camp lejeune awareness

Former U.S. Marines William Armentrout of Covington (left) and Curtis Crawford of Troutville on Wednesday held an information campaign outside the VA Medical Center in Salem.

Former Marines on Wednesday staged a campaign in front of the Salem VA Medical Center to let other veterans know that their illnesses might be related to their time at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.

Congress in 2012 passed the Camp Lejeune Families Act, which provides medical treatment for qualifying veterans who were on active duty at the base for at least 30 days between 1953 and 1987, and for their families. The Department of Veterans Affairs presumes that 15 medical conditions are related to exposure to toxins in well water at the base.

Curtis Crawford, 56, of Troutville said the Camp Lejeune Toxic Water Survivors want the list of conditions expanded, and they want the VA to do more to reach exposed veterans.

“It’s destroyed my life. I’ve lost everything. I’ve lost my home, my business, a little bit of my dignity, but I’m getting that back,” Crawford said. “Nobody knows to what level this is. There were over 900,000 Marines, family members, Navy and Army personnel that were exposed.”

He and William Armentrout, 62, of Covington sat with signs at the entrance to the medical center under what little shade was offered mid-afternoon. They had been joined by others earlier in the day, and figured they had shared information with 20 to 30 veterans.

Crawford said he searched for years to determine why he has a number of autoimmune diseases and neurobehavioral disorders. He believes they are connected to the 45 days in 1981 he was at Camp Lejeune. But as a reservist he said he isn’t entitled to care at the VA. He’s also been denied disability benefits.

His case is on appeal, as is that of Armentrout, whose list of ailments includes cirrhosis of the liver, a condition generally linked to alcohol. Armentrout said he’s not a drinker. The VA recognizes liver cancer on the list of 15 illnesses, but not other liver diseases.

Their campaign is two-fold.

“The VA doesn’t reach out to people. They put their posters up inside the facility, but there’s nothing out here in the communities,” Crawford said.

And they want a broader investigation.

“We need a health registry inside the VA, so that they can do a commonality study just like with Agent Orange,” he said.

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Luanne Rife writes about the businesses, policies, discoveries and inventions that affect the health of people living in southwestern Virginia.

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