On August 10th, 2022, President Biden signed into law H.R. 3967, the Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxins Act of 2022 (PACT Act). This bipartisan act was created to provide better healthcare and benefits to veterans who were exposed to toxic chemicals.
Section 804 of the act is also known as the Camp Lejeune Justice Act. It opened the door for veterans and individuals who lived or worked on the base or were otherwise exposed to the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune (including in-utero exposure) to file a claim against the U.S. government. This has raised many questions among those who believe they may have been affected and want to know whether they may have an opportunity to o pursue compensation. Here’s what you need to know about the issues with Camp Lejuene's water, the impact of the act, and how to move forward if you believe you may be eligible to file a suit.
Problems Caused by Exposure to Camp Lejeune’s Contaminated Water
For decades, the U.S. government has known that there were toxic chemicals in the drinking water at the Marine Corps Air Station New River and Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune. There were several incidents and circumstances that allowed these contaminants to enter the water supply, including industrial spills, leaking storage tanks, waste disposal sites, and more.
Not only were government officials aware that the concentrations of harmful chemicals were at times hundreds or even thousands of times greater than levels that are considered safe, but for many years, they hid the truth from the people who had been exposed - including the fine young men and women who honorably served our country.
Between approximately 1953 and 1987, individuals who served on these bases and lived or worked nearby were exposed to high levels of dangerous, disease-causing substances including trichloroethylene, vinyl chloride, tetrachloroethylene, and benzene.
This exposure increased the risk of developing several different types of cancer as well as a variety of other serious health complications. It also caused stillbirths, miscarriages, and serious birth defects among those who had been exposed.
State Laws Previously Prohibited Legal Action
While these issues have been going on for over 60 years, until the passing of the Camp Lejeune Justice Act, many affected individuals had no recourse, due to a legal loophole. Both Marine Corps Air Station New River and Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune are located in the state of North Carolina. This state has a unique law known as the statute of repose, which imposes a strict 10-year statute of limitations on claims against a polluter. This caused the automatic dismissal of many legitimate cases against the U.S. government, despite there being clear links between the water contamination at Camp Lejeune and the victim's illnesses, and the fact that many diseases took longer than 10 years to develop.
Before the passing of the PACT act, Veterans who developed health issues or illnesses connected to Camp Lejeune’s contaminated water had to file a claim through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). There were so many of these claims filed over the years that in 2017, the VA’s claim process was officially expanded to cover eight specific conditions linked to exposure to Camp Lejeune's toxic water.
While exposed veterans who later developed severe illnesses were sometimes able to get disability compensation through the VA, they could not receive compensation for their loss of quality of life, including pain and suffering. There was also no guarantee that an affected veteran would not be denied their disability claim. In addition, without the ability to sue, family members, children, and civilian workers who suffered a similar fate had no recourse at all.
The Impact of Camp Lejeune’s Justice Act
Now that the Camp Lejeune Justice Act has been signed into law, it bypasses North Carolina’s statute of repose, allowing victims who meet the eligibility requirements to seek reparations from the U.S. government. The bill also prevents the government from claiming “specified immunity” as a defense.
To be eligible to file a claim, individuals must have served at or lived on Camp Lejeune for at least 30 cumulative days between August 1953 and December 1987 and have been diagnosed with one of the following conditions:
- Bladder cancer
- Breast cancer
- Esophageal cancer
- Female infertility
- Hepatic steatosis
- Kidney cancer
- Lung cancer
- Multiple myeloma
- Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS)
- Neurobehavioral effects
- Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma
- Renal toxicity
Spouses, children, and other primary caregivers of affected individuals can also file a lawsuit on behalf of a loved one who meets the above criteria. This change in the law allows veterans and other affected individuals to seek justice and compensation outside the scope of VA disability health care benefits.
How to File a Claim for Exposure to Camp Lejeune’s Contaminated Water
If you believe you or a loved one has been impacted by exposure to Camp Lejeune’s contaminated water, it’s important to act quickly. We recommend you speak with an experienced attorney who specializes in working with veterans and military service members.
When filing a suit, you’ll need to provide sufficient evidence that exposure to the contaminated water caused or contributed to your health problems or illness. In addition, filing a claim and recovering compensation may not necessarily be quick or easy. However, a skilled attorney can help you navigate the process.
You Can Choose Your Attorney
Although all cases will eventually be consolidated and filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, you are not required to work with a North Carolina attorney. Instead, you are free to choose an attorney in any part of the country.
The team at Cooney and Conway has decades of experience fighting for the rights of individuals, including veterans and military members. To learn more about whether you may be eligible for compensation under the Camp Lejeune Justice Act or learn more about your options, contact us to schedule a free case evaluation.