Sick Families of N.C. Military Base Water Contamination May Finally Get Help, 30 Years Later


"I was very active with the Officers' Wives Club. We were at a party at one of my friend's house one night. There were five of us in different stages of pregnancy. Every one of us lost their baby to a birth defect," she said.

For Freshwater, it was an unbearable pain she suffered not once, but twice.

On Nov. 30, 1977, she gave birth to a son, Russell Alexander Thorpe, but the baby was born with an open spine. All she has left of him now is a small suit he was wearing the day he died – just 10 minutes past midnight on New Year's Eve, 1977.

"It was really a shocker when he was born that way and then when he died, he died in my arms. He took his last breath," she said.

Freshwater said doctors encouraged her to get pregnant again and she eventually gave birth to a second son -- Charlie, who was born without a cranium, and died the same day.

Today, Freshwater is 68 years old and has been diagnosed with two different kinds of cancers, acute myeloid and acute lymphoma. She says doctors told her the diagnosis was consistent with exposure to chemicals such as benzene, which she was exposed to during her time at Camp Lejeune.

"I am angry, but you can't let that destroy you," she said. "That won't bring my babies back and it won't cure me."

Representatives from the Marine Corps, the Secretary of the Navy and the Department of Veterans Affairs all declined to talk to "Nightline" about Camp Lejeune on camera.

In an email statement, one Marine Corps representative wrote that General James F. Amos, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, "considers this issue to be very important" and that "we continue our commitment to find and notify those who used the water during the time period in question."

For years, there has been a bureaucratic battle over which agency should be responsible for funding the health care of those affected by the contamination: the Defense Department, which owned the base, or the Department of Veterans Affairs, which covers service-connected illness, injury and disability. But a deal for the VA to cover those costs is now in the works, negotiated by the House and Senate Committees for Veterans Affairs.

The health care provision, which is part of a larger bill addressing veterans issues, covers those who lived or worked on Camp Lejeune for at least 30 days from Jan. 1, 1957, through Dec. 31, 1987. The Senate is expected to pass the bill as early as this week, and it will head to the president's desk after the 4th of July, according to Congressional staffers.

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