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Veterans groups offer help on PACT, Camp Lejeune claims in Bloomington

Pantagraph - 10/5/2022

Oct. 5—BLOOMINGTON — McLean County veterans, you may qualify for compensation.

That's the message state and county veterans service officers were hoping to spread Wednesday.

With the passage of the Honoring Our PACT Act of 2022 and the Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2021, veterans are beginning to file claims addressing harmful exposure to contaminants and toxins during their time in the U.S. military.

"We're just trying to educate folks about what conditions that would qualify for filing a claim under either one of those subjects, along with all other things that are going on with veterans service-connected disabilities," said Keith Wetherell, executive director of the Illinois AMVETS organization.

He and other veterans service officers held a session at the VFW John H. Kraus Post #454 in Bloomington, answering veterans' questions and, for some, beginning the process of filing a claim under the recent laws.

Noting there is a shortage of veterans service officers in the McLean County area, Wetherell said they worked with the McLean County Veterans Assistance Commission to ensure veterans in this area had the opportunity to hear from claims experts. After a morning of meeting veterans with questions, he said Illinois AMVETS might return in the future to hold another session.

PACT — "Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics" — expanded Veterans Affairs benefits for those veterans who were exposed to burn pits and other toxic substances during their service.

Camp Lejeune is a Marine Corps Base in Jacksonville, North Carolina, that was shown to have two on-base wells that were contaminated. Under the Camp Lejeune law, individuals who were exposed to that contaminated water for at least 30 days between Aug. 1, 1953, and Dec. 31, 1987, have the right to sue and recover damages for harm.

However, while that law has specific date ranges, the extent of the coverage and compensation under both laws remains unclear, Wetherell said.

"It's a fluid situation because they're adding conditions and removing conditions or expanding conditions, sometimes on a weekly basis. So this is going to be a constant change," he said, noting the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is expected to start addressing claims at the start of 2023. "They're still trying to work out the details, so as they work out the details, those will get passed down to the public."

Wetherell said even those who were not stationed at Camp Lejeune within the specified ranges could have conditions that qualify them to receive damages. Heart and lung conditions have been linked to the exposure at Camp Lejeune, but other conditions including cancers could qualify as well.

Rather than seeking a private attorney, Wetherell said veterans with questions should reach out to their local veterans service organization first for more information about which conditions qualify and how to file a claim, including what service and medical documentation would be necessary for a successful claim, "because the attorney is going to take a portion of their claim where the veteran service organization doesn't take anything."

Contact Kelsey Watznauer at (309) 820-3254. Follow her on Twitter: @kwatznauer.


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