President Barack Obama today signed into law a bill enabling the Department of Veterans Affairs to provide health benefits to veterans and families diagnosed with diseases related to water contamination at Camp Lejeune, N.C.
"I think all Americans feel we have a moral, sacred duty toward our men and women in uniform," Obama said before signing the "Honoring America's Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012" in the Oval Office. The law covers those with conditions linked to water contamination that occurred on Camp Lejeune between 1957 and 1987.
"They protect our freedom, and it's our obligation to do right by them," he said. "This bill takes another important step in fulfilling that commitment."
The president was joined at the signing by Jerry Ensminger, a retired Marine Corps master sergeant who served at Camp Lejeune and advocated on behalf of affected veterans and families. The first title of the law was named after his daughter, Janey, who died of leukemia at age 9. Mike Partain also attended. The son and grandson of Marine officers, Partain was born at Camp Lejeune and developed breast cancer at age 39. He serves as a community representative for the Agency of Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.
"This bill ends a decade-long struggle for those who serve at Camp Lejeune," Obama said. "Some of the veterans and their families who were based in Camp Lejeune in the years when the water was contaminated will now have access to extended medical care. And, sadly, this act alone will not bring back those we've lost, including Jane Ensminger, but it will honor their memory by making a real difference for those who are still suffering."
The bill has several other provisions to improve VA health care coverage, housing, education and burial benefits, White House officials said. An initiative on preventing homelessness among veterans renews VA's authority to work with community organizations and make use of previously underutilized VA properties, they said.
"It is going to have an immediate impact," Obama said. "It is going to improve access to health care, streamline services in the VA, and it expands support for veterans who are homeless."The law also restricts protests at military funerals by prohibiting demonstrations from within 300 feet for two hours before and after services.