RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — President Barack Obama signed a bill Monday promising health benefits for Marines and families who were exposed to contaminated water at a North Carolina Marine base for decades.
‘‘I think all Americans feel we have a moral, sacred duty toward our men and women in uniform,’’ Obama said in an Oval Office ceremony before signing the Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act.
‘‘They protect our freedom, and it’s our obligation to do right by them. This bill takes another important step in fulfilling that commitment.’’
The bill passed Congress last week with bipartisan support. Health officials believe as many as 1 million people may have been exposed to tainted groundwater at Camp Lejeune from 1957 to 1987.
Jerry Ensminger of Elizabethtown, N.C., was one of those affected and attended Monday’s ceremony. He led the fight for information about the water problems at Camp Lejeune since his daughter, Janey, died in 1985 at the age of 9 of a rare form of childhood leukemia.
Other soldiers, who suffered from a rare form of male breast cancer, also said the government spent years trying to hide the problem and the poor response by officials.
‘‘And, sadly, this act alone will not bring back those we've lost, including Jane Ensminger, but it will honor their memory by making a real difference for those who are still suffering,’’ Obama said.
Documents show Marines leaders were slow to respond when tests in the early 1980s show higher than normal levels of contaminates in ground water and the base, likely caused by leaking fuel tanks and an off-base dry cleaner.
The law also bans protesting within 300 feet of military funerals. Numerous states have passed laws restricting protests at funerals after members of the Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas began protesting at the funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.