Camp Lejeune vet denied disability though doctors say service caused cancer

Calvin Hopper and his wife are struggling. (Source: WAFF)
Calvin Hopper and his wife are struggling. (Source: WAFF)

LIMESTONE COUNTY, AL (WAFF) - Calvin Hopper now lives in Limestone County, but his service to his country left him with a surprise.

"In 2013, in January, I was diagnosed with adenocarcinoma.... which is a small-cell lung cancer," Hopper said.

Calvin said his road to recovery has been a bumpy one. The cause of those bumps is something you might not expect .

When now 48-year-old Calvin Hopper served his country as a marine, he heard some disturbing news while at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

"In 1953, they found out that the water wells, the drinking water wells was contaminated," said Hopper. "From benzine and chemicals dropped in from the motor pool from the cleaning stations.  In 2010 they sent out a letter acknowledging that they knew about it.  And there was 12 types of cancer listed.  And I didn't think anything about it, but I got on the registry because I was stationed there."

VA doctors say that's how he got his cancer.

"To acknowledge that they are responsible for the cancer, my VA oncologist also wrote them a letter stating that Camp Lejeune was the cause of my cancer," said Hopper."In 2012, they acknowledged that....we'll pay for your medical...but that's all we'll pay for...and they removed my right lung. I was in the hospital for 4 months because I had caught e-coli. We got out of that and got down to the VA in Birmingham, Alabama and they started chemo treatments."

Read the letter from Hopper's oncologist (PDF).

Hopper's wife Kimberly said it got worse.

"By October of 2013 we had went back for more scans, and it had moved to his adrenal gland.  So at that point it became stage 4," she said.

While they do pay for medical treatments, the VA is denying disability benefits over and over again, according to Calvin.  He said he last submitted an appeal the Thursday before July 4.

"On July 8, I got a phone call saying they denied it again. That's how fast they denied my appeal," said Hopper.

Calvin says he doesn't understand how they can claim fault, yet refuse benefits.

"They acknowledge that my cancer is from the military and they acknowledge that they will take care of my medical benefits, my chemo, my hospitalization and things like that, however there's only been two to three people who have gotten disability from the military from the Camp Lejeune water contamination," said Hopper.

He also said it's sad that you've got to fight and hope nothing happens to you before they ever do anything about it.

"I would like for them to just acknowledge that they're responsible for over 1.2 million cases of cancer - the marines - and that these men volunteered their services," said Hopper. "They wasn't drafted....and the military knew about Camp Lejeune since 1953...they knew it...they admit they knew it....and they didn't do anything about it. They didn't even close the wells 'till 1987 ."

Calvin's illness has a high price, according to Kimberly.

"It cost us everything. You know shortly after Calvin had his surgery, he lost his job," she said. "Shortly thereafter, within a month, we made a decision...we can't pay for those things...I lost my job. We lost our home."

She said they had been living high.

"We lost two BMWs and a 40-foot yacht and you know we were living a nice, comfortable life."

She also said they both worked hard to attain their lifestyle and in the blink of an eye it was all gone.

Hopper said it's been tough.

"Since all this happened, we had to move into one of my parent's homes and they've had to give us a car to drive," he said. "They pay for the bills social security pretty much pays for groceries."

Kimberly says today they try to take a positive outlook and focus on things that you can look at that make you feel better and laugh and giggle because that's what is important right now.

Friends have set up a fund for Calvin here.

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