(CBS) — Former Marine Rick Derrig of northwest suburban Huntley says he’s disappointed in his government.
The 62-year-old cancer patient learned he drank contaminated water for years on a U.S military base in North Carolina.
He was based at Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville during a time when it had highly contaminated, cancer-causing drinking water. Making matters worse, Derrig tells 2 Investigator Dave Savini, no one from the Department of Defense told him about his exposure to the tainted wells.
“It would be nice if they even sent like a little postcard, ‘If you served on this base from this time to this time and you have these symptoms.’”
The military says about 900,000 service members were potentially exposed to the danger. As many as 700,000 may not even know about it.
Derrig says he got no warning when contamination was found in the 1980s or through the years when wells were closed, or even this year when the Veterans Affairs Administration named eight diseases Camp Lejeune veterans may get because of the contamination.
He served from 1979 to 1983. This period represents four of the 34 years Camp Lejeune’s water was contaminated with chemicals from leaked fuel tanks and a nearby dry cleaner.
Those chemicals can cause various cancers that include Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, the cancer Derrig has been battling for 10 years. He says the last two chemotherapy treatments have been the worst.
“My recovery time is longer and longer. It just makes me more and more depressed and down,” Derrig says.
Had he been warned sooner, Derrig says, he could have applied for military medical benefits to cover his expensive medical care.
“It would be nice to have someone acknowledge the fact that ‘Oh, gee, maybe we’re sorry,’” he says.
A spokesperson for the Marine Corps says they didn’t send letters to everyone through direct mail because they didn’t have accurate addresses on file. Derrig, however, contends they had his Social Security number and should have been able to contact him sooner.
Since the military wasn’t actively sending out warning letters about the contamination, questions remain about how many may have gotten sick or died without ever knowing the truth about what happened at Camp Lejeune.
“We have been watching my uncle suffer for the last 10 years,” says Chris Kemble, Derrig’s nephew.
Kemble and another nephew are the ones who learned this year about the contamination through a website and told him.
“I am frustrated and honestly disappointed and upset,” Kemble says.
Derrig was recently granted 100 percent service-related disability. But federal law prohibits any retroactive disability pay for Camp Lejeune claims.
Notices have been put on social media. If you think you were exposed, the Marines have posted information online; affected spouses can file claims, too. Another option is to contact the Camp Lejeune Historic Drinking Water Call Center at (877) 261-9782, or by e-mail: Clwater@usmc.Mil.
The cost of this contamination could reach $2.2 billion, according to some reports.