The following is a personal story submitted to Civilian Exposure and published as part of our new series: “Contamination Chronicles: Personal Stories of Exposure”. If you would like to submit your story, you may fill out our form here or send directly via email to share-@-civilianexposure.org.
Note: The following exchange is a bit of a departure from the normal format of our typical Contamination Chronicles submissions, but I felt that the ongoing exchange would be more informative and inspiring if all of it was included. I think you’ll find it both compelling and relatable.
I personally get to read many like these submitted daily. I will admit that I sometimes feel overwhelmed with emotion and unsure of the right responses to offer at times. Regardless, so many others like Keith have (or will) face the harsh reality of military exposure in their lives. Of course, no mere words can heal illnesses, and it is hard to figure out just what to say. My only hope is that perhaps words of encouragement can help alleviate some of the hardship during the process.
Dear Mr. Smith,
Not long ago, I wrote you an account of my experience and exposure to the subject. I am the VA employee, remember?
In April, I received a determination on my claim for lung cancer. It was denied as service connected…again. This time I had submitted solid evidence from my oncologist, whose conclusion was based upon the VA’s own information and research.
Today, I received a call from the supervisor of the Camp Lejeune Contaminated Water Review Board, informing me that the decision was made in error and has been overturned. It was decided that I am 100% service connected disabled due to my lung cancer, a consequence of my exposure!
I want this shared with my fellow veterans. No more suffering or denial.
This is my final opportunity to contribute to the veteran community. In January, I was told the my cancer has metastasized. I was given three to six months to live. I am Marine and have no intention of giving up; not in our mettle! I am on hospice, but very active and pre-ambulatory.
How ever you feel is the way to get this out, I’m on board with you. I want nothing in return. No “atta’ boys”, nothing. Its not about me. It is all about my fellow veterans.
I am willing to scan documents, provide numbers, et Al.
I do remember you and your story. I am so sorry that you were denied, again, but happy it was only in error!
I have a guess as to why. I say this because there’s been a big controversy lately over these so-called SMEs hired by the VA. They’ve been shown to have little to no background in what they’re talking about, yet they have been actively overruling private practice medical experts and corresponding proof. It appears the tide may be finally turning on this.
I am sorry that it has taken you so long to get approved and that the resulting wait has led to a worsening of your condition. This is the most frustrating thing to me is the long wait times for justice, and the additional impact and health troubles that manifest as a result.
The best thing I know to do would be to share your story of your experience in one or more of the following ways:
- how you might have been exposed, where, when
- the back and forth with claims and the process and the final result
- share your claim filing and their ruling documents – perhaps someone else can read those and find something in them that they can use as well in theirs?
It’s entirely up to you on what you feel most comfortable sharing, whenever you feel like it or have the time. Obviously, focus on your health first. But, whatever you share, we will make sure to honor it respectfully.
Keep fighting. I’ll keep you in our prayers too. – GS
Dear Mr. Smith,
First, it is so nice to hear from you
Please know that I am as active as a toddler on a candy high. Yes, I am in hospice, but that was because of the prognosis I was given. Portsmouth Naval Medical Center has always taken extraordinary care of me and the hospice care company they have arranged for me is no different. I am not sitting around waiting to die. I have outlived the 3-6 months and fully intend to continue unhindered.
I would like to partner with you, and only you. I think your site will reach the most veterans. This, Mr. Smith, is my mission; ensure the secret is shared with all eligible veterans and dependents.
I like your suggested format and will start right away. You are welcome to edit as you see fit I trust you implicitly.
I, too, think that the decision was over turned as a result of the same issues. The signature at the bottom of my initial denial was followed by the initials, “J.D.”.
Really?? A lawyer?? No a doctor??
My oncologist is a navy commander. He is active duty and has been an oncologist for 17 years. He did the research and found data the VA was using. He found that data as telling and it was not inclusive. Further, he used the nexus that the VA claims tips the scales in favor of the veteran. Finally, I was denied because the VA stated that during my service I made no complaint regarding my exposure!! That’s like R.J. Reynolds telling the plaintiffs in that landmark case the after the first pack of smokes you didn’t say there was a problem.
I appreciate your quick response. I am willing to fax, scan, copy documents and provide them to you. I’m willing to bet that you have a team of your own experts and they can look at these documents, too. I know that you’ll protect my privacy and redact personal information.
Mr. Smith, I have no issues with dying from this. I do not regret one second of my service as a Marine. It is the hardest thing I have done in my life; warning and maintaining the title, “Marine”. If my death opens the door for the thousands of others, then I’m good!! I am not sad. I do not move around having a pity party. I am living life and currently, I am having the time of my life with my wife who is on FMLA. So, don’t feel too bad for me. Lol…envy me, life is good!! This is good and what you are doing is great!!
Hello again, Keith –
I hear you and happy to know that you remain strong and determined. It’s really the only way to be as well as the only way to keep this effort going and trying to get something done
We do the best we can with the site and with the stories and trying to help others. And when I say ‘we’, to be perfectly frank…it’s really just a team of “me, myself and I” (with access to a few experts here and there) for the moment…if you can believe it. I just happen to have a background in media and digital marketing, so I’ve literally built this thing out of pocket and with sweat equity over recent years, not knowing if it would help folks or not. Yet, it has steadily grown beyond what I anticipated. We’ve reached about 150k+ people per year so far, with a few thousand on the mailing list. It’s become a bit of a tribe or family, so I feel a duty and obligation now to those that follow the site to do as much as I can to maintain and continue its growth. It helps me to honor my dad (lost to leukemia due to Camp Lejeune water), and I get to help others in the process…so it is fulfilling.
Don’t worry about waiting. Go right ahead and send over whatever you wish whenever you feel like it. I’m happy to share it with as many folks as possible. Best way would be to scan and email if possible. I’ll certainly ensure privacy is protected. I typically post the long stories without names, or just initials to preserve anonymity.
Again, thank you for your support and kind words. It fuels the tank, so to speak, to keep pushing forward.
Hi again, Keith –
We’ve had so many letters, but I wanted you to know that I’m sharing all of your story (from the emails above) on our site (anonymously of course).
As I was working on this today, I thought about your situation and was wondering how you are holding up. I’ve not received a full story from you since this last email. What I’m trying to say is not that I expect you to have time to even do that, but I felt it more as an indicator to me that I needed to check back in with. Given the prognosis, I felt I should check in on you and see how you are faring.
Please know that my prayers remain with you and your family. No words can express the impact I know your story has had on me and driving me to continue this important work for folks just like you. I know it will impact others that read it. Your attitude in the face of personal hardship is inspiring. Your taking time away from your own priorities to worry about helping us and others get the word out is so genuinely brave and noble.
I hope this note finds you well, strengthened, and winning the fight.
Final Note: I’ve reached out again to Keith today as of the time of publication. My biggest fear is that I may not receive a response because he is no longer with us. The thought of that is truly heartbreaking. Will keep readers posted.
Note: The author currently resides in Virginia. This account/editorial is verbatim from the author, with only the omission of their name to preserve anonymity.