In the first month since new legislation removed a lot of the obstacles facing individuals seeking compensation after suffering illnesses incurred as a result of water contamination at Camp Lejeune, about 5,000 claims were filed.
Military personnel and their family members who lived and worked at Camp Lejeune between 1953 and 1987 who have incurred certain illnesses as a result of contaminated drinking water can seek compensation by filing a civil claim against the U.S. Government. If you are eligible to file a claim, one of the many questions you likely have is: How long does a Camp Lejeune water contamination claim take?
The short answer to the question is that you must respond to the claim—once you file with the Office of the Judge Advocate General (JAG)—within six months. However, there is some preparation involved before the claim can be filed, and if the claim is denied, the process of litigation can also add to the amount it takes to resolve the claim. Here is a look at the various steps involved in seeking compensation through a Camp Lejeune water contamination lawyer.
Camp Lejeuen Claim Guide
- The Camp Lejeune Water Contamination Claims Process
- About the Water Contamination that Occurred at Camp Lejeune
- Where the Exposure Occurred
- Fighting for the Rights Of Those Exposed to Water Contamination at Camp Lejeune
The Camp Lejeune Water Contamination Claims Process
The Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022 was signed into law in August, 2002, giving veterans and their family members the right to file civil lawsuits against the federal government for harm caused by at least 30 days of exposure, including exposure in-utero, to the drinking water at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, between August 1, 1953 to December 31, 1987.
The law not only prevents the government from inserting immunity, which previously barred lawsuits from going forward, but also overrides North Carolina’s 10-year statute of repose on personal injury claims related to Camp Lejeune water contamination. While these two features of the act make it possible for civil claims to be filed, the process is still extraordinarily complex for most individuals to handle on their own. Here are the various phases of the process.
The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) believes that as many as one million people—including servicemembers and their families—were exposed to water contamination at Camp Lejeune that was caused by a combination of conditions including improper waste disposal practices at a neighboring off-base dry cleaning firm, as well as from other sources including industrial area spills, leaking storage tanks, and waste disposal sites.
Impacted individuals now have a two-year filing window to submit their claims, and it is estimated that up to 500,000 claims can be filed during that time. If these estimates hold true, it could result in the largest civil case in U.S. history.
Determining If You Can File a Claim
The first step in the process of filing a claim is determining if you qualify.
Those who may file a claim include:
- Anyone who lived, worked, or was otherwise exposed to Camp Lejeune drinking water for at least 30 days within the eligible time frame. This includes military veterans who were serving at the camp between 1953-1987, family members who lived on the base, and civilian workers who were employed on the base.
- You have been diagnosed with one of the illnesses that is linked to the type of water contamination experienced at the camp. These illnesses include bladder cancer; brain and central nervous system cancers; breast cancers in women and men; cardiac birth defects; end-stage renal disease; esophageal cancer; female infertility; kidney cancer; leukemia; liver cancer; liver cirrhosis; low birth weight; lung cancer; miscarriage; multiple myeloma; non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL); ovarian cancer, pancreatic cancer; Parkinson’s disease; prostate cancer; rectal cancer; scleroderma; and soft tissue cancer.
A Camp Lejeune water contamination claim is not the same as seeking disability benefits for conditions resulting from that contamination. While benefits are available, only medical treatment of the condition and wage loss are covered by VA disability, while the psychological impacts of the illness, such as physical pain and suffering or emotional distress, are not compensable by the VA. However, if you are currently receiving VA disability as a result of Camp Lejeune water contamination, you can still seek compensation through the civil claims process.
Hiring an Attorney
Personal injury attorneys play a very crucial role in the Camp Lejeune water contamination claims, helping their clients to navigate a process that was only recently created. While filing a legal claim is difficult enough in other circumstances, the amount of medical documentation needed to prove a Camp Lejeune water contamination makes for a process that would overwhelm most people if they attempted to negotiate it without the legal experience and guidance of a Camp Lejeune water contamination attorney.
Personal injury attorneys provide two special services in order to ensure that anyone who needs their assistance has access. One of these services is a free case evaluation, which is time that an attorney sets aside to speak with potential clients about their situation, help them determine whether they’re eligible to file a claim, and provide them information about the services their legal team can provide.
The second service designed to provide access to an attorney’s service is the contingent fee billing method used by personal injury attorneys. This method allows you to withhold payment for your attorney’s services until compensation has been received for the claim either through the settlement process or a court decision.
Preparing the Claim
All claims must be filed using the Camp Lejeune Justice Act (CLJA) claim form and must include documentation that proves your presence at Camp Lejeune for at least 30 days during the eligible time period, as well as medical documentation that shows the diagnosis of one of the conditions associated with toxic exposure to the chemicals found to be present in Camp Lejeune’s drinking water system during that time.
Filing the Claim
Once the claim form has been completed and the supporting evidence has been gathered, the claim will be filed with JAG’s Tort Claims Unit (TCU) in Norfolk, VA. Upon receiving the claim, the unit has 180 days to respond.
There are two potential responses that can be made, including:
- An adjuster will offer to settle the claim out-of-court for less than its established value. Your attorney can negotiate in order to get them to increase the offer to a level that will fairly compensate you for the financial and psychological costs of your injury.
- An adjuster will deny the claim either outright or by failing to respond.
Filing a Camp Lejeune Lawsuit
If the TCU claims adjusters fail to compensate your claim, it can be filed as a civil lawsuit in court within two years of the date on which the claim filing window opened, which occurred on August 10, 2022. It is important to ensure that the lawsuit is filed within that time frame as failing to do so will likely result in the loss of your ability to seek compensation for the impacts and expenses of your illness through the court process.
Even when a lawsuit is filed, it is still likely that the claim will be resolved through a settlement. However, it is important to hire a Camp Lejeune attorney to assist you who is familiar and comfortable both with settlement negotiations as well as litigation in order to receive fair compensation for your illness.
About the Water Contamination that Occurred at Camp Lejeune
As explained by Justice for Lejeune—a coalition of individuals and veteran service organizations—in 1982, the U.S. Marine Corps learned that military service members, their families, and civilian workers at the camp had all been exposed to toxic chemicals that had been present in the base water supply for decades. This toxic exposure involved four core chemicals, as well as 70 secondary chemicals.
The four core chemicals included:
- Trichloroethylene (TCE), which is commonly used by dry cleaners as a spot remover, and is also used in other applications such as making refrigerants, degreasers for metal parts, and certain household cleaning products. Repeated exposure to TCE has been linked to kidney cancer and also bears a possible link to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
- Tetrachloroethylene (PCE), which is also used as a dry cleaning agent as well as a metal degreasing solvent. This chemical has been associated with the development of several types of cancer, as well as kidney damage.
- Vinyl chloride (VC), which is commonly used to make PVC products. Exposure to VC is linked to the development of several types of cancer, including cancers of the liver, brain, and lung, as well as immune system cancers such as lymphoma and leukemia.
- Benzene, which is a naturally occurring ingredient in crude oil and gasoline. It is widely used in the U.S. and ranks among the top 20 chemicals for production volume. It is also commonly found in detergents, lubricants, and pesticides. The long-term effects of benzene exposure include blood cancers such as leukemia or multiple myeloma, as well as female fertility problems, low birth weight in infants, and birth defects.
Where the Exposure Occurred
In the 1980s, it was discovered that two of the water treatment plants supplying drinking water on base had been contaminated. The Tarawa Terrace Treatment Plant and the Hadnot Point plant were responsible for providing drinking water for enlisted family housing, barracks for unmarried service members, schools, base administrative offices, and recreation areas. Additionally, the Hadnot plant served the base hospital and industrial area regularly until 1972 and periodically after that time.
The U.S. Navy requested that the National Research Council (NRC) conduct a review to determine whether the contamination was associated with adverse symptoms that were occurring among veterans and family members who had been present at the site. The council conducted three public meetings in 2007-2008 including two in Washington, DC, and one at Camp Lejeune.
Many of those who met with the council were suffering from serious diseases or had lost loved ones. Individuals who met with the committee often expressed frustration that the military had not done what was needed to assist them after they incurred serious illnesses with an emerging link to the water contamination.
At the time of the NRC’s report in 2009, 750 claims had been filed against the government, in spite of serious choke-points in the process, including North Carolina’s statute of repose that bars claims from being filed more than 10 years after the injury occurred, as well as the government’s sovereign immunity over civil claims.
Ultimately, the NRC determined that it did not have enough information in 2009 to definitively link adverse health outcomes to the toxic exposure that occurred at Camp Lejeune due to the contaminated water supply. It would take many more studies for that link to be developed and efforts of many individuals and organizations to convince members of both the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives to support legislation that would allow for these claims to go forward.
Fighting for the Rights Of Those Exposed to Water Contamination at Camp Lejeune
With 5,000 claims filed in the first month of the two-year filing window and an estimated 500,000 people potentially eligible to file a claim, the attorneys who are helping claimants seek compensation for the expenses and impacts of illnesses incurred as a result of toxic water contamination expect to be busy over the next two years.
It remains to be seen whether JAG can hold to its six-month deadline to resolve all claims as more start rolling in. Those who believe they are eligible are encouraged to discuss their situation with an experienced Camp Lejeune water contamination attorney as soon as possible.