Paul Buckley says he's thankful today that the government finally admitted the truth.
He and other soldiers, he says, were poisoned by the water at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.
The former Marine, now 46, was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a rare blood cancer four years ago. His doctors believe it was caused in 1985 when he was stationed at Camp Lejeune and drank water contaminated by underground fuel tanks.
"I was sitting down doing the bills, and I opened it up and I started reading it," said Buckley about a letter he got from the Pentagon. "I was pretty broken up. I called my wife on the phone and I pretty much couldn't talk."
He's fought them for years and says the military has denied, over and over again, that the water made him sick.
"It was a slap in the face, not to only myself, but literally to hundreds of thousands of others," he said. "People have died, families have been devastated, mine included and denial, denial, denial."
The letter he received was about as rare as the cancer that's killing him, he says.
It read that "all reasonable doubt has been resolved in your favor." And that his cancer "was directly related to military service."
The military's admission means Buckley, who now lives in Hanover, Mass., can receive full service-related disability pay.
"They're not going to come to my door and say, 'We're sorry Paul,' so I guess this is their way of saying, 'I'm sorry, we did it. We're acknowledging it.' And not only that, this opens the door to thousands, if not tens of thousands of other people. There's no more denying it. It happened, you admit it. One-hundred percent, you admit it."
By some estimates, as many as 1 million soldiers and their family members were exposed, over a period of 30 years.
Jerry Ensminger helped Buckley prove his case. He's a retired Marine who's testified before Congress, still lives near Camp Lejeune, and lost his daughter to leukemia.
His daughter Janie, was 6 years old when she was diagnosed. She suffered for nearly two-and-a-half years before she died. Ensminger has been searching for answers ever since.
He tried to get information from the Marine Corps, the Defense Department and Veteran's Affairs and he says his experience was hellish.
"What disappoints me most is that I am a career Marine, I am a retired Marine," said Ensminger. "To see the lack of responsibility and the shirking of responsibility by leadership of the Marine Corps today, it's reprehensible. Their conduct is reprehensible."
Ensminger said the military needs to come clean. "Live up to the values that we in the Marine Corps pride ourselves on," he said. "Honor and integrity. I can honestly tell you right now, the current leadership in the Marine Corps, I wonder if they know what those words mean."
Various military spokespeople we talked with describe Buckley's victory as a special case. They point out that Buckley had some of the best doctors in the country backing his claims.
Legal experts still expect to see long lines of sick soldiers demanding benefits.
"As it becomes more widely known, more docs are going to be willing to take a veteran's side on this and I think we'll see admissions piling up one on top of another," said Joe Moore, an attorney who specializes in helping veterans.
Buckley has now won the medical care he needs for as long as he lives, and benefits for his family when he dies. But what he's really won, he says, is vindication.