WKYT Investigates UPDATE | Central Ky. veteran now facing own issues after years of advocating for fellow toxic water victims
Even as he fights his own battle, Brian Amburgey continues to vow not to leave anyone behind.
WINCHESTER, Ky. (WKYT) - A central Kentucky man who has spent the past decade fighting for his fellow veterans now faces a battle on a new front: his own health.
Brian Amburgey, of Winchester, served in the Marine Corps and, for nearly a decade now, has advocated for his fellow veterans who were exposed to toxic water at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.
Related coverage via WKYT Investigates:
- WKYT Investigates | Toxic water at Camp Lejeune (3/11/21)
- UPDATE | Veterans exposed to toxic water present petition (3/17/21)
- UPDATE | Veterans exposed to toxic water encouraged by proposed legislation (6/28/21)
- UPDATE | Camp Lejeune Justice Act introduced in U.S. Senate (11/5/21)
- UPDATE | Toxic water victims applaud House passage of PACT Act (3/3/22)
- UPDATE | Central Ky. veteran, advocate relieved by passage of PACT Act (8/7/22)
- UPDATE | Advocates, lawmakers consider possible fixes for ‘predatory’ toxic water ads (3/27/23)
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.
Amburgey says he spent three months at the base for combat engineer training. Now, decades later, health problems are catching up with him.
Amburgey currently takes 14 different medications and vitamins daily, he said, as he deals with emphysema, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and what doctors tell him could potentially be lung cancer.
“Garrett, when you done our first story [in March 2021],” Amburgey recently told WKYT’s Garrett Wymer, “all I had was just a bottle [of medication] for allergies.
“Now,” he said, holding up a gallon-sized bag full of pill bottles, “that’s my breakfast and dinner every day.”
None of those conditions have presumptions of service connection to Camp Lejeune, but records show that they have been found to be service-connected in some veterans. Lung cancer is one of 15 conditions related to Camp Lejeune that are covered by V.A. health care without a co-pay.
On top of that, Amburgey says he is also fighting a lung infection that doctors believe was caused by mold found in the ductwork of their mobile home. Repairs to their home, they said, would cost more than the trailer was worth. Instead, they moved out.
“Just tough not being able to do anything and knowing that we lost everything we’ve worked so hard for,” he said.
Lately, they had been staying in a camper at the Red River Boat Dock and Campground in between their many hospital stays and out-of-town doctor visits. VFW Post 2728 in Winchester and the auxiliary recently held a fundraiser for them, allowing them to rent a townhouse to stay in.
[WANT TO HELP? | The Amburgeys have set up a GoFundMe here to help cover costs.]
Since 2014, Amburgey has been a tireless advocate for his fellow veterans - organizing protests, gathering signatures for petitions, lobbying lawmakers and doing whatever he can to reach other victims exposed to the toxic water.
His work alongside other advocates (including Jerry Ensminger and Mike Partain) culminated in the signing of the Honoring our PACT Act, a bill - signed into law last year on the very day Amburgey said he began to notice his own health issues - designed to help service members exposed to burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan, but which also includes language to help veterans exposed to toxic water at Camp Lejeune.
“When we started this [advocacy work] years ago,” said April Amburgey, Brian’s wife, “we never thought that today, almost a year after the bill was signed into law, that we would be in the same position of the people we’d been trying to help.”
Brian Amburgey has been going through rounds of tests and exams as part of the V.A. disability application process to try to prove service connection.
The process has allowed them to see firsthand the need for what they have fought for all these years, he said.
They have already been frustrated over repeated difficulties, denials and delays. And it has showed them that there is still work for them to do; Amburgey continues to vow - even as he fights his own battle - not to leave anyone behind.
“I’m not going to quit fighting for my fellow veterans and their families,” he said, “until everybody gets justice.”
- The PACT Act and your VA benefits
- Disability benefits: Camp Lejeune water contamination health issues
As of February, at least 20,000 administrative claims have been filed under the Camp Lejeune Justice Act, according to multiple reports. Victims exposed to the toxic water have until August 10, 2024 to file a claim.
The Marine Corps base is in North Carolina, but thousands of Kentuckians are believed to have gone through there while the water was toxic. More than 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.
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.
Copyright 2023 WKYT. All rights reserved.