First of all, if we had national health care, those who served wouldn't have to beg for help with medical bills. And it never ceases to amaze me that we'll throw billions of dollars to incompetent but politically-connected war profiteers, but we fight the claims of those who put their bodies at risk while in the service. Unbelievable:
TAMPA, Florida (CNN) -- For Rick Kelly, the first sign of cancer was a feeling of discomfort in his chest.
"My wife would hug me, and it became almost unbearable," he said. "I went to a doctor, and they sent me to the oncologist, and they did biopsies on both sides. And then I ended up with a double mastectomy."
Kelly is one of 20 retired U.S. Marines or sons of Marines who once lived at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, and who are now suffering from breast cancer, a disease that strikes about one man for every 100 women who get it. Each of the seven men CNN interviewed for this report has had part of his chest removed as part of his treatment, along with chemotherapy, radiation or both.
All 20 fear that water contaminated with high levels of toxic chemicals may have caused their illnesses, but the Marine Corps says no link has been found between the contamination and their diseases. Without that link, the men are denied treatment by the Department of Veterans Affairs, which says it can't treat them for a condition that hasn't been shown to have been "service-related."
Kelly was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1998, 16 years after he served at Camp Lejeune. Now a single father of a 7-year-old boy and without health insurance, he filed a claim with the VA to help pay his medical bills.
Kelly said his VA representative told him, "It's not the VA's problem, it's the Marine Corps' problem."
And Peter Devereaux, who was stationed at Camp Lejeune in the early 1980s, was told in writing that his breast cancer "neither occurred in nor was caused by service."
But Kelly, Devereaux and other stricken men CNN interviewed say the Marine Corps knew about the contamination in tap water years before it shut down tainted wells in the mid-1980s. Now they want the service to acknowledge that the water from those wells made them sick, which could make them eligible for VA benefits.
"They want it to go away, and it kind of just makes you sick with disgust," Devereaux said.
The men with breast cancer are among about 1,600 retired Marines and Camp Lejeune residents who have filed claims against the federal government. According to congressional investigators, they are seeking nearly $34 billion in compensation for health problems they say stemmed from drinking water at the base that was contaminated with several toxic chemicals, including some the federal government has classified as known or potential cancer-causing agents.