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New disability guidelines for Camp Lejeune Marines affected by toxic tapwater

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The Department of Veterans affairs will begin reviewing the disability status of Marines affected by toxic tap water at Camp Lejeune. Marines were exposed to tainted drinking water on base for more than 30 years -- from 1953 to 1987 -- and developed cancers and other conditions.

The VA already provides medical care for affected Marines with 15 different illnesses. Now the agency will establish presumptive status for veterans who lived on base during the time the water was contaminated. That means if veterans have a disease that falls under any of the approved categories, they'll get the benefit of the doubt instead of having to prove the water on base caused the problem.

The commander of the Disabled American Veterans chapter in Jacksonville, Jim Davis, said the bottom line is -- more veterans could qualify for benefits.

"What it will do is allow the veterans who were denied before -- due to it not being service connected or not enough proof -- to, if it falls under one of the presumptive diseases, they'll be allowed to apply and get approved for benefits," Davis said.

Davis said the time involved in approving the affected Marines' claims is similar to that of other veterans in the past.

"If you look at anything over a period of time, for instance the Vietnam era, (veterans) had to sit there and wait to have the Agent Orange (benefits). It is just a waiting game unfortunately. Yes, we all feel it should be from day one, but it never is," he said.

Davis said the DAV is the leading agency filing claims for VA benefits. He said he expects to see more people file claims with his office because of the new guidelines. He encourages anyone who was denied in the past to come back in and re-file for benefits.

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