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WKYT Investigates UPDATE | Veterans exposed to toxic water encouraged by proposed legislation

Rep. Barr is now co-sponsoring the TEAM Act. Veterans are asking other lawmakers to do the same.
Updated: Jun. 28, 2021 at 4:00 PM EDT
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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - Veterans say a bill recently proposed in our nation’s capital puts them even closer to getting the help they need.

“This is probably two or three steps better than what we asked for,” said Brian Amburgey, a Marine Corps veteran. “I’m so excited, I can’t hardly stand it.”

The Toxic Exposure in the American Military Act, or “TEAM” Act, is a bipartisan measure that would expand access to V.A. care and benefits for veterans exposed to toxic substances during their service, develop a consistent process to determine presumptions of service connection for illnesses, establish an independent scientific commission and authorize further research to study whether conditions are linked to toxic exposure.

Amburgey, a Winchester man, has been at the center of a years-long effort to push for a health registry for veterans exposed to toxic water at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. This spring he presented a petition with 50,000 signatures to urge Congress to act.

[CATCH UP: WKYT Investigates | Toxic water at Camp Lejeune]

“We’ve got veterans everywhere across the United States that are dying every day, not getting any help from the V.A., because we don’t have the laws in place to help,” Amburgey said.

The TEAM Act, Amburgey said, would help not just veterans like him who served at Camp Lejeune, but also those exposed to burn pits and other toxic substances.

And now a Kentucky congressman is getting behind the effort. Rep. Andy Barr, R-KY06, is signing on to cosponsor the TEAM Act, WKYT Investigates has learned.

“I have been listening to the concerns of veterans who served at Camp Lejeune as well as veterans who report medical issues from burn pit exposure and other toxins during their military service,” Rep. Barr said in a statement to WKYT’s Garrett Wymer. “Congress must act to ensure that military servicemembers and veterans harmed by any toxic exposure because of their military service get the medical care and benefits they deserve. That is why I am cosponsoring the TEAM Act, which would improve the VA’s process for awarding presumptions for service connected disability to veterans harmed by toxic exposure.”

U.S. government officials have admitted that water at Camp Lejeune was contaminated with toxins from leaking storage tanks on the base and a dry cleaner off the base. The Department of Veterans Affairs acknowledges those exposed as veterans who served on the base at least 30 days total between August 1, 1953 and December 31, 1987.

The Marine Corps base is in North Carolina, but thousands of Kentuckians are believed to have gone through there while the water was toxic. About 4,400 people in Kentucky are registered through the military for notifications on the issue, although that number is not necessarily limited only to those exposed.

A law passed in 2012 provides health care coverage for 15 conditions for veterans and family members who lived on the base. Veterans are also eligible for disability compensation for eight conditions presumed to be related to the contamination. Veterans hope further studying the effects of the toxins would eventually expand coverage to more conditions.

The TEAM Act was proposed in the U.S. Senate by Sen. Thom Tillis, R-NC, and in the U.S. House by Rep. Mike Bost, R-IL12. Earlier this month the House Committee on Veteran’s Affairs referred the bill to two subcommittees.

[FULL TEXT: The TEAM Act]

The bill now has several dozen cosponsors. Amburgey says his goal is for all of Kentucky’s congressmembers to cosponsor the bill.

The TEAM Act was also proposed in Congress last year, but went nowhere.

As many as one million military and civilian staff and their families might have been exposed to the contaminated drinking water at Camp Lejeune, according to estimates from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

Amburgey said he has also been hearing from many Marine or Navy reservists stationed at Camp Lejeune within the window who are getting denied but should still receive coverage. He said anyone having trouble can contact him.

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