I Will Keep the Spirit of Your Love Alive

If I could do it over again, I would

I’m not ashamed to say that I loved my mom. From childhood through adulthood, she was the one constant in my life. When other kids would pick on me, taunt me, even physically hit me, Mom was the one I could trust to be there for me.

As I grew, my relationship with my mom matured, but she was still always there for me. I loved sitting in the kitchen sipping on a cup of coffee while she prepared breakfast, talking about the things that were important to each one of us. She was wise yet knew how and when to give me advice.

One day, she told me she wasn’t feeling well. I took her to the doctor, and the news was not only not good, it shocked me. I knew she wasn’t going to live forever, but she was too young. It wasn’t time. I needed more time with her! No matter how much time we have to prepare, it’s never enough because it isn’t about time. It’s about emotions and feelings and how much you love someone.

My heart longs to go over and visit, to pick up the phone and call, to pick up her favorite dress at the cleaners – just one more time. I always pictured her wearing that dress to a graduation or a wedding but never in her coffin.

Now, twenty-five years later, I still hear her voice, remember her smiling at the granddaughter she loved so much.

The Complexity of Relationships

During those last days, my life began to come apart. Although I loved my mom more than anyone in the world – or maybe because I loved Mom more than anything else in the world, I just couldn’t bear seeing her in pain. I would pick up the phone to call, but I could hear the pain in her voice and it broke my heart. I tried to visit her in the care facility. They said the woman in that bed was my mom, but I didn’t even recognize her. The pain lines across her face tore me up inside. I had to get out of there and get some fresh air.

It tore me up inside that I was so weak and I couldn’t stand to go to visit her. But no matter how hard I tried to do it, I just couldn’t. My sister and family were getting frustrated with me, I could tell. They didn’t understand how a son, as devoted as I had been all my life, wasn’t sitting with her in her final hours.

I was so wrapped up in my own pain and turmoil that I failed to see the resentment building up and my relationships with my family pulling apart. I remember being puzzled that I couldn’t escape the feeling that I had done something wrong because I couldn’t put my finger on what it was. My world was falling apart, but I couldn’t stop it. And with those feelings, I developed a tremendous sense of guilt about something I didn’t understand.


Memories are supposed to be beautiful things, but while you are going through the grief process, they can be extremely painful. Everywhere I went, everything I did, there was a reminder. Her favorite television program – oh, how we laughed. Her favorite park – how many times had we sat on that old wooden bench and talked about our days? A call from my sister to ask something about funeral or estate matters – I can’t deal with this right now! The sound of an ambulance could stop time as I remembered the one that took her away that day.  The day I was taking a shower and suddenly found myself sobbing uncontrollably.

How do I deal with having lost her? I turn to look for her whenever I need her, but she’s not there. Suddenly, she is gone without even saying good bye. I can no longer call her at home to say, “I just felt like hearing your voice” or “I just feel like seeing you.” I can no longer sit in the kitchen drinking coffee while she cooks breakfast.

The Final Good Bye

How one grieves depends on the dynamics of their relationship with the individual who passed away and the other members of the family.

I looked at everyone at the funeral home and wondered: “Why did it have to be her?” “She never hurt anyone,” “She was so young,” and “I did not get to say good bye.” I share the burden of this loss with everyone in the room.

I can see, feel, and touch those moments that connect us to Mom. Those moments when she was there for me and I was there for her and how I let her down in the end cloud my judgment and my decisions. I try to second guess myself. Why didn’t I go visit her in her final moments? If I had, I would have been able to say good bye.

Do not make the same mistake I did. Any visit could be the last time you hear her say “I love you” or “I just felt like hearing your voice” or “I miss seeing you.” Do not let your inability to deal with her condition be the reason why your sister has become distant and you do not know how to forgive her.

The Estate

The estate can become another issue that drives family members farther apart. Some cannot see beyond their own greed which creates a sense of betrayal. In cases like mine, where one family member refuses to speak to another, the emotional abandonment may lead to family members turning on one another as they fight over the estate in court. In extreme cases, loved ones have been known to assault one another. This, of course, may destroy the dynamics of any relationship the family had, and often these family members live to regret that they never spoke to each other again.


Guilt is not something that we should dwell on because death can come at any moment, and unless you intentionally did something to cause that death or cause them to hold any sense of resentment toward you, then you have no reason to feel guilty about it. All you know is that one moment they were there for you to reach out to, and then the next moment they are leaving you with all kinds of unanswered questions and unresolved issues.

There are many reasons you may not get the chance to say good bye. You could be like me, unable to deal with her pain. Or you may live some distance away and you can’t make it before she has passed away. It doesn’t matter what the reason, you may start feeling guilty about not taking the time to make that call or not going by to see your loved one before they passed away.

You must now face dealing with a loss that has become part of your emotions. You must find a way to answer those questions for yourself. You must understand the family relationships as your loved one perceived them to gain new insight into your relationship with everyone they loved, which begins to return control to your life.

I loved my mom more than anyone in this world, but I let her (and myself) down when she needed me most. That created an intense sense of guilt for me and an enormous hole in my relationship with my sister. While I learned what not to do the next time I lose someone I love, I cannot go back and change the past.

Do you love your family? Spend time with them every chance you get. Tell them how you feel about them while you can. And never forget to say “Good Bye.”

Addiction Has a Face

Addiction Has a FaceThe title should draw the attention of those who can identify with what it’s like to live day in and day out with a mental illness or a chemical dependency. At some time in the life of an addict, a dual diagnosis is more common than not.

Moments of Doubt

We have all had moments of doubt, and that is when we overcompensate for our insecurity without considering the consequences of our actions. The word “relapse” suggests the regression from or failing to quit a self-destructive behavior, or impulsively making decisions that we know are ineffective from past experiences. These impulses are often what isolate us from the structure that gave our lives a sense of normalcy and being in control. It is our decisions that initiate the process and that give that structure its functionality.

When our instincts give way to outside influences, we surrender more than just our instincts. Our whole life begins to slowly slip out of our grasp and into obscurity with each choice we make. There are many examples of iconic mega stars who clearly had a problem with substance abuse. Their addiction finally led them into the darkness of doubt, which resulted in death from an overdose. We know a circle of friends probably either knew or suspected the star was in trouble, but did they do anything to intervene? All those who shared their dreams now live in their own darkness because they could not save their loved one.

Life Happens

You wake up one morning to see your wife and kids gone, you are about to lose your home and your car, and your job is hanging by a thread. While the clouds in your head start to clear, you stagger out of bed. You start to wonder: “What happened to my happy home in such a short period, and how many more close calls can I survive before I end up killing someone or myself?”

The consequences of our own mistakes can have devastating effects and can send our dreams into ruin. That’s when we may begin to feel the consequences of what we thought was “having fun.” The thing about making mistakes is that some of us accept responsibility and correct it; however, many are quick to blame others because they are afraid of how it makes them look. These people will always have trouble adjusting to their own environment because there is always someone to point the finger at. They will not be able to grow as a person because they are the only one who can fix it, and that would require accepting responsibility for their mistakes.

The Face of Addiction

The face of addiction is right there in the mirror, just like any other face, with trials and tribulations just like us but with one distinction – addicts do not know how to stop. One thing that sets an addict apart from any other person who deals with paying bills, a stressful job, a family crisis or two is, despite how many times or how hard an addict tries, (s)he keeps relapsing. The addict starts to feel trapped with no way out of the rut (s)he has gotten into. The only reason addicts are referred to as “functioning alcoholics” is because they can take a drink in a social setting while picking up where they left off the day before.

Most addicts have alienated family and friends, are in trouble at work, and everything they love is about to go down the drain because they do not know how to quit. One important thing to remember is that life is about choices. Once someone picks up a bottle, joint, pill, or needle, they have made the conscious choice to give away something very precious. They are pushing away everything they have worked for – home, career, family, self-respect. That education they worked so hard to achieve does no good. They have destroyed the structure that allowed them to take control of their lives and held it all together. They are now on the precipice of becoming an obscure statistic.

How Did This Happen?

A person’s identity is completely tangled up in their frame of reference. Our support network and the experiences we go through as we travel through life are what hold us together and keep us alive. Our failures as well as our accomplishments give us the strength to keep going every day.

The face of addiction appears one day when we suddenly realize we have lost the trust of someone we care deeply about. This loss of trust did not happen overnight. Our relationship had probably been changing gradually for some time; and by the time we made the connection, we had had enough.

Eventually, the only people we seem to talk to are the ones in our circle of buddies, and our lives become stagnant because they are now void of any sense of purpose. We are drowning in each other’s negativity, which feeds the fury within us, day in and day out. Our relationships fail to make any forward movements, like a stagnant, green, stinky puddle of water.

Depression fuels the need to hold on to a sense of abandonment because no one wants to hear from us, much less see us. That makes us think that they don’t care about us, so why should we care about them either? This circular reasoning adds more fuel to the negativity and fury we feel. We start to feel like it’s us against the whole world, and it isolates us from the people we love and the things we needed to give our lives purpose. This drives us farther away from the people we love. We use these thoughts constantly streaming through our brain to rationalize our addiction.

How Can We Fix It?

The only way we can climb out of the darkness that we have been living in is to change the way we have been thinking. We must start by trusting someone with our lives, allowing them to slowly reveal the caring and loving person we have been hiding inside. We must prioritize our daily goals despite being overwhelmed with an intense fear of making the same mistakes. When we can accomplish that, we will begin to regain control of our lives.

This journey can be likened to water being continuously purified as a mountain stream constantly flows onward. We begin to resume our responsibilities with the purpose of holding on to the hope that lives within everyone. The amazing thing about such an environment is what we instinctively give to each other by just being ourselves, sharing the love we have left behind. Why you parted ways with each other no longer matters.

The Way Back

These people help us stay grounded throughout the time it takes for us to fully recover and put the pieces of our lives back together. The pain and frustration we feel is manifested in our anguish. Their presence is a continuous reminder that we have far too much to lose, and we have accomplished much despite the failures we may have experienced.

The journey of rediscovery becomes something like seeing our lives through someone else’s eyes. Others begin to see the change in our step, and they walk out with us with the same confidence. They can hear it in our voices, in watching our tears turn to smiles when we experience a breakthrough moment, and they remain with us every step of the way in our quest to take our lives back.

What has now slipped away is the sharp, bitterness we felt. In taking stock of that loss, we will see the value of what we have lost. Only then can we begin to sort out who we really are and what it will take to start our lives over.

Environmental Influences

Research has revealed a strong connection between environmental influences and the degree of instability or the structured stability that ultimately determine whether we will be able to conquer the negativity of our upbringing.

The dynamics of our home life consist of a myriad of factors and events which influence how much stability we feel in our own adult lives, ranging from low to high degree.

Physiological Effects

The physiological effects of environmental influences include high blood pressure, organ damage, diabetes, and depression. The more long-term medical issues range from accidents, suicide attempts, several hospitalizations, and physical and emotional abuse issues.

Consequences of Addiction

There are limits to what a physical body can take, even as our tolerance to our addictions grow seemingly without limit. We start feeling the undeniable consequences of our addiction when our organ function begins to deteriorate. This fuels a fury deep inside us, and we begin blaming everybody for our “I don’t care attitude” about why we have lost everything.

Outside Influences

The word “stability” suggests there is a degree of balance between each aspect of one’s life. This would include the relationships with those in our lives, our financial struggles, education, and the family values instilled by our parents which give us a sense of belonging and direction and hope of developing some degree of success in life.


When we allow outside influences to affect our decisions, the natural outcome will be affected proportionally. Structure is the cornerstone of a stable mind set. We cannot have one without the other. We are the only ones who know what we absolutely need and the role it plays in our identity.

Our transition can be more fluid because it is second nature and becomes assimilated into our frame of mind. We are more than likely to slip into a volatile, unstable frame of mind when we were raised in an environment without structure. That instability frequently carries over into adult relationships. Very few people have enough balance in other aspects of their family to retain a more stable adult relationship.

Pain Pills

One of the many rationalizations is that prescribed pain pills lead to addiction. It is prescribed to take every four hours, but we find ourselves taking another pill as soon as the last one wears off instead of four hours later because we feel “pain.” It is impossible to develop tolerance to the pain itself when we take a pill every time we feel pain. We just end up developing tolerance to the pain pills instead.

If we take medication as prescribed, our pain pill threshold should be two every four hours while we develop a tolerance to the pain. But when we take another pill if it wears off after a half hour, we end up taking eight pills instead.

Lacking awareness that stability can be maintained while dealing with craving pain medication, and the fact that we could not hold out a little longer because of the panic that one obscure pill will “make us feel better,” addiction to pain medication is at an epidemic proportion. We can always rationalize its use, and independence slips from our grasp to a bottle of pills.

Chemical Imbalances

Words are an illusion because we are the ones that ultimately give these words their meaning, their substance, their power over us, or the strength that they give us while they manifest themselves in our feelings, passion, emotions, instincts, as well as in our actions.

A chemical imbalance refers to the fluctuating degree in our physiological impulses, and the sudden overwhelming imbalance is manifested instinctively through our feelings, passions and emotions. An impulsive chemical reaction triggers the emotions of joy, comfort, courage, love, and the feelings of sadness, fear, discomfort, and hate, which covers the response spectrum.

We sometimes think that bad emotions can be countered by ingesting mood altering substances, and we continue trying to feel good quickly because we have lost sight of our own perspective of those good emotions. The consequences quickly escape our grasp, which distorts our perception and affects others in negative ways. It increases the chance that we will continue to make poor choices.

The Power of the Spoken Word

We don’t realize that the illusion of a word comes to life as though by magic. Words can trigger a tangible sensation, and that chemical reaction alters our perception of how we see those issues. Our interpretation of the words people use when they refer to us can add substance to our relationship and define that relationship as positive or negative.

No one can begin to comprehend what it means to hear your son say “I love you” because it is your son claiming his love for you. In the same way, no one can understand what you mean when you tell your son “I love you” because you are claiming your love for him.

We meet many special people as we walk through life – whether it is the kid down the street, a teacher, an aunt or uncle – who represent something that ties us together to an unconditional sense of well-being. These encounters teach us that relationships should be nurturing, encouraging, and help us develop stability in how we see the world. It is these encounters that provide a sense of where we fit in society.

When it gives us a better feel for what our options are, and when our decisions make us feel like we are making progress, we begin to feel a sense hope. Only we can decide to continue this course of action because it is helping us feel a sense of empowerment.

Breaking the Addiction Cycle

External influences are a major part of how we can adapt to challenges as they arise, whether positive or negative. These influences can either become a stumbling block or an inspiration to keep going until we accomplish our goals.

Conditioned Responses

An addiction is difficult to break because of the body’s conditioned response to deal with stressors as they tangibly manifest themselves into a physiological phenomenon. While we are experiencing these sudden manifestations, we immediately think about getting that one thing that has been absent to alleviate the panic. The heart begins to race, blood rushes to the brain, dizziness sets in, and we immediately relapse in a panic, which is why the relapse rate is so high. It is at this point that the present structure we have been operating within begins to crumble. Those cravings become frightening, and we anticipate those cravings which erode our decision-making abilities, feelings, emotions, trust, instincts, and morals.

Erosion of Decision-Making Abilities

The erosion of our decision-making abilities manifests itself in knowing that we need to quit, but those cravings condition us into thinking there is only one way to stop them. The erosion of our instincts ultimately manifest themselves by how it makes us feel about ourselves as well as the people and things that are most important to us. It isolates us from them without us even knowing what happened.

Erosion of Relationships

The erosion of our feelings will ultimately manifest itself by the instability within our relationships, and we lose touch with our feelings. We have alienated ourselves from everyone we thought would be there, no matter what. The erosion of our trust will ultimately manifest itself by the lack of structure caused by our own cravings that get in the way of others trusting us, and those so-called friends start stealing from us, which makes us think the whole world is against us.

Erosion of our Moral Foundation

The erosion of our moral foundation will ultimately be manifested by feeling like we are all alone in the world, and when that sense of abandonment totally isolates us from the rest of the world, we are lost without any moral responsibility. These are crucial aspects of our identity which get lost in the shuffle because of our obsession with that one thing we have convinced ourselves that we cannot live without.

The Tradeoffs

We start looking forward to being able to access it while we earn the money to get it, rather than those things we need to survive. An extreme example of this is pedophiles, who go to such lengths to keep their obsession a secret because they know it is wrong, and those transient thoughts that become their obsession are reinforced by the lies they keep at the expense of the innocence that they betray.

The Addict’s Perception of Life

All these aspects of our lives represent our perception of the substance within our lives, and any uncertainty that disrupts that perception grows into a day-to-day conflict of what our lives were like. Every moment we fail to change this negative perception drives us deeper into the altered reality of our lives, and only when we get to a point where we are sick and tired of being sick and tired can we change those circumstances.

It is more than just a simple concept of addressing our immediate issues by prioritizing them as a daily goal. It is by no means going to be easy because we are trying to change all those years of living with an altered perception. We are not meant to be perfect in any way. All that matters is that we serve our purpose to grow every day by attending to our responsibilities.

We must acknowledge that we cannot do this alone. Working with others who are dealing with similar problems will help us see where we fit into society. This realistic perspective will give us a place to start working on sorting things out to effectively address our issues. Relying on one perspective limits our options. We think they don’t know what we have been going through; but by acknowledging that our perspective is no different, it is like seeing our life through someone else’s eyes.

Accepting Responsibility

The moment we acknowledge that we cannot live like this one more day, and once we decide to come in to get help, we have begun the transition. We will repeatedly question this decision while registering for admission; but the fact is, we simply cannot do this by ourselves, without help in a neutral setting. This transition is delineated by our eliminating the mind-set of staying depressed because we do not know what to do, and by acting to find the rehabilitation program that provides us with a sense of feeling safe as well as with the necessary structure.

It is not easy to come in for help knowing how it destroyed our lives; but deciding to stay leaves us with a growing sense of empowerment. Being in an environment that encourages us to express ourselves helps us learn where we belong in society. Something has kept us alive to see that our feelings, emotions, and instincts are valuable. We all see a part of each other in our daily struggles.

The phrase “you have a chemical imbalance” is not a terminal prognosis as much as a physiological, response to external stressors and medical issues created by drinking or drugging until we pass out thinking they will go away or balance out. There is only so much that the human body can take, and we begin to think that this is the way life is going to be from now on. We do not know how to stop waking up feeling like life is draining right out of us because we are constantly pumping a chemical substance into our system.

We wake up hung over, smelling of alcohol, staggering, eyes sensitive to light, and we soon start to forget some of the little things that are so important to our structure because it helps us sort things out. Some triggers that people have simply start out by entering a store and walking straight to the cooler. Triggers include in-laws, commercials, work, home, personality conflicts, and bills, just to name a few. Medications help stabilize our thought processes although they only work when we take them, but we are the ones that must initiate the process of what it takes to structure our lives.

Trying to Quit

Every time one tries to quit an addiction, it is quickly met by panic fueled by cold sweats, blood rushing to the brain, dizziness, and heart palpitations, followed by our body telling us: “I need a drink, a pill, a cigarette, a joint, or a beer.” The major cause of a relapse is this sensation, even though it may only last five to ten minutes and then go away.

The only way to beat these cravings is to become aware that it will only last for five to ten minutes, and we can beat it if we can just hold out that long. When the cravings hit, try talking to someone, playing a game, watching TV, laying down, paying bills, or reading a book until the sensation goes away. Every time we can wait until the sensation is gone, the better our chance of seeing that we do not need it. The more times we are able to beat the temptation, we get stronger.

Unfortunately, after several failed attempts to quit, some people start to rationalize that their addictions help them to deal with stress. They even convince themselves that they do not want to quit smoking because they like it; although, if asked, they are usually unable to explain why.

The Problem is Not the Addiction

In our search to find the answers to our own relationship problems, we must decide that we have to do this. This is the answer. Just do it!

The problem is not our work issues, financial issues, image issues, or family issues. The problem is: How do we see our issues? Something always gets in the way of doing what we need to do, and having an addiction perpetuates the situation because we are focused on feeding that addiction. We must realize that all hope of kicking our addiction is inside of us. We may have lost our grasp of the hope within us because our addiction keeps getting in the way. Only by acknowledging where we fit into the continuum of life at this point can we regain hope for recovery. Each day we put one piece from the puzzle of our lives back together. As we look at the big picture, we begin to see just how far we have fallen, and we realize the only direction we can go from here is up.

One way to reconnect with society is to find someone who treats us like the person with feelings and worth. They help us express ourselves, which we may not have been able to do for quite some time. We begin to see that our feelings, emotions, ideas, and instincts are not crazy because they feel the same way. We help each other stay grounded in our recovery because we remind each other that we bring out the best in each other.

Every time we start to doubt again, we just look back at what that person said at the very moment we needed to hear it. It is moments like this that give hope a tangible substance because we feel our identity slipping away when stress rises, and it manifests itself into a physiological sensation we do not know how to overcome because we are unable to regain our focus.

When the pieces of our life begin to fit together with a sense of purpose, life begins to take on a tiny resemblance to the one that escaped our grasp. Sometimes being removed from the source of stress takes a load off our shoulders. For a time, the stressors can no longer affect us. Being in a neutral environment, among people like us, fosters a feeling that we do not deserve to suffer like this anymore.


This author is not a licensed therapist, but he has witnessed the miracle of the human spirit. He has spent seventeen years in direct contact with both extremes in mental health hospitals as more than 3,000 patients took their lives back.

No one can save you from negativity you choose to bring into your own life, and only you can choose to live with it while your life crumbles around you. You can give your life meaning as you struggle with the negative noises in the space around you. Use the positive things in your life to stay in the lives of those you love.

Some patients use hospitals to hide from life because they don’t want to be a burden on society because their feelings, morals, emotions, instincts, judgment, and decision-making abilities are impaired. The most important thing is to not give up on wanting to change your life. You are the only one who can change it, and you deserve the satisfaction of being able to say “I finally quit.”

Asbestos Exposure While in the U.S. Armed Forces

VA Stats on Asbestos ExposureI worked for 35 years in the civil litigation world where U.S. companies are accused of hiding evidence and refusing to take responsibility for the health and safety of their employees, and I can say those accusations have been proven true in some cases. There was definitely a desire to cover up for financial gain.

Let me qualify this paragraph that these comments are my opinion only and not those of Legacy Beyond Valor. But as I have been researching the web for Agent Orange, Water Contamination at Camp Lejeune, and now Asbestos exposure, I see a government that is being completely open and accepts responsibility where they have learned their personnel have fallen ill and need medical assistance. If you go to the link I provide in the next paragraph, and if you follow the links on that page to other pages, you will see that the VA describes how they got into using asbestos products, where they were used, and how they have now come to realize they were dangerous to those who worked with them. Not only no cover-up, but instead statements of regret and acceptance of responsibility.

I am not going to repeat the enormous detail given on the VA website regarding Asbestos exposure. Instead, I highly recommend you go to the site and read in detail how open they are regarding who was exposed and what they plan to do for them. I am going to simply point veterans who have come down with mesothelioma or cancer to the following links where they can file a claim and begin receiving assistance.



Did you serve in any of the following occupations?

  • Mining,
  • Milling,
  • Shipyard work,
  • Insulation work,
  • Demolition of old buildings,
  • Carpentry and construction,
  • Manufacturing and installation of products such as flooring, roofing, cement sheet, pipe products, or
  • Servicing of friction products such as clutch facings and brake linings.

Did you serve in Iraq or any other Middle Eastern country?


  • You must be a Veteran who was discharged under conditions other than dishonorable.
  • You must have been exposed to asbestos while in military service.
  • You must have a disease or disability related to the asbestos exposure that occurred in military service.

Evidence Requirements

  • Your military record must show you actually served where Asbestos exposure is known to have occurred; such as the Middle East.
  • You must have served in one of the specialties the VA has identified (see the list above, but do not assume it is all-inclusive).
  • You must claim and have evidence of a medical diagnosis of a disease or disability known to be related to asbestos.
  • Your military record must connect your service to one of the known exposures.

How to Apply

  • Apply online using the eBenefits portal, OR
  • Work with an accredited representative or agent, OR
  • Go to a VA regional office and have a VA employee assist you. You can find your regional office on our Facility Locator page
  • For more information on how to apply and for tips on making sure your claim is ready to be processed by VA, visit our How to Apply

Learn more about health risks related to asbestos exposure from the VA Office of Public Health. If you are concerned about health problems associated with exposure to asbestos during your military service, talk to your health care provider or local VA Environmental Health Coordinator. If you are a Veteran, but are not enrolled in the VA health care system, you can find out if you qualify for VA health care.

Agent Orange Exposure – Vietnam


Exposure to Agent Orange In Vietnam

Dates of Service

January 9, 1962 through May 7, 1975

Definition of “Service in Vietnam”

  • Service on land in Vietnam or on the inland waterways of Vietnam, including Veterans who:
    • Set foot in Vietnam. This includes:
      • Brief visits ashore
      • When a ship docked to the shore of Vietnam
      • When a ship operated in Vietnam’s close coastal waters for extended periods and crew members went ashore
      • Smaller vessels from the ship went ashore with supplies or personnel. (The Veteran must provide a statement of personally going ashore.)
    • Served on a ship while it operated on the inland waterways of Vietnam

Presumed Eligible for VA Disability Benefits

  • Presumed to have been exposed to herbicides (Agent Orange Act of 1991)
  • Do not need to prove exposure to Agent Orange or other herbicides

Blue Water Veterans and Agent Orange Exposure

Definition of “Blue Water Veterans”

Veterans who served on open sea ships off the shore of Vietnam during the Vietnam War

Exposure to Agent Orange

  • Not presumed to have been exposed to Agent Orange or other herbicides.
    • Must:
      • Have served on ships on the inland waterways of Vietnam between January 9, 1962 and May 7, 1975
      • Have set foot in Vietnam or
    • If they did not meet the above criteria, they must show
      • They were exposed to herbicides during military service.
      • These claims are decided on a case-by-case basis.
    • Exception: Veterans with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma may be granted service-connection without showing inland waterway service or that they set foot in Vietnam for diseases related to Agent Orange exposure. Veterans in these circumstances can find the ship(s) on which they served in the list as well

List of Ships Associated with Service in Vietnam

See VBA’s “Veterans Exposed to Agent Orange” Web page.


HMD report on Agent Orange exposure

The VA’s Health and Medical Division (HMD) report concluding “the committee was unable to state with certainty whether Blue Water Navy personnel were or were not exposed to Agent Orange,” (the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans and Agent Orange Exposure) was released in May 2011.

VA benefits

Eligible Veterans may receive the following VA benefits:

  • Medical benefits.
  • Disability compensation: A monthly payment for diseases related to Agent Orange exposure.
  • Other benefits: Home loans, vocational rehabilitation, education, and more
  • Survivors’ benefits: Surviving spouses, dependent children and dependent parents of Veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange and died as the result of diseases related to Agent Orange exposure.

Need help determining exposure?

VA can help determine Agent Orange exposure or qualifying service in Vietnam after you file a claim for compensation benefits.

Did you serve at Camp Lejeune between August 1953 and December 1987?

Then you’ll want to read this!

It has been officially determined that people who worked or lived at Camp Lejeune between August 1, 1953 and December 31, 1987 may have been exposed to contaminated drinking water. You can read more about the specifics of the chemical contamination at this link.

Available Compensation

Presumptive Service Connection

As of 2017, the following eight diseases have been declared to have a presumptive service connection for Veterans, Reservists, and National Guard members living or working at Camp Lejeune during the affected dates:

  • Adult leukemia
  • Aplastic anemia and other myelodysplastic syndromes
  • Bladder cancer
  • Kidney cancer
  • Liver cancer
  • Multiple myeloma
  • Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
  • Parkinson’s disease

It has been determined that enough scientific and medical evidence exists to support the creation of presumptions for these illnesses.

The Final Rule Regarding Presumptive Service Connection

You can read the final rule released by the VA on January 13, 2017, at this link. It will become effective either 60 days following publication in the Federal Register, or after conclusion of the 60-day Congressional Review, whichever is later.

Nonpresumptive Cases

If you suffer from another condition that you believe may have resulted from exposure to chemicals at Camp LeJeune, you can still file a claim. The only difference is no presumption that your illness was caused by your service-related exposure to contaminated water. The VA will consider the documentation you submit and make a determination on a one-by-one basis.

Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012

The 2012 Camp Lejeune health care law provides cost-free health care to Veterans who served at least 30 days of active duty at Camp Lejeune from January 1, 1957 and December 31, 1987.

Qualifying health conditions include:

  • Esophageal cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Kidney cancer
  • Multiple myeloma
  • Renal toxicity
  • Female infertility
  • Scleroderma
  • Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
  • Lung cancer
  • Bladder cancer
  • Leukemia
  • Myelodysplastic syndromes
  • Hepatic steatosis
  • Miscarriage
  • Neurobehavioral effects

If you are eligible for coverage for any of these 15 conditions under the 2012 Camp Lejeune health care law, all medical services, including co-pays, will be at no cost to you.

Family member health care reimbursement

If your family lived at Camp Lejeune with you during the period outlined above, they may also be eligible for reimbursement for the same 15 covered health conditions. Unfortunately, the VA will only pay the costs paid by you after all insurance coverage has paid its share.

How to apply for assistance

Apply online or call 1-877-222-8387.

Inform VA staff that you served on active duty at Camp Lejeune
for at least 30 days during the covered time period.

For more detailed information on the application process, click here.

What type of evidence can I submit with my family application?

  • Marriage license or birth certificate showing your relationship to a Veteran who served at Camp Lejeune during the covered period.
  • Proof you lived on the base for 30 days or more between Aug. 1, 1953 and Dec. 31, 1987 (i.e., copies of orders or base housing records).
  • Evidence you paid health care expenses for a covered condition respective to the following date ranges:
    • If you lived on Camp Lejeune between January 1, 1957 and December 31, 1987, then you can be reimbursed for care that you received on or after August 6, 2012.
    • If you lived on Camp Lejeune between August 1, 1953 and December 31, 1956, then you can be reimbursed for care that you received on or after December 16, 2014.

If you cannot submit evidence to support your claim, the VA will examine its internal sources and the Department of Defense (DoD) to support your application. This may take longer to complete a review of your application.