Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, has been one of the country’s largest United States Marine Corps training facilities. Lately, it has come into the news because of recent legislation. A bill was signed into law protecting the rights of nearly a million Marines who lived and worked at the base between 1953 and 1987.
Between these years, residents and workers at Camp Lejeune were exposed to harmful chemicals in the drinking water supply. Until recently, nothing much had been done to compensate them for damages and losses from exposure to these toxins.
After a myriad of health problems, diseases, and deaths, Marines and Sailors stationed at Camp Lejeune and their families have finally gotten the legislative attention they deserve. President Biden signed into law the PACT Act and the Camp Lejeune Justice Act, which allow victims and their families to sue for monetary compensation, health benefits, and other awards.
If you or your family members lived or worked at Camp Lejeune between August 1, 1953, and December 31, 1987, you could be entitled to compensation. The big question is, how much of this $400 billion allotment are you entitled to?
What Happened at Camp Lejeune?
To understand the severity of these damages, you need to know what happened at this military installation to warrant a series of Acts signed into law. For decades, people were hurt by the pollutants in the water at Camp Lejeune, and almost nothing was done. When concerns about the harmful effects of toxins in the water became apparent, they had already exceeded the ten-year statute of limitations in the state of North Carolina, and almost nothing was being done about how it affected those who were hurt.
An Environmental Crisis
Due to a perfect storm of conditions leading to the river water supplying Camp Lejeune, the river was contaminated for over fifty years by chemicals such as benzene, perchloroethylene (PCE), and trichloroethylene (TCE), as well as elemental mercury, and even fuel.
Improper disposal, leaking storage tanks, and other spills were blamed for the pollution, much of which originated from dry cleaning chemicals. People used this water every day to bathe, cook, and drink. Testing in the area revealed upwards of 400 times the acceptable levels of these toxins in the water supply.
The Lasting Effects
These chemicals affect living organisms in a variety of negative ways. The PACT Act and Camp Lejeune Justice Act include 23 specific diseases and conditions for victims exposed to contaminated water for at least 30 days.
This is a list of how people exposed to these contaminants were affected and the various diseases that afflicted them and their loved ones.
- Pancreatic cancer
- Prostate cancer
- Breast cancer
- Bladder cancer
- Brain cancer
- Kidney cancer
- Lymphoma (both Hodgkin’s and Non-Hodgkin’s)
- Lung cancer
- Ovarian cancer
- Cervical cancer
- Myelodysplastic syndrome
- Liver cancer
- Esophageal cancer
- Rectal cancer
- Birth defects
- Childhood cancer
- Central Nervous System Cancer (CNSC)
- Parkinson’s disease
- Immune disorders
- And many others
Treatment and Expense
The list of diseases is hardly minor, with many being painful, debilitating, and fatal over time. The children lost due to birth defects, the spouses who lived in the area, and the Marines directly exposed due to being stationed in the region faced challenges with disease, pain and suffering, and the expense of treatment. Cancers especially create long-term health concerns requiring extensive treatment and often rear their ugly heads years after exposure to the source of the disease.
Chemotherapy, radiation therapy, surgeries, and other medical procedures are laborious and painful. When dealing with these treatments, it is hard just to get up in the morning and face the day, much less wading through red tape, paperwork, and unreturned letters and phone calls—usually resulting in a denial of coverage.
The nature of these ailments and the scope over decades is enough to warrant litigation. But due to the nature of where all of this was happening, the hands of the victims were often tied. The negligence alone called for someone to advocate on behalf of the victims. The seriousness of their illnesses required a lot of money and resources, which were not allocated.
The Failure of the System
Not only is the duration of the time people exposed to these pollutants concerning, but also how the matter was handled. When people enlist in the military, they do not have a choice of where to live.
Complaints about health conditions reported to the VA were either held in a state of bureaucratic limbo or flat-out denied and rejected for years when Marines and their families reported sickness, even when the levels of pollutants were investigated and deemed unsafe.
Those living and working on the country’s largest Marine training base were exposed to these contaminants for years. They, or their loved ones, developed oddly specific cancers and other health conditions directly related to these pollutants. Many of these people succumbed to their illnesses, leaving their families with almost no compensation.
It is estimated that nearly a million people have been affected over the years. To add insult to injury, even once these conditions were made known and the effects painfully obvious, the government claimed it would be too difficult to notify everyone who was potentially affected by these toxins.
Even then, the government ignored or rejected claims, and only the servicemen could claim compensation from the VA. Their families were largely ignored. The procedural stance on claims seemed to follow a credo of “deny, deny, deny” rather than Semper Fidelis.
The Subject Matter Experts, or SMEs, associated with the VA who were in charge of researching and documenting these cases were determined to be unqualified in many cases. Only general practitioners were used—when they needed cancer specialists and experts in environmentally sourced diseases. The matter was swept under the rug and ignored, and the eventual legislature addressing these concerns was too late.
Efforts at Compensation
Some of the victims of this environmental disaster stuck to their guns for years. Eventually, the government acknowledged their liability for what had happened. Despite the 10-year statute of limitations, in 2011, the Janey Ensminger Act passed into law, named for a family member of one of the service members stationed at Camp Lejeune who died at nine years old from water contamination.
The act allowed compensation for losses and damages to service members and their immediate family members who had been affected. Later legislation provided a budget of about $2 billion for claims, but these claims were often rejected or delayed so long that the victims died before they saw any compensation. Only a small number of the known diseases and cancers were even allowed for awarded compensation to boot.
The PACT Act and Camp Lejeune Justice Act
With added pressure from the media, local attorneys, and celebrity litigators, the government found itself under a lot of pressure to make an effort to set things right. The veterans, families, and those who served faithfully in the military had been abandoned by the system—left to deal with the aftermath of negligence, bureaucratic red tape, and diseases they had dealt with for years.
The PACT Act and Camp Lejeune Justice Act provide benefits such as medical treatment, healthcare, disability compensation, and even monetary compensation for injury, death, and disability as a result of exposure to the tainted water supply at Camp Lejeune.
Not only were enlisted personnel entitled to compensation, but their loved ones were as well. Before, very few qualified for benefits, but the budget increased to $400 billion, up from $2 billion just a few years before.
This opened the floodgates when it came to who could expect compensation—when before, anyone who sought help from the VA was often met with an uphill battle, if not a flat-out denial of compensation. Now victims of these conditions could enlist the help of an attorney who could fight for their rights and pursue compensation.
One of the biggest challenges of making this travesty right has been the long-reaching effects. The sheer number of people exposed to these contaminants and the scale of the numbers of diseases, conditions, and yet-to-be-seen health conditions is mind-boggling in its scope.
Currently, nearly a million service people and their families are estimated, but this number can continue to increase as more is known about what happened and in what ways. Due to the experience many have had with the VA system, possible victims have been reluctant to come forward to seek compensation—if they are still alive.
Their families were up against such a brick wall for years so long that they might feel too weary to continue the fight.
Right now, the law allows an opportunity to fight this system that has failed the veterans it was designed to protect. Suppose you or a loved one lived or worked in Camp Lejeune between 1953 and 1987. In that case, you could seek compensation for illnesses, health problems, losses due to cancers, mysterious health conditions, or other issues stemming from the toxins in the drinking water of this military installation.
Service to your country often means sacrifice, but in this case, it does not have to mean sacrificing your health and life for something you should have been protected from.
Make It Simpler
Seeking compensation in legal matters such as these is never easy. This is why you need help from a skilled attorney who knows how to navigate the legal landscape from mediation to a jury trial, if possible. Your attorney can gather information such as establishing your presence at Camp Lejeune during these times, associating your medical conditions with the contaminants and list of diseases and problems allowed by the Acts, and build a case for you.
A lawyer can complete all of these arduous and time-consuming things for you. When you are fighting for your health, recovering from the grief of the death of a loved one, or being forced to choose between having a place to live or life-saving treatments, an attorney can help work through the system to argue your case.
How Much Compensation Will I Receive?
An attorney will better understand how much compensation you can receive for your losses and damages. Compensation for medical treatments, lost time at work, loss of wages while on disability, pain and suffering, physical therapy, rehabilitation, burial expenses, and loss of future wages due to the death of a provider are all taken into account. There is no way of knowing exactly how much compensation you will receive until a settlement amount is offered or a judge determines the award after a trial.
An attorney can use their experience to fight for an appropriate amount to cover your losses. They can provide a better idea of what to expect, rather than the amounts disclosed by the press, which might not be typical or adequately represent what you could expect in your case. The amount of compensation depends on many factors and could range from thousands to millions depending on your case.
Contact a Personal Injury Attorney
Contact a personal injury attorney who is not afraid to take on big businesses, local, or even the federal government to ensure their client’s rights are protected. Hiring an attorney generally provides a higher award for damages and losses than attempting to handle a case without professional legal representation. Even though laws have been enacted to protect the rights of those injured, an attorney can take away much uncertainty.
Contact a personal injury attorney for a free consultation if you were at Camp Lejeune. You may be entitled to compensation for medical expenses, damages, loss of loved ones, and other life-changing events. Your voice needs to be heard, and an attorney will help. Veterans are trained to fight enemies, both foreign and domestic. We must protect them in turn against injustices that hurt them and their loved ones, and compensate them to the greatest extent the law allows.