Over 1 million Marines and their family members were poisoned by toxic water saturating Camp LeJeune, North Carolina. Our columnist, Andrew Straw, was born at this base and his family has suffered from being poisoned. He’s working to obtain compensation and recognition for the civilian the Marines seem to have left behind in what has been called the worst water contamination disaster in United States history. Camp LeJeune became an EPA Superfund site in 1989 and the government says it will remain so until 2057. Andrew has experienced not just disability from being born on the Superfund site, but also discrimination, which is another disaster in itself.
This letter is just one part of his ongoing battle to defend himself and others.
Dear Reader’s Voice,
I am writing to ask that the VFW Auxiliary make Camp LeJeune poisoning reform into a top priority for national legislative change. Congress passed one piece of legislation to help the poisoned dependents of Marines stationed at the EPA Superfund site known as “Camp LeJeune, NC.” It was called the Camp LeJeune Family Member Program. Unfortunately, unless you lived on the base 24/7, you are excluded.
I was born on the base, but apparently not a member of this “family.” My mom took me to use the toxic swimming pools, but still not “family.” We used the Commissary with toxic water spraying the produce, but still not “family.” Ironically enough, for the 18 months my Dad served on that base, Mom and I dutifully went to every Family Day that happened once a month, but I am still not “family” to the Marine Corps or the Veterans Administration. My mother died from one of the listed cancers, which she discovered at the age of 46. My daughter has scoliosis so bad from my DNA being damaged that she needed open-spine surgery as a young girl (See image).
My great-grandfather served in WWI and WWII both. Another Straw ancestor was a sharpshooter during the Civil War, Berdan’s Sharpshooters. My grandfather served in the USN in WWII in the Pacific. His brother served in the 82nd Airborne in Europe and jumped 5x. My great uncles also fought in Europe in the U.S. Army. My father fought in Vietnam and was exposed to Agent Orange, and his brother, my uncle, did the same. Another uncle fought in Korea. My first cousins have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan. My brother served as a USAF captain and critical care trauma nurse in Afghanistan, two tours. He saved the lives of over 600 people blown up on the battlefield in just his first tour.
Our ancestor, Dr. Thomas Young, was an American Founder and came up with the idea to toss British tea into Boston Harbor. He was an officer in the Continental Army and died working as the chief surgeon in one of the first hospitals for American Revolution veterans. He was the family physician of President John Adams.
More recently, my mother died from Camp LeJeune exposure because my father served there. I was disabled with severe mental disabilities. I was born on Camp LeJeune and the hospital was contaminated at that time. My daughter also sacrificed with her scoliosis. My mother is done sacrificing now, but my daughter and I continue to suffer with no support at all from either Congress or the VA or the USMC, and certainly not the president. It’s like we are invisible and forgotten, our families disrespected after extreme levels of service to this country. It’s not honorable, how we were treated. But we struggle and push forward and do what we can to make this world better for others.
The U.S. Marine Corps itself has honored me much more than the VA. The Marine Corps (notice attached) in 2018 said I was, “among the best qualified” attorneys to represent the Marine Corps at its HQ, Quantico, in a GS-15 position (O-6). I would indeed advise the Marines and you can bet that I would emphasize that poisoning people is a crime under the UCMJ. It causes disabilities and this is assault and maiming, crimes under the UCMJ. Poisoning causes death and this is manslaughter, a crime under the UCMJ. If the legal system of the Marine Corps were functioning properly over the past 70 years, the massive tragedy of Camp LeJeune poisoning could have been avoided. I can forgive the past if the organization admits its mistakes and moves ahead with more integrity. North Carolina is also responsible for passing legislation to block poisoned USMC dependents from getting recovery under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA). This is why I am suing North Carolina. Straw v. NC, 7:18-cv-74-D (E.D. N.C.)
No state has the power to interfere or try to prevent justice on a military base. It violates both the powers of Congress (Art. I) and the president (Art. II) to control bases and military matters. North Carolina also hurt people disabled by the poisons and that means the NC laws violate a higher law, the ADA.
It is agonizingly slow trying to get justice for those born and poisoned at Camp LeJeune. I asked the Board of Veterans’ Appeals to overturn the denial of my Camp LeJeune Family Member Program application in 2016 and I am still waiting. I hope at the end of the day, the VA and the Marine Corps will consider me a “member of the family” again. The VFW Auxiliary treats me like family and I appreciate this.