HARLEM, Manhattan (PIX11) — Richard Corley, a Marine veteran who trained at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina in the early 1980s, thought he was suffering from acid reflux when doctors inserted two metal stents in his chest to help him swallow.
But in 2021, two specialists informed the Harlem resident that wasn’t the case.
“Three oncologists came up to the room I’m in at the hospital,” Corley recalled, “and said you have Stage 3 esophageal cancer.”
Corley said he had a quick response for them.
“I said ‘What happened to Stage 1 and Stage 2?'” he quipped.
The metal rods came out of his chest and Corley said he underwent chemotherapy and radiation in January 2022. Last month, an endoscopy revealed a new concern.
“They found another tumor,” Corley told PIX11 News. “Next to my pancreas.”
Corley, 64, is one of 45,000 military personnel or civilians filing claims with the federal government over exposure to toxic water at Camp Lejeune.
“In the early ’50s, it started with a drycleaning outfit that was dumping its chemicals out the back door,” said Andrew Van Arsdale, a California-based attorney who has filed 4,200 individual claims with the Department of Justice and Department of the Navy.
Van Arsdale noted the chemicals “were essentially seeping into the water table and poisoning the entire water system.”
The toxic water problem persisted until 1987, but Peter Romano, a veteran from Sayreville, New Jersey, said service members and their families were never informed when the government knew.
“They found out about the poisons in 1982,” Romano said. “They did nothing until 1987.”
As the years went by and veterans of Camp Lejeune began to develop serious health problems, along with their families, advocates began demanding government compensation.
Congress passed the Camp Lejeune Justice Act in 2022 and President Joe Biden signed the law last August.
“This is the most significant law our nation has ever passed for veterans,” Biden said.
Yet Peter Romano’s testicular cancer, diagnosed when he was 23, was not included as one of the illnesses. He is fighting to get his disease designated under the Camp Lejeune Justice Act, especially since he was diagnosed 18 months after leaving military duty when he was just 23 years old.
“The tumor had traveled from the testicle to the stomach area,” Romano told PIX11 News, showing the significant scar on his stomach that begins in his chest area and moves to his lower abdomen.
“I had a 16-hour operation to take the tumor out. When they opened me up, they realized the tumor was sitting on top of another one,” he noted.
Romano said he was sick for a week every time he had chemotherapy treatment, which was grueling. He developed Hepatitis C from a blood transfusion. He was devastated to learn he would never have children of his own.
“It was probably the worst part of all of it,” Romano said. “Not having the children.”
Romano said there was no history of cancer in his family.
Corley, who attained the rank of gunnery sergeant during his years of military service, said he knows quite a few men from his platoon who developed cancer. He and other veterans are upset there’s been no compensation yet under the Camp Lejeune Justice Act.
“The military is all about honor, courage and duty,” Corley said. “They’re not doing their duty.”