Camp Lejeune is a military base the Marine Corps operates in North Carolina. The facility has been around since the 1940s and is still active today. However, Camp Lejeune had an incident over a decade after its establishment that affected nearly one million people.
Researchers discovered the drinking supply in the compound was contaminated by multiple chemicals for almost three decades. The exposure caused various health conditions in those on and around the base. The government recognizes several conditions as presumptive contamination exposure diseases, which allow veterans to apply for benefits from Veterans Affairs.
Chemicals in Camp Lejeune’s Drinking Water
Officials traced the source of Camp Lejeune’s contamination to two water treatment plants. They discovered toxic chemicals in the water from the Tarawa Terrace and Hadnot Point plants. Causes of the contamination include leaks from waste disposal sites and a dry cleaning establishment.
The four main chemicals that made the base’s water unsafe were TCE, PCE, vinyl chloride, and benzene. Tetrachloroethylene (PCE) was the primary cause of illness and is typically used for dry cleaning or degreasing metal. Research from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry found PCE in the Camp Lejeune water supply that exceeded the EPA maximum.
Trichloroethylene (TCE) is used to clean metal parts. The substance is transparent, which made residents unaware of its presence.
Vinyl chloride appears when TCE or PCE breaks down. The inorganic substance dissolves in water and can smell sweet. Companies use vinyl chloride to make another material they need for plastic products.
Benzene is a colorless liquid and may occur naturally or through human activities. The chemical breaks down slowly in water, and high levels cause havoc on the human body.
Veterans From Camp Lejeune Can Apply for Benefits
You might have had exposure to a contaminated water supply if you lived in Camp Lejeune between the 1950s and mid-1980s. By the time the base closed off the contaminated wells, an estimated one million people had come into contact with the chemicals in the water.
The substances have had numerous effects on military members, their families, and civilian staff. As a result, people have advocated for proper compensation for those affected. Meanwhile, veterans may be able to apply for disability benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs in addition to seeking compensation through a lawsuit.
A person must meet the requirements to receive benefits. The criteria include the applicant having served at Camp Lejeune for at least 30 days. Additionally, the service period must have been between August 1953 to December 1987.
The Department of VA has an online process to apply for disability benefits. Upon approval, you receive healthcare coverage for expenses related to your contamination illness. You may obtain compensatory payments as well.
Generally, the benefits cover veterans, reservists, and guardsmen. However, family members may be able to obtain compensation for the expenses they pay toward medical care.
Another requirement for disability benefits is to have a diagnosis of at least one presumptive disease. A presumptive disease means the individual’s service in the military likely caused their condition.
The Department of Veterans Affairs lists eight qualifying illnesses for Camp Lejeune contamination cases:
- Parkinson’s disease
- Bladder cancer
- Kidney cancer
- Aplastic anemia
- Adult leukemia
- Liver cancer
- Multiple myeloma
- Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
You can use your medical records to prove at least one presumptive disease due to Camp Lejeune’s unsafe water. If the Department of VA denies your request, you have the option to file an appeal.
Family Member Benefits
Family members could obtain reimbursement if they lived on the base for at least 30 days during the required period. They need to prove the contaminated water caused a serious medical condition.
The list of covered conditions includes the following:
- Kidney cancer
- Breast cancer
- Myelodysplastic syndromes
The Department of VA has an online form to complete for convenience. You need proof of relationship to a veteran and residence at Camp Lejeune if you are a family member.
The Symptoms of Camp Lejeune’s Contaminated Water
The contaminants lead to a variety of health concerns. However, you might not know if your condition results from unsafe water from Camp Lejeune. Therefore, you may not know whether to seek compensation for the cost of the long-term effects.
The toxic chemicals can create a wide range of symptoms depending on the illness. Many of the warning signs are physical. Examples include cramps, fatigue, numbness, and headaches. In addition, people have suffered from cognitive effects like issues with coordination.
You may become aware that contamination is the likely cause of your symptoms. Document the side effects you experience and visit a clinic as soon as possible to determine what illness you are experiencing. Of course, some symptoms could signify other unrelated issues, which is why a doctor must determine the likely cause.
After the diagnosis, you should begin treatment. If a doctor confirms that you suffer from one of the presumptive diseases from Camp Lejeune exposure, you can apply for VA benefits to cover medical expenses. Furthermore, you may be able to sue for healthcare expenses and other related damages.
The Government May Deny a Claim for Disability Benefits
Some veterans receive a denial of disability benefits. The Department of VA has provided various reasons for rejecting a claim. A common reason is not having enough evidence. A claimant must have sufficient proof of a presumptive disease due to their service at Camp Lejeune between 1953 and 1987. They need an official diagnosis from the doctor and extensive medical documents.
Nevertheless, the Department of VA may argue someone did not have enough evidence to prove their illness relates to their military service. An attorney may be able to help collect the necessary proof to receive VA benefits or appeal a denial.
The Department of VA provides online forms for veterans to fill out for their disability claims. However, incorrectly filled forms may result in a denial of benefits. Working with an attorney is important to ensure you have the forms completed properly and with the necessary evidence to receive the benefits you need.
You Can Appeal
Regardless of the reasoning for the denial, you have the right to challenge the decision if you believe the rejection is unfair. You would file your appeal with your VA Regional Office and send a Notice of Disagreement. You have one year from the denial letter date to file the paperwork.
You must state your intent to appeal, but you do not have to list every reason for doing so. After completing the notice, send it through certified mail and keep a copy in case you need to reference the document later.
You can choose to have the Decision Review Officer or the Board of Veteran Appeals review your case. If the Board oversees your appeal, you must complete a complicated form, which a lawyer can assist you with filing.
Victims Can Now Sue the Government
For many years, veterans and their families have tried to recover damages through the court system for their injuries from Camp Lejeune. Even if they received disability benefits, that was generally not enough to cover all their losses. However, when those affected tried to file personal injury lawsuits, judges would dismiss them based on an expired statute of repose.
The statute of repose sets a 10-year limit from the harmful event to file a lawsuit. In this case, the harmful event was the exposure to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune. Unfortunately, most injured persons only discovered their illnesses many years after the exposure and well beyond the ten-year statute of repose limit.
Recently, Congress enacted the Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022. Now, victims can seek compensation from the government for exposure-related illnesses no matter when they discovered their injuries. They have two years from the law’s enactment date to file a lawsuit with the federal court in North Carolina. Though, the government still set requirements a victim must meet to be eligible to file a lawsuit.
Marine Corps veterans who served on the base are not the only ones eligible for compensation. Family members and civilian employees who were there for at least 30 days during the prescribed period may also be able to file. They must provide evidence they had exposure to the contaminated water and subsequently developed a medical condition.
Many people have questions about the Camp Lejeune Justice Act since it is new and mostly untested. One common question is if a person could file a wrongful death claim for a loved one who died due to Camp Lejeune exposure. The law allows a personal representative to file on behalf of a deceased loved one in a wrongful death case. Surviving family members may recover losses no matter how long ago the decedent passed away.
Additionally, an individual may want to know how much they can recover. Camp Lejeune water contamination lawsuits award victims compensation for similar damages to a personal injury case. Unfortunately, that means the amounts vary greatly, and no one can guarantee how much you will receive.
You can get money for past and future medical expenses, pain and suffering, and loss of income. A settlement may include funeral, cremation, and probate costs if you file a wrongful death claim. A Camp Lejeune lawyer can help you determine the total losses you’ve suffered and ensure the government provides a fair settlement for you and your loved ones.
Can Someone Sue if They Had Exposure as a Baby?
Young children and even developing fetuses may suffer from the effects of contaminated water from Camp Lejeune. A study has shown the link between substances like TCE and congenital disabilities.
For instance, exposure during the first trimester of pregnancy increases the likelihood of an abnormality. Fetuses and children have an increased likelihood of various neural tube defects and childhood cancers like leukemia. The Department of VA has acknowledged a connection between birth abnormalities and childhood cancers and Camp Lejeune exposure.
Under the Camp Lejeune Justice Act, people in the womb or born at the military base are eligible for compensation. The victims would only need to prove their parents lived on the property for 30 days. Additionally, medical records linking their injuries to the contaminated water increase the chances of a settlement.
Nevertheless, Camp Lejeune lawsuits involving congenital disabilities and illnesses can be complex. A lawyer can make the process more efficient by knowing how to collect evidence and what evidence to collect to prove the connection and show the evidence of exposure.
Camp Lejeune Settlement Amounts
Thousands of victims now have the right to sue the government for the severe effects of Camp Lejeune’s unsafe water supply. Many wonder how much they would be able to get in a settlement since many years have passed. They can ask their lawyers about the possible value of their specific case, but each relies on the specific losses incurred.
Many variables go into the calculations for a Camp Lejeune lawsuit settlement. The primary factor is the amount of money you spend on treating your condition. Additionally, your lawyer may include the wages you lost because of medical treatment and long-term effects.
The type of illness you suffer from also impacts the potential value of your compensation. For example, Parkinson’s disease or specific cancer may be worth more than other health conditions. Additionally, the court may consider how far a disease has progressed. Someone might get more money if both kidneys are affected by cancer compared to only one.
Furthermore, your attorney may take the length of exposure into account. Someone is likely to suffer more severe symptoms if they have had contact with the chemicals for an extended period. You would need to provide records of your residence on the base to prove you suffered from prolonged exposure.
Every case is different, and lawyers cannot guarantee the outcome of a lawsuit. Nonetheless, your attorney will fight for your right to compensation for all you’ve lost. They can maximize the value of your case to ensure the settlement is fair in relation to your damages.
How to Start a Camp Lejeune Lawsuit
A lawsuit against the federal government is different from other personal injury suits. Before you can begin your case officially, you must send an administrative claim to the correct agency. In the document, you should include the facts of the case and the damages you plan to claim.
Then, the federal agency will review what you have sent. The department has no later than six months to respond. The ruling may agree with your claim and offer payment. Alternatively, the government could deny your allegations and offer the opportunity to appeal.
Nevertheless, you should have a lawyer by your side to ensure a smooth claims process. An experienced Camp Lejeune attorney can help you prepare and submit your administrative claim and prepare for a lawsuit. Camp Lejeune claims are complicated and require detail and precision to ensure you don’t risk losing the compensation you need and deserve. Contact an attorney today for your free consultation and claim your Camp Lejeune compensation before your time expires.