“Water Survivor's, my group’s motto the whole time is you help everybody,” said Terry Dyer, who lived on Camp Lejeune during the water contamination. “The Marine Corps says you never leave a man behind.”
"To realize later that it was something that I drank as a child at Camp Lejeune was very alarming and hurtful that the U.S. government basically hadn't done anything for us,” said Barbara Coley, who also lived on Camp Lejeune during that time period.
It's estimated over 900,000 service members were affected by contaminated drinking water while serving on Camp Lejeune between 1953 and 1987.
But for countless family members and civilians, the suffering they've endured continues as they are not eligible for the benefits.
“My sisters and I, we've been sick all our lives, ever since we were little, and we just had these weird illnesses that nobody else had,” said Dyer. “I ended up with bladder cancer, which is one of the illnesses ATSDR is saying these chemicals caused.”
"My mother, she had breast cancer, and then at 40 I had breast cancer, my younger sister had uterine cancer, and then my other younger sister had breast cancer also," said Coley.
The eight diseases that qualify military veterans to benefits range from different types of cancer to Parkinson's disease.
But Dyer, whose father was a civilian principal on base, says the water impacted multiple generations.
“You have to be aware of your children and grand children's health too because of what these chemicals do,” said Dyer. “They change you on a cellular level.”
The 20-year battle to receive disability, made public Thursday, has left those that don't qualify wondering if their relief will ever come.
“Are we starting all over now that the Marines have been helped, or are we going to be helped,” said Dyer. “Is this something that we'll have to start right from the very beginning again? I hope not. I honestly don't know where we go from here."
Scientists with the Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry will hold a public hearing in Jacksonville on January 21 to discuss the impacts of exposure to the contaminated water on Camp Lejeune.
For more information, visit the ATSDR website.