For decades, the U.S. government has known about the presence of toxic chemicals in drinking water at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune and Marine Corps Air Station New River. Between the early 50s and late 80s, a million or more people who worked, lived, or served on these bases and were exposed to increased risk of serious illnesses, adverse birth outcomes, and more.
Until recently, due to an unfortunate quirk in North Carolina law, there wasn’t much that veterans or military family members who were harmed at Camp Lejeune or New River could do.
But with the passage of the Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022, that has all changed. For the first time, former residents and veterans exposed to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune can file a claim against the U.S. government and pursue the fair compensation they deserve.
While this is extremely good news for veterans, families, and anyone who worked or lived at Camp Lejeune during the specified time period, it doesn’t mean recovering compensation outside of the VA will necessarily be swift or easy. Hiring an attorney experienced in representing veterans and military families to help you with your case can be extremely valuable.
If you believe you may be entitled to make a claim, read on to learn more about the situation, the new law, and what your options may be.
For at least 35 years—roughly 1953 to 1987—the contaminated drinking water at Camp Lejeune and MCAS New River contained high levels of toxic substances, including benzene, vinyl chloride, trichloroethylene, and tetrachloroethylene. Contaminants entered the water supply from multiple sources, including waste disposal sites, leaking storage tanks, industrial spills, and more.
As a result, armed forces personnel, civilian workers, military families, and countless others who lived or worked on base were exposed to toxic levels of these volatile organic compounds, which placed them at significantly elevated risk of developing many forms of cancer, other serious health complications, and birth complications (including miscarriage, stillbirth, and serious birth defects).
In some cases, the concentration of these harmful chemicals was hundreds of times the levels permitted by safety standards. And even worse: the government knew it, and for many years hid the truth from the men and women and their families who had served so honorably.
Camp Lejeune and MCAS New River are located in North Carolina. Unfortunately, a law unique to North Carolina—known as a statute of repose—places a strict 10-year statute of limitations on claims against a polluter.
Because of this law, legitimate cases against the government were routinely dismissed—even though the link between the disease and Camp Lejeune’s contaminated water was clear, and despite the fact that many diseases linked to the water contamination may take far longer than 10 years to develop.
While many veterans were still able to get disability compensation through the VA using the normal processes, this was hardly justice considering the magnitude of what had happened to them. And, of course, family members (including children) and civilian workers who were not veterans themselves had no recourse whatsoever.
The Camp Lejeune Justice Act, passed as part of the larger Honoring Our PACT Act with broad bipartisan support in June 2022, bypasses North Carolina’s statute of repose. This means that anyone who lived or worked on base and meets certain eligibility criteria can seek reparations from the government. The bill prohibits the government from claiming specified immunity as a defense.
In order to be eligible to file a claim, individuals and military personnel must have lived or served at Camp Lejeune for at least 30 days (cumulatively) between August 1953 and December 1987 and have been diagnosed with an illness or health problem caused by toxic water contamination at the base. Primary caretakers of those affected, such as spouses and children, can also file on behalf of their loved one who was affected during that time period.
Finally, those who have been wronged will have access to the judicial system and chance to recover damages and seek justice and accountability.
Prior to the passage of the Camp Lejeune Justice Act, any claim for compensation or reparations for Camp Lejeune’s contaminated drinking water had to run through the Department of Veterans Affairs. In 2017, the VA disability claims process was expanded to specifically cover eight medical conditions connected with water contamination and toxic chemicals at Camp Lejeune.
However, VA benefits can only be sought by veterans, and a significant percentage of the victims of Camp Lejeune are ineligible to file them. Furthermore, evidence suggests that relatively few veterans have even sought disability benefits through the VA, and even then, benefits are often denied.
Being able to file a claim not only allows family members and civilians the opportunity to seek compensation and justice, but also allows veterans to claim damages (such as pain and suffering) outside the scope of VA disability health care benefits.
If you believe you or a family member may be eligible to file a Camp Lejeune claim, speak with an experienced attorney with a solid track record of fighting for veterans and military service members as soon as possible.
Under the Act, claimants’ cases will ultimately be consolidated and filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina. However, that does not mean that you will be required to work with a North Carolina attorney. Lawyers across the country, including those at the Karl Truman Law Office, are stepping in to speak with victims and family members and help prepare their cases for court.
Camp Lejeune cases are not as simple as simply adding your name to a mass tort. The success (or failure) of your individual case will be determined on the merits. That will mean strong scientific and medical evidence to establish a presumptive service connection, medical records, military service records, and more. Working with an experienced attorney like Karl Truman is strongly recommended to increase your chances of receiving a fair outcome.
Related: Contact the Colonel
What happened to the men, women, and children who lived and worked at Camp Lejeune and MCAS New River was abominable. But for Karl Truman, it’s also personal.
Karl Truman faithfully served the U.S. Army for nearly three decades, retiring as a Lieutenant Colonel after 28 years of distinguished service. For most of that time, he was also a practicing attorney.
He understands firsthand the incredible sacrifices that military families make, and as an attorney, he has dedicated much of his career to defending their rights and helping them fight back against an often unfair and confusing system that denies them fair compensation for injuries and illnesses sustained in the line of duty.
Our office is also extremely active and respected in the veteran and military community in Louisville and Southern Indiana, regularly sponsoring events such as Operation Christmas Spirit, Indiana and Kentucky Veterans of the Year Awards, Flag Ride for USA Cares, and more.
Servicemembers, veterans, and their families can always count on the Colonel and his team to provide them with comprehensive, compassionate, and aggressive legal representation. If you believe that you or a loved one may be eligible to make a Camp Lejeune claim, please contact our office today at (502) 222-2222 or complete the simple form on this page.
Business Wire (16 June 2022). Camp Lejeune Justice Act Passes, Enabling Reparation for Military, Families and Civilians Who Lived and Worked on Base. Retrieved from https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20220606005967/en/
The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.