WASHINGTON — The U.S. Navy secretary says he is denying thousands of claims from veterans and their families who were exposed to contaminated drinking water decades ago at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.
Secretary Richard Spencer says at least 4,400 claims totaling $963 billion are being denied because there is no legal basis for paying them.
He says it was a difficult decision but suggested that claimants can go to Capitol Hill to seek legislation providing restitution.
The department has a list of eight presumptive illnesses that may make veterans eligible for disability payouts.
The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that as many as 900,000 service members were potentially exposed to tainted water at the base between 1953 and 1987.
The VA decided in 2017 that eligible veterans stationed at Lejeune during that time could receive government disability benefits. The agency estimated it would cost about $2.2 billion over five years.