Vets says VA Wrongly Rejects Claims for Illnesses, Blame on Camp Lejeune's Contaminated Water

Vets says VA Wrongly Rejects Claims for Illnesses, Blame on Camp Lejeune's Contaminated Water

CBS News ran a report about children sickened at Camp Lejeune, and nearly two dozen veterans came forward to report the broken Veterans Affairs system. CBS News found doctors without expertise in relevant medical fields and vets who spent years fighting their cases.

Over a million US veterans and civilians were exposed to dangerous chemicals in the drinking water at Camp Lejeune from 1953 to 1987. At some places, levels were 400 times what safety standards allowed.

Metzler spent 34 months working at Camp Lejeune in the 1950s. His daughter Patty Metzler said that after being discharged from the Marine Corps in 1959, he first had balance problems and stumbled - and then he lost his hearing.

Dave Metzler, a machine repairman at GM's North Jackson plant, became ill and was unable to work. This caused concern at GM, who considered him to be a liability.

She then said, "And I know that depressed him - I am no longer the person to support my family."

In his disability claim, Dave Metzler claimed his neurological problems were caused by his service at Camp Lejeune. Investing in the Metzlers would help them a lot.

His application was denied in 2014 and again in 2015.

Patty Metzler: "He did get depressed; he got mad too.". . "And he attempted suicide once."

Almost a decade ago, veterans first began filing disability claims related to contaminated water, and the VA, in 2012, began using so-called "subject matter experts" to review these claims.

Investigative reporters from CBS News found some of those doctors didn't have much experience.

Veteran's Legal Services at Yale filed a lawsuit in 2016 for Camp Lejeune vets to get more info about their doctors.

There were some who weren't qualified," said Mike Wishnie, the clinic's director.

In a CBS News review of VA records, it was found that in some cases, these medical examiners were general practitioners and preventative practitioners rather than experts in the types of ailments encountered by the veterans.

She said that after VA started using subject matter experts to review claims, the approval rate dropped even more. Transcripts and documents obtained by CBS News indicate the rate dropped from 25% to 5%.

According to CBS News, the VA has denied these figures and provided a year-by-year breakdown of approval rates since 2011. Even with these numbers, the rate is dropping dramatically since VA started using subject matter experts in 2012. As of 2013, this approval rate was 4.5%, and from 2014 to 2016, it dropped even further to 1%. VA data shows that the overall approval rate for Camp Lejeune claims has risen to 17.4%.

Says Wishnie, "The system's not working.". It's a failure.

An experienced pilot, retired lieutenant colonel Mark Kotnour, has concluded that the VA's approach is to "deny, deny, deny until they die".

Two years ago, he submitted his first claim to the Veteran's Administration. A total of seven doctors told him his pancreatic and prostate cancers were likely to be related to his service at Camp Lejeune in 1977.

However, the VA claimed their subject matter expert was better. Kortnour is appealing, saying it's not about money, it's about accountability.

Currently, he has been appealing for 18 months. I'm hoping he hears in my lifetime, but I have no guarantees."

Kotnour provided a pessimistic explanation for why the VA would hire a general practitioner over a group of cancer specialists.

He says, "They won't do what's right."

According to CBS News, the doctors who review veteran claims are qualified to review them.

Patty Metzler wrote that the doctor whose opinion was relied upon in Dave Metzler's claim specialized in preventive medicine, and that he "knew nothing about neurology.".

After becoming overwhelmed, Patty Metzler, a nurse practitioner, began doing her own research, and I got my father's case in front of a judge in 2017. And she waited.

This year, the VA judge ruled that the earlier denial was wrong. An approval letter from the VA granting her father 100% disability is displayed in her dining room.

Yet Dave Metzler never lived to witness this victory. In fact, he died 14 months earlier.

Even a week before he died, he was still talking and lucid. One time, I had some time alone with him, and he hugged me and told me, "Keep fighting," "says Patty Metzler. I swore to keep fighting."

His widow received survivor benefits, but had to fight the VA over unpaid back pay.

VA spokesman said agency is "committed to the timely and accurate processing of all claims."

As they explained, the doctors with relevant credentials in these cases received four hours of training on issues related to Camp Lejeune's contaminated water and how to evaluate claims.

In all, there are 2,443 Camp Lejeune contaminated water claims pending, with over half of them deemed backlogs.

COVID-19 pandemic caused Federal Records Centers to limit records requests and suspended compensation and pension exams, the VA says.