Contaminants have been detected in the water supplies of hundreds of U.S. military sites around the world. Much of this pollution comes from dangerous chemicals known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which are suspected to cause various types of cancer, neurological disorders, and liver conditions. This contaminated water is often the same water service members and their families bathe in, cook with, and drink.
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If you lived on a base with contaminated groundwater and later developed an illness because of it, you may be able to service connect your condition to the toxic water supply. Read on to find out how you may be eligible to receive VA disability benefits for PFAS exposure.
In this article about VA disability for contaminated water and PFAS:
What are PFAS?
PFAS are synthetic chemicals that are used to make fabrics, adhesives, food packaging, and non-stick cookware. There are thousands of different types of PFAS, and they have been used in industry and consumer products since the 1940s. Because of how slowly these chemicals break down in the environment, they’re sometimes referred to as “forever chemicals.”
PFAS have been detected in the soil and water near landfills and hazardous waste sites. These chemicals are also used to make aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF), or fire-fighting foam, which the Department of Defense (DoD) began using in the 1970s to fight fuel fires in the military. This particular use of PFAS is one of the main reasons why the contaminants are so prevalent on military bases.
Common conditions related to PFAS
Though many studies have been conducted to examine the relationship between levels of PFAS in the blood and its harmful effects, research on the toxins is still fairly recent. Because scientists are still learning about the health effects of PFAS exposure, there is no definitive data on its health outcomes. However, research suggests that exposure to high levels of PFAS may lead to the following health issues:
- Increased levels of cholesterol
- Developmental effects in children, such as low birth weight, behavioral changes, and accelerated puberty
- Increased risk of some cancers, such as prostate, kidney, and testicular cancers
- Reproductive issues such as decreased fertility or high blood pressure in pregnant women
- Weakened ability of the body’s immune system to fight infections
- Reduced vaccine response in children
- Increased risk of thyroid disease
- Liver damage
Which bases are affected by PFAS?
According to a report from the Environmental Working Group (EWG), there are 710 U.S. military sites around the world with known or suspected discharges of PFAS.
In 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) set a limit on what level of PFAS is safe in drinking water, which at the time was 70 parts per trillion (ppt) for both PFOS and PFOA, two of the most common types of PFAS compounds.
In 2022, however, the EPA updated its standards, decreasing the limit by more than a thousandfold. Because of a growing body of research showing just how dangerous these chemicals are, the current limit for PFOS is 0.02 ppt; and 0.004 ppt for PFOA.
Most of the military sites that tested positive for PFAS-contaminated groundwater have levels of chemicals that surpass the EPA’s standards, and many of them have levels that are much higher than the agency’s standards. In the groundwater at 14 military installations, for example, the EWG found PFAS detections of above 1 million ppt.
While hundreds of military sites have been affected by these chemicals, below is a list of a few of the more well-known military bases where concerning levels of PFAS have been detected.
Located in San Diego, Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton is one of 62 California military facilities with known or suspected discharges of PFAS in the groundwater. From 2013-2019, the maximum level of PFAS detected was at about 996 ppt.
However, since the DOD issued a policy in 2020 to begin sampling drinking water for PFAS at all DOD-owned and operated drinking water systems, the levels of PFAS at Camp Pendleton have dropped to 8.7 ppt.
In 2020, the Army tested the drinking water at Fort Bragg in Fayetteville, North Carolina, to find that water from a well in a remote training location exceeded the EPA lifetime health advisory for PFAS.
Because of the cleaning efforts of the Army, however, as of March 2023, PFAS levels in finished drinking water had dropped to about 12.3 ppt.
In 2018, water sources at New Jersey’s Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst contained levels of PFAS that exceeded the EPA’s recommendation by up to 24-thousandfold. The joint base is home to over 45,000 servicemembers and their families, and about 60,000 retirees live within a 50 mile radius of the base.
In 1990, Fort Ord in Monterey, California, was added to the EPA’s list of most polluted places in the country. Along with other contaminants that were found in both the groundwater and the soil, Fort Ord also made the EWG’s 2017 list of military sites with known PFAS discharges.
PFAS VA disability rating
The VA does not currently recognize any conditions as presumptive to PFAS exposure. However, you may still file a disability claim for a condition you believe to be the result of in-service exposure to the chemical.
As with any VA disability claim, you will need to provide evidence of service connection for your PFAS VA disability claim. You will need to show evidence of a current diagnosed condition, an in-service event or exposure, and a connection between the two.
For example, if you lived on Fort Ord in the 1990s where you routinely drank the water, and years later you were diagnosed with a thyroid disease, you may be able to service connect your thyroid condition to PFAS exposure.
The VA evaluates these claims on a case-by-case basis. It could be beneficial to explore your service-connected conditions with a medical professional to build evidence for your claim. You can also ask your doctor to provide a medical nexus letter to help prove service connection.
“If you were injured while serving this country and are reading this review, I encourage you to contact Woods and Woods right away. They are always standing ready to assist veterans in need.”
J.B., a Navy veteran in VirginiaGoogle review
How Woods and Woods can help
If you lived on a military base with PFAs-contaminated groundwater and you have been diagnosed with a condition you believe was caused by these contaminants, you may be eligible for compensation from the VA. At Woods and Woods, we’ve helped thousands of veterans across the country get the VA benefits they deserve. Give us a call to see how we can help. We won’t charge you a dime unless we win.
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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
You may file a disability claim for a condition you believe to be the result of in-service exposure to the chemical. As with any disability claim, you must provide evidence of a service connection for your PFAS disability claim. You will need to show evidence of a current diagnosed condition, an in-service event or exposure, and a connection between the two. It could be beneficial to explore your service-connected conditions with a medical professional to build evidence for your claim. You can also ask your doctor to provide a medical nexus letter to help prove service connection.
According to a report done by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), there are 710 U.S. military bases around the world with known or suspected discharges of PFAS. The list of PFAS contaminated bases includes Camp Pendleton, Fort Bragg, Fort Dix, and Fort Ord.
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