Benefits Denied to Veteran with Reported Cognitive Disability Who Alleged that Contaminated Water at Marine Corps Base Caused Memory Loss

Above: Photo taken in 2014 of one of the water purification systems at Camp Lejeune, the Marine Corps base in North Carolina where Crawford was stationed — Image Source: Stars and Stripes

In July 2019, veteran Anthony Crawford was denied benefits “for a cognitive disability with memory loss” that he alleges resulted from exposure to contaminated water at the military base in North Carolina, where he was stationed during his service in the United States Marine Corps. Crawford appealed the July 2019 ruling to the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, which affirmed the denial of benefits.

In March 2016, Crawford was evaluated during a VA mental health consultation and “reported experiencing memory problems since suffering a traumatic brain injury (TBI) and undergoing a craniotomy in 2003.” As examples of these memory problems, Crawford observed that he “ha[d] to write notes for himself to remember tasks, keep objects in the same place in order to avoid losing them, forg[o]t[] names of acquaintances, and [had] difficulty recalling dates.”

Crawford alleges that his memory problems resulted from contaminated drinking water at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, where he was stationed from 1978–1981. In his brief, Crawford cites a report from the National Research Council conducted on the drinking water at Camp Lejeune that found “limited/suggestive evidence of an association between exposure to mixed solvents and neurobehavioral effects.” More so, the report found that “the best characterized neurologic effects associated with solvent exposure, in particular exposure to TCE and PCE, were deficits in visuomotor function, motor function, memory, and concentration.”

Nevertheless, on October 29, 2020, the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims found that Crawford’s “cognitive disability with memory loss was not incurred in service or as a result of any incidents therein.” The court instead attributed his memory loss to a traumatic brain injury that he had sustained in 2003, after being hit in the head with a baseball bat. Deeming his cognitive problems and memory loss unrelated to his service, the court denied Crawford’s appeal.

Key words: veteran, disability benefits, cognitive disability, memory loss, traumatic brain injury, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina

Citation: Crawford v. Wilkie, №19–7870, 2020 WL 6324751, (Vet. App. Oct 29, 2020)

This post is the 29th post as part of an ongoing Center for Law, Brain & Behavior (CLBB) series tracking the latest developments in law and neuroscience cases. To see previous posts about recent cases, see the full case archive on the CLBB website. To see updates on legal scholarship, see the Neurolaw News, hosted by the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Law and Neuroscience. This project is made possible through support of the Dana Foundation.

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Center for Law, Brain & Behavior

Center for Law, Brain & Behavior

at Mass General Hospital, Harvard Medical School