Credit: New Dave Metzler photos, Leigh Clifton
JACKSONVILLE, North Carolina (WKBN) – The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs admits there were once problems with the drinking water at Camp Lejeune — the big Marine base in Jacksonville, North Carolina.
Stationed there were many soldiers from the Youngstown area, including Dave Metzler, a Jackson Township native who now lives in Florida.
Metzler’s daughter is convinced her father was poisoned by that water. He has even applied for the benefits offered through the VA, and twice he has been denied.
Now 78, the former Marine needs oxygen, a service dog and a scooter to get around. He moved down south because he says the warm air is better for his health.
The health issues began about a year after his discharge — in 1959, according to his daughter, Patty Metzler.
“He started showing some neurological problems, dizziness, falling, stumbling, started losing his hearing, and things just got progressively worse from there,” she said.
Located on the North Carolina coast, Camp Lejeune is the premier training facility for the U.S. Marines. For 30 years — from 1953 to 1987 — the drinking water at the camp contained, among other chemicals, trichloroethylene (tce), a degreaser; and perchloroethylene (pce), a dry cleaning solvent.
In 2012, President Barack Obama signed a bill allocating money to help the Marines affected by the contaminated water. He promised that those veterans and their families would have access to expanded medical care.
And Dave Metzler, who served at the camp during the years in question, is badly in need of medical care. He has chronic pain and has been on disability for years, after being let go at GM Lordstown.
“They said he was a liability because he could fall. He was a machine repairman working up on scaffolding and having the dizzy spells,” Patty Metzler said.
Not long after President Obama’s signature, Dave Metzler was among those who received a letter from Veterans Affairs, detailing the health benefits available to them. It listed 15 qualifying health conditions, one of which was neurobehavioral effects that Metzler appeared to be suffering.
“We thought, hey, here’s our answer. He was poisoned,” Patty Metzler said.
The next step was to fill out an application. The VA wanted Dave’s health history. Since he had been seeing doctors for most of his adult life, it was there.
The Metzler’s applied and then waited.
“It took over a year to get the initial denial,” Patty Metzler said.
She said the reason for the denial was that they could not prove “service connection,” meaning that they could not prove that his time in the service had caused the issues.
“You have to prove beyond reasonable doubt that being at Camp Lejeune is what caused it, and I just think that’s so wrong,” she said.
The Metzlers appealed and were denied a second time.
According to Veteran’s Affairs, 900,000 people could have been affected by the Camp Lejeune water, and 20,000 have applied for benefits. Of those applications, only 864 have been approved.
In an effort to approve more, in December, the VA released a list of eight diseases associated with Camp Lejeune water that will be granted automatic benefits. Neurobehaviorial effects, however, were not among them.
Patty Metzler is now preparing for her father’s last appeal. She has a notebook full documents, and if she loses this appeal, the case is closed.
Two weeks ago, she received a letter from Columbus-based Neurologist Dr. Zarife Sahenk, who first examined David Metzler in 2000. At the time, Dave told the doctor there was a family history of “similar leg problems and hearing loss,” and the doctor brought up the possibility of a heredity cause.
But after learning about his exposure to the water at Camp Lejeune, the doctor wrote, “the possibility of exposure to TCE and PCE may have contributed to his disease process is a valid one and cannot be dismissed.”
“With the technology, she may be able to identify the exact gene mutation that happened, and if I can get that, they’re going to have a hard time denying it,” Patty Metzler said.
What Patty wants from the VA are health benefits for her father.
His annual medical expenses have been $10,000 to $15,000 for several years now, and Dave and his wife, Cookie, were $200,000 in debt . To avoid bankruptcy, they had to sell their Jackson Township home.
“He has suffered a very, very, very long time,” Patty Metzler said. “I mean, there was one year, one year, when he actually did try and commit suicide… I really want him to have this victory.”
Of the approximately 860 people who have received benefits from the Camp Lejeune water contamination, only 19 — or 2 percent — have received it due to neurobehaviorial effects.
If you think you have been — or know someone who might have been contaminated by the Camp Lejeune water — contact Stan at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call the newsroom.