(WFLA) – Like thousands of other former Marines who served at Camp Lejeune, Bob Miranda-Boulay suffers a long list of serious and life-threatening illnesses that he attributes to the toxic water that tainted wells at that training base in North Carolina over a period of 34 years.
“This was the Marine Corps that did this to us,” Boulay said.
Boulay insists he enlisted out of patriotism, but now feels betrayed by the Corps.
“I wanted to make a difference,” Bouley said. “I love my country and I wanted to do the right thing. I wanted to be a Marine.”
Boulay says he was an amateur boxer in perfect health prior to his two months of infantry training at Camp Lejeune. About 30 years later he now suffers from liver and kidney disease and has survived a brain tumor. He takes a dozen medications to make it through the day and activated a pacemaker at bedtime to keep from dying in his sleep.
For years Boulay’s various maladies puzzled doctors who at one point chalked up his troubles to Lyme Disease. Now, Boulay’s doctor attributes his illness to the chemical-laced drinking water he consumed during training at Lejeune.
“Eventually like my doctor says I’m going lose the battle,” Boulay said. I’m only going hold it off so long.”
Boulay wore the same uniform, crawled through the same mud and drank the same tainted water at Camp Lejeune as regular Marines, but doesn’t qualify for any benefits under the Camp Lejeune Family Act of 2012 because he was a Marine Reservist who was never called up for active duty.
“I don’t count,” Boulay said.
And he’s not alone.
When Boulay trained at Lejeune in 1985 there were 800-900 other reservists there according to the best estimates of the Marine Corps. If you multiply that number for the recognized duration of the contamination problem from 1953-1987, as many as 30,000 Marine Reservists may have suffered the same kind of exposure to benzene, TCE, vinyl chloride and other cancer-causing chemicals in the drinking water.
Due to a quirk in the law none of those former Marine Reservists qualifies for VA benefits unless they were later called up for active duty.
“That’s what it boils down to,” said Boulay. “And probably half of them have passed away by now, so they have no voice.”
There is an effort in Congress spearheaded by Pinellas Republican Congressman Gus Bilirakis to set things right. Bilirakis introduced House Resolution 3954 last year to included Marine Reservists in the VA benefits awarded to Marines exposed to the poison water at Camp Lejeune. But that measure remains stalled in a House committee handling veteran’s affairs.
Meanwhile, Boulay has been waging his own private struggle with the VA for three years to gain benefits.
“Since 2013 I’ve been fighting this battle and I just keep getting denied and turned away every step of the way,” Boulay said. “I have to keep up the fight, if not for myself then for my family.”
He’s enlisted the help of Congressmen Bilirakis Nugent without success.
After President Obama signed the Camp Lejeune Act in 2012, Boulay sent nearly a thousand medical records to the VA in the hope of gaining benefits.
In a response letter last year, the VA told Boulay 16 times that it conceded his exposure to the toxic drinking water at Camp Lejuene. And 16 times the VA also denied any link between that toxic exposure and his current medical conditions. Despite that denial of benefits Boulay says he’s not about to quit.
“I have to keep up the fight if not for myself then for my family,” Boulay said.
Before enlisting in the Marine Reserves Boulay was a Golden Gloves boxer and also ran a boot camp for offenders at the Massachusetts state prison where he worked.
During the two months he spent in infantry training at Camp Lejeune in the summer of 1985, Boulay recalls drill instructors forcing trainees to drink foul-smelling water from portable water tanks during field maneuvers in order to avoid the effects of dehydration in the hot North Carolina summer.
“I remember one instance the smell and the odor coming out of the water buffalo was so bad no one wanted to drink from it,” Boulay said. “It smelled like a fuel, like a jet fuel or a diesel fuel and there was other days where it smelled just horrid, it smelled putrid.”
The USMC, VA, and Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry now concede that underground fuel spills, leaking dry cleaning solvents and other cancer causing chemicals that contaminated the base drinking wells poisoned thousands of Marines, their dependents and civilian workers for decades.
READ: The report by ATSDR that offers a comprehensive look at the toxic water ant its impact on Marines, dependents and civilian workers at Camp Lejeune
The VA established a link between the contaminated water and 15 “qualifying conditions” ranging from various cancers to miscarriage and neurological disorders that enable Marine veterans who spent 30 days or more at the base between 1953-87 to apply for benefits.
Eight of those conditions are now considered “presumptive” meaning that former Marines suffering from these conditions will be automatically covered under proposed VA rules much like Agent Orange applies to Vietnam Veterans.
But so far, former Marine reservists like Boulay have nowhere to turn, no matter what ails them.
“I can’t get any relief or any recognition of being an active duty Marine they don’t even consider me a veteran even though I am honorably discharged from the Marine Corps,” Boulay said. “I don’t count. That’s what it boils down to.”