highest-paid musicians, earning $54 million for the year. On Thursday, June 20, McCartney will release a double A-side single featuring two new songs, "I Don't Know" and "Come On to Me." McCartney has yet to announce a title of his new album or when it will be released. Th album is expected to be released before he headlines the Austin City Limits Music fest in October.
Water leak at Mandalay Bay convention center
The convention center area of Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas experienced major flooding Tuesday afternoon. Credit: Melinda Cook
Hollywood Memorabilia Up For Grabs at Las Vegas Auction
Elvis Presley's car, Marilyn Monroe's bras, Han Solo's blaster, and Jerry Lewis's "Nutty Professor" suit are just some of the items that are up for auction at Julien's Auctions at Planet Hollywood June 22 and 23. The auction's viewing room at Planet Hollywood is open to the public 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily through Saturday at Planet Hollywood. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Indoor farming in Southern Nevada
Experts discuss Nevada's indoor farming industry. (Bailey Schulz/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Former Fontainebleau could have become a Waldorf Astoria
Months after developer Steve Witkoff bought the Fontainebleau last summer, he unveiled plans to turn the mothballed hotel into a Marriott-managed resort called The Drew. But if Richard “Boz” Bosworth’s plans didn’t fall through, the north Las Vegas Strip tower could have become a Waldorf Astoria with several floors of timeshare units. (Eli Segall/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
New Springs Preserve Exhibit Shows Off "Nature's Ninjas"
"Nature's Ninjas" arrives at the Springs Preserve, in an exhibit and live show featuring critters that come with natural defenses, from armadillos to snakes, poison dart frogs to scorpions and tarantulas (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
CrossRoads of Southern Nevada psychiatric urgent care to open in Las Vegas
Jeff Iverson, who operates the nonprofit sober living facility Freedom House, is opening a private addiction treatment center that will operate a detoxification center and transitional living for substance users trying to recover. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Metro Capt. Jaime Prosser gives update of officer-involved shooting
Metro Capt. Jaime Prosser provides an update about an officer-involved shooting at Radwick Drive and Owens Avenue in the northeast Las Vegas on Thursday. A robbery suspect was shot and killed. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Wayne Newton surprises burglars
Wayne Newton and his wife, Kathleen, arrived at their southeast Las Vegas home shortly before midnight on Wednesday to find two burglars inside their house. The burglars fled and were seen heading north through the property. Las Vegas police quickly set up a perimeter and launched an extensive search of the area, but the suspects were able to escape. It was unclear if the burglars got away with anything of value. Several items, under the watchful eyes of the police, were seen on the ground near the home's main driveway. Neither Newton, nor his wife, were injured. The Newtons were not available for comment.
Police Officers Turn Off Body Cameras
In four separate body camera videos from the Route 91 Harvest festival shooting released Wednesday, officers in a strike team are instructed to turn their body cameras off and comply with the request.
Debra Saunders reports from Singapore
Las Vegas Review-Journal White House correspondent talks about the historic summit between President Donald Trump and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un.
How long will North Korea's denuclearization take?
In Singapore, Las Vegas Review-Journal White House correspondent Debra Saunders asks President Donald Trump how long North Korea's denuclearization will take. White House video.
LVCVA purchase of gift cards hidden
A former LVCVA executive hid the purchase of $90,000 in Southwest Airlines gift cards in records at the agency. Brig Lawson, the senior director of business partnerships, said the money was for promotional events and did not disclose that it was for gift cards. Lawson also instructed Southwest employees to submit invoices without mentioning the purchases were for the cards. More than $50,000 of the cards cannot be accounted for. The convention authority is publicly funded . Lawson recently resigned.
Kim Jong Un visits Marina Bay Sands in Singapore
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his entourage visited the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore briefly Monday night, local time. (Video by Philip Chope)
Coca-Cola Bottle Purse Has 9,888 Diamonds
Designer Kathrine Baumann and jeweler Aaron Shum set the Guinness World Record for most diamonds (9,888) set on a handbag. The Coca Cola bottle-shaped purse was on display at the Coca Cola Store on the Strip. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Sentosa Island a pleasure resort with a pirate past
The site of Tuesday's U.S.-North Korea summit is known for theme parks and resorts. But before that, it was known as a pirate island. (Debra Saunders/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Judge Sandra Pomrenze's comment about girl's hair
Nevada Races Full of Women From Both Sides
It's already been a historic election season for women in politics. Record numbers of women are running for political office all over the country - including Nevada. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas Review-Journal) @MadelynGReese
East Las Vegas home damaged by fire
Clark County Fire Department crews responded to a house fire in east Las Vegas Thursday morning. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
911 call: Mom tries to get to son shot at Route 91
A woman stuck on the interstate during the Route 91 Harvest festival shooting on Oct. 1, 2017, in Las Vegas, tries to get to her son. 911 call released by Las Vegas police.
Las Vegas 911 caller reports people shot on Oct. 1
A 911 caller on Oct. 1, 2017, reports several people shot at the Route 91 Harvest festival in Las Vegas.
911 call from woman under stage in Las Vegas shooting
A 911 call from a woman underneath the stage at the Route 91 Harvest festival during the Oct. 1, 2017, Las Vegas shooting.
LVCVA facing scandal over gift cards
LVCVA is facing a growing scandal over airline gift cards. LVCVA bought $90,000 in Southwest Airline gift cards between 2012 and 2017. Now auditors can’t account for more than $50,000 of the cards. CEO Rossi Ralenkotter and his family used $16,207 in gift cards on 56 trips. Brig Lawson, the senior director of business partnerships, was responsible for buying and distributing the cards. He recently resigned.
Siblings separated in the foster care system get a day together
St. Jude's Ranch for Children and Cowabunga Bay Cares program partnered to bring 75 siblings together for the day to play on the water slides and in the pools at the Henderson water park. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
People flee the Route 91 Harvest festival on Oct. 1, 2017
Las Vegas police released footage from a camera on Mandalay Bay of the Route 91 Harvest festival on Oct. 1, 2017
Aaliyah Inghram awarded medal of courage
Aaliyah Inghram, a 10-year-old girl who was shot while protecting her 18-month-old brother and 4-year-old cousin during a shooting on May 8, awarded medal of courage. Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal @bizutesfaye
Las Vegans Pack Public Lands Open House
A crowd filled the Clark County Library conference room Tuesday afternoon where Clark County officials hold their first -- and possibly only -- public meeting on plans to open almost 39,000 acres of federal land for development just outside the Las Vegas metropolitan area. County commissioners are set to vote June 19 on a potentially controversial resolution seeking federal legislation that would set aside tens of thousands of acres for conservation while giving Nevada’s largest community more room to grow. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
News Headlines
Home Front Page Footer Listing
You May Like

You May Like