Gerald & Jo Cottom

Between September, 1969 and February, 1972, Gerald was in the Marine Corps, stationed at Camp Lejeune. My son Bryan and I also lived at Camp Lejeune in base housing, and our daughter Melissa was conceived there in 1972.

In January of 2008, Gerald was diagnosed with stage IV renal cell carcinoma of the right kidney with mets to the bone. In January and February of 2008 he received 18 radiation treatments to the sacral area to relieve bone pain, and in March 2008 he had a right nephrectomy to remove a very large tumor and the kidney. Later that year he had to have a pacemaker placed due to heart bradycardia that was possibly caused by the side affects of chemotherapy. He was on chemo for three years, until April 2011 when we were told that the cancer had continued to spread. It was now in his liver and lungs, and another round of treatment was necessary to try to slow the growth. In August 2011, Gerald became very ill and with further testing it was found that he had gallstones and his gallbladder had to be removed. Many complications followed that surgery with breathing issues caused by the lung cancer and fluid build-up due to only having one kidney. Gerald died on September 8, 2011 from complications of his renal cell carcinoma.

In July of 2010, Gerald heard about the water contamination at Camp Lejeune on the radio and called me immediately. That evening we found a slew of information online and we were amazed at how his disease process was similar to many others who had been exposed. Neither the government or the Marine Corps had notified us of this contamination , so despite having had annual physicals after age 50, we never took any additional precautions to detect cancer since we were unaware of our exposure to such chemicals. Consequently, Gerald’s cancer had spread without us even knowing that he had it.

In July 2010, we notified the VA of Gerald’s disease and applied for disability benefits to assist with cancer care expenses. We had private insurance, but felt we needed the VA to help with the costs that the insurance didn’t cover. Trying to get Gerald benefits was a total nightmare. First they told us his disease was not caused by the contamination, and then, that our income was too high to cover any of the medicine he needed. I found the website The Few, The Proud, The Forgotten (TFTPTF) on the internet and started getting in touch with some of the men that were so diligently working on this case of contamination. They helped us to get in touch with the right people to pursue Gerald’s benefits. Finally, after many letters from four different doctors, a pathologist, Senators Burr and Cogburn’s offices, in July 2011 Gerald was awarded 100% temporary disability. We were still in the process of getting his 100% permanent disability when he passed away in September of 2011. Because he was only granted temporary status it has been close to impossible for me to get my DIC benefits. The VA would not accept reports and testing that Gerald had during the previous years, and he was put through many of the same tests to verify our private doctor’s findings.

On September 6th, Bryan and I traveled 90 miles with Gerald to the Oklahoma City VA to see their oncologist and get his diagnosis verified for permanent disability. The amount of time we lost with paperwork, phone calls, visits to VA doctors, and letters from our private doctors made it impossible to save Gerald, and we never received the help we needed to pay for his cancer care.

Something is wrong with this system. Had we known in 2008 that the water contamination had occurred from 1969 to 1972, we would have tried to get help sooner. But since no one in the Marine Corps or the government notified us, and the process one must undergo to receive benefits is so lengthy, we have lost Gerald . My children and I are left here to wonder what health complications await us due to this same contamination. Since learning of the contamination, my family has had health issues that we suspect are linked to the carcinogens that were in our water. I have a brain tumor, which caused me to have a stroke in 2000. I had to have a hysterectomy at age 23 due to fibroid cysts in the uterus that continued to reoccur after treatment, and have had many fibroid cysts removed from both breasts. Bryan had developmental problems—his sinus cavities did not develop properly and he had to have reconstructive surgery of the right sinus at age 7. He also suffers from migraines since the age of 5. He has a son who was born prematurely 15 years ago, with many defects such as deaf in one ear, vision problems in one eye, bladder problems, and seizures. Melissa was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at age 30.

The Marines and the government need to step up and take responsibility for their actions. They knew the water at Camp Lejeune was contaminated and that lives were at risk. They did nothing, and are still doing very little. I am now living my retirement years alone knowing that had they been honest and up front with this issue Gerald might still be here to enjoy it with me and see his grandchildren grow up.


Jo Cottom
Widowed due to Water Contamination