Mousser struggles from time at Camp Lejeune

Frank Mousser on active duty with his Marine Corps unit during the U.S. intervention in Grenada in 1983.

There’s a saying ‘Once a Marine, Always a Marine” and it definitely applies to Kerrville resident Frank Mousser, but his time in the U.S. Marine Corps was marked by both great adventures and tragedy.

Mousser was stationed at Camp Lejeune, N.C. from 1982 until 1988…the height of the period in which concentrations of toxic chemicals in the base’s drinking water poisoned thousands of Marines and their families and many civil servants who worked on the base.

Mousser joined the Marines after high school and went to basic training at Parris Island, S.C. He was assigned to a field artillery unit of the 2nd Marine Division stationed at Camp Lejeune. In Oct. 1983 he was deployed to the island of Grenada during Operation Urgent Fury as a part of the U.S. invasion force. The deployment lasted only five days and then he was sent with his unit to Beirut, Lebanon during the NATO peace-keeping intervention. He was in Beirut only two months when he became ill.

“My story started in Beirut when I developed a major kidney bleed. I was evacuated to Wiesbaden, Germany to the military hospital (Amelia Earhart Hospital) and spent three months undergoing treatment,” Mousser said.

He underwent either six or seven exploratory surgeries and was diagnosed with hematuria, a condition that causes blood in the kidneys.

“It was really visible when I was evacuated from Lebanon, but later the bleeding was reduced to a micro-bleed and I have spent most of my life with a diagnosis of microscopic hematuria,” Mousser said. “It looked like I had a chemical burn inside my bladder, but they didn’t know the source of it initially.”

Mousser said later he found out the Marine Corps knew about the toxic chemicals in the drinking water in Camp Lejeune, but tried to cover it up.

In 1988 when he left the Marines he received an honorable discharge, but not a medical discharge. A native of Hawaii, Mousser moved to Cerritos, Calif. after he left the service and went to work in the auto industry as a service advisor and in other aspects of auto sales.

His wife was from Mansfield, Texas and they eventually decided to move to Texas and he continued to work in the auto sales business. He came to Kerrville to work temporarily for Cecil Atkission and fell in love with the Hill Country. He moved the family permanently to Kerrville in 2003 and went to work at Del Rio Motors on Junction Hwy., which is part of the Atkission Motors family.

“One day ‘out of the blue’ about seven years ago I began to get notifications from the Marine Corps telling me that I may have been exposed to toxic drinking water at Camp Lejeune. I was blind-sided,” Mousser said.

They asked for his medical history and they sent all kinds of information on what to look for if he was having any problems.

“It was weird because three years later I began having issues of the hematuria again. So, based on the information I was sent, I signed up with the VA (Veteran’s Administration) for medical benefits. I had always had private insurance rather than using the VA medical benefits I was qualified to receive,” he said.

Mousser said Dr, Rockwell, a urologist at the Kerrville VA Medical Center, diagnosed him with a golf ball-sized tumor in his right kidney in Aug. 2020.

“The quality of care they provided for me here in Kerrville and the surgeons at Audie Murphy VA Hospital In San Antonio was excellent. Dr. Rockwell saved my life. At 4 p.m. on Aug. 26, 2020 my life changed. I was staring at that image of the tumor on the x-ray and they sent me immediately to Audie Murphy,” Mousser said.

Doctors at Audie Murphy determined the cancerous tumor was a “presumptive service-connected disability” and that he most likely got the cancer from drinking the contaminated drinking water while stationed at Camp Lejeune.

“They did the surgery pretty quick and removed the kidney. Now I have to have testing done regularly (at first every 90 days, but now every six months) to make sure the cancer does not return. I will have to do this the rest of my life,” Mousser said. Mousser has been diagnosed with Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) in his other kidney and has been placed on the kidney transplant list by the VA. If no transplant becomes available he will eventually have to go onto kidney dialysis.

Mousser has hired an attorney firm in New York that is representing hundreds of other Camp Lejeune victims in a class-action lawsuit related to the Camp Lejeune issue.

Victims formed an advocacy group, “The Few, The Proud, The Forgotten” and lobbied Congress to pass legislation to provide compensation for not only military members who lived at Camp Lejeune in the period between Aug. 1953 and Dec. 1987, but also their families and the civilian workers who lived and worked on the base, an estimated one million people.

The Camp Lejeune Justice Act was introduced in Congress in 2021 but failed to pass. The effort was renewed and the legislation was approved by an 86 to 11 vote in the Senate on Aug. 2. President Biden signed the legislation into law on Aug. 10, 2022. A number of major law firms around the country advertise on television for clients who may be qualified for benefits under the new law.

“This law is unprecedented because they didn’t do anything like this for the Vietnam Vets who were impacted by exposure to Agent Orange, a chemical used to defoliate the jungles in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War. They haven’t received this kind of help, even though, in my opinion, they should have,” Mousser said.

“I was proud to serve my country and to be a Marine, but now I’m really disappointed they covered the water contamination issue at Camp Lejeune up for so long. It’s disgraceful.”

Mousser said the shocking part of the legislation is that the government is giving the Marines the chance to receive compensation, but there is a hidden penalty to the recipient.

The new law approved up to $22 billion in benefits, but the attorneys are getting an average of 40 percent of the total claim pay-out for handling the case, according to research done by Mousser.

Mousser has learned that the government is using the concept of “double recovery” on the recipients of the funds. If the recipient is already on VA benefits, then their settlement is reduced by the amount they have already received over the years.

“That’s despicable,” Mousser said. “Say you get $100,000 in the settlement and you’ve already received $60,000 in VA benefits previously, and then you pay the attorney $40,000, that means you may be left with virtually nothing when it’s all done. The fact they tried to cover it up and then do this unprecedented settlement and then when all the details come out you find out you aren’t getting anything. The attorneys are making the only real money from the settlement.”

Mousser said the publicity of the settlement leads people to believe that the Camp Lejeune victims and their families will be taken care of when in reality, when it’s all said and done, it may cost the victim money. He said he is unaware of any money that has been paid out to any victims yet. He has written a letter to Texas Senator Ted Cruz expressing his concerns about the new legislation.

“It may be two or three years before anyone receives any benefits. Some of the victims who were on the base in the 1950s are already in their 80s. You think any of those people will ever get anything? I feel sorry for the Marines who lost their children…that money will never bring those children back,” Mousser added.

The initial push for the settlement came from MSgt. Jerry Ensiminger who lost his daughter to leukemia. He testified before Congress and told them about the graveyard for children outside of Camp Lejeune and brought the issue to the attention of advocacy groups who work with veterans.

“Don’t get this wrong,” Mousser said, “we appreciate everything they have done, but they should have told us from the beginning. I told my wife years ago that if anything ever happens to me, check into Camp Lejeune. I’m not going to ride off into the sunset with the money I get out of the settlement. I’d just give it back to the VA because of the good medical care I received.”

Construction of Camp Lejeune began in April 1941 and the base officially opened in Sept. 1942. It was named after the 13th Commander of the Marine Corps, John A. Lejeune, upon his death. For a brief time at the beginning of World War II it served as a boot camp for Marines. The water wells drilled on the base provided drinking water for the residents on base and the surrounding area. For many years toxic chemicals were either dumped or buried near the base’s water wells. The three major chemicals found in the water, and the basis for the lawsuits and legislation, included Benzene (a solvent used for several different purposes), Trichloroethylene (a de-greaser) and Perchloroethylene (a dry-cleaning solvent). More than 70 chemicals were identified in the drinking water on the base with toxins at concentrations of 240 to 3,400 times permitted by safety standards. The wells determined to contain the toxic chemicals are no longer in use.

Camp LeJeune is a 156,000 acre base near Jacksonville, N.C. with 14 miles of beaches which makes it a major base for amphibious assault training for Marines and it is located between two major deep-water ports which allows for fast deployment, if needed. Currently military forces from around the world, including the NATO countries, come to train at Camp Lejeune.

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