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After Failing to Answer FOIA Request VA Hit with Camp Lejeune Suit

Apr 29, 2016

A lawsuit filed on behalf of two veteran groups is seeking answers from the Department of Veterans Affairs over its "subject matter expert" (SME) program, which is used to determine disability claims from Camp Lejeune residents. According to, the suit was filed after the agency failed to respond to a December 2015 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.

The so-called "experts" in the SME program are anonymous. According to the lawsuit, filed on behalf of The Few, The Proud, The Forgotten and Vietnam Veterans of America, one SME report contained language cut and pasted from Wikipedia to deny a veteran's claim. Another incorrectly asserted that there was no causal link between trichloroethylene and kidney cancer.

"For several years now, Camp Lejeune advocates, individual veterans, and the media have repeatedly requested information on the SMEs' credentials, training, methodology, and program mechanics. Yet, the SME program remains a black box," said Rory Minnis, Yale student and former Marine. "The VA's failure to respond to our clients' FOIA request is just the latest instance in a long pattern of foot-dragging and misdirection in response to inquiries about the SME program."

The rate of toxic water disability claims has dropped from 25 percent to 8 percent since the SME was launched three years ago.

Between 1953 and 1987, an estimated 1 million veterans, their families and employees at North Carolina's Camp Lejeune military base were exposed to toxic water containing dry cleaning chemicals, degreasers and other hazardous substances.

Federal regulators have confirmed that the decades of exposure to toxic water is causally linked to cancer and other diseases. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry states, "past exposures from the 1950s through February 1985 to trichloroethylene (TCE), tetrachloroethylene (PCE), vinyl chloride, and other contaminants in the drinking water at the Camp Lejeune likely increased the risk of cancers (kidney, multiple myeloma, leukemias, and others), adverse birth outcomes, and other adverse health effects of residents (including infants and children), civilian workers, Marines and Naval personnel at Camp Lejeune."

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