After years of denials by the government, Camp LeJeune veterans and their families–who were exposed to cancer-causing toxins on the military base–may be on the brink of getting their day in court.
In a long-overdue action, the House of Representatives recently passed H.R. 3967, the Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act (Honoring Our PACT Act), a broad bipartisan bill that addresses the needs of veterans subjected to toxic exposure. Yesterday, on June 16, 2022, the Senate passed an amended version of the Act. Importantly for Camp LeJeune veterans, this bill includes the Camp LeJeune Justice Act of 2022.
The Camp Lejeune Toxic Water Contamination
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) determined that from 1953 to 1987, approximately 900,000 servicemen and women, family members, and civilians working at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina were exposed to toxic drinking water. The water throughout the base was contaminated with Trichloroethylene (TCE), Perchloroethylene (PCE), Benzene, Vinyl chloride, and other toxic chemicals at levels ranging from 240 to 3,400 times the levels permitted by safety standards. These toxic chemicals are linked to an increased risk of certain cancers and other serious illnesses.
Although the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is supposed to provide disability benefits to affected marines and family members with diseases linked to the chemicals at Camp LeJeune, most filings are denied for various reasons. According to a report by CBS News, the VA said its overall rate of approval for claims from Camp Lejeune averages only 17%.
To add insult to injury, a provision in North Carolina law– which required a cancer to have been diagnosed within 10 years of toxic exposure–prevented marines and their families from filing a lawsuit in court. The combination of these two factors has left many veterans and their families without access to justice.
The Camp Lejeune Justice Act is poised to correct this injustice and provide a legal pathway for affected veterans and their families to pursue compensation for illnesses resulting from their toxic exposure on base. The law will cover all active-duty personnel, reserve and National Guard members, along with family members.
What Happens if the Honoring Our PACT Act Becomes Law?
If the Senate passes the Honoring our PACT Act (which includes the Camp LeJeune Justice Act of 2022) and the President signs it into law, marines, their families, and civilian personnel who were exposed to toxic drinking water at Camp Lejeune will be able to file a claim for damages in the Eastern District of North Carolina against the United States government. Claimants must have been exposed for at least 30 days between August 1, 1953, and December 31, 1987. They must also prove a connection between their illness or injuries and the chemicals which contaminated the Camp’s water. This will most likely require the testimony of an expert witness who can explain to the judge or jury that the condition was caused, at least in part, by exposure to the contaminated water. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the following illnesses are potentially associated with the toxic water at Camp LeJeune. (Please understand that cancers and illnesses other than these may also be compensable under the new law).
- Kidney cancer
- Liver cancer
- Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
- Adult leukemia (leukemia developed after exposure at Camp Lejeune)
- Multiple myeloma
- Parkinson’s disease
- Myelodysplastic syndromes
- Bladder cancer
- Breast Cancer
- Esophageal cancer
- Female infertility
- Hepatic steatosis
- Lung cancer
- Renal toxicity
Importantly, the Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022 also allows the representative of a person who was exposed to the contaminated water to bring a case on behalf of their loved one. This impacts people who have family members who passed away from an illness they developed as a result of toxic exposure, as well as those whose family members suffered from the harmful effects of exposure before passing away from another cause.
Several other provisions of the bill include:
- An individual may not bring an action before complying with section 2675 of title 28, United States Code. In other words, you must file a Federal Tort Claims Act first.
- Punitive Damages may not be awarded.
- Any award made to a claimant will be reduced by the amount of any disability award, payment, or benefit paid to the individual or legal representative.
- Under the terms of the Camp Lejeune Justice Act, injured parties must file a claim within two years of the Bill’s enactment or within 180 days after the date on which a claim is denied under section 2675 of title 28, United States Code.
If you or a loved one suffered due to toxic contamination at Camp LeJeune, you may soon be able to access justice in court. The experienced toxic tort attorneys at the Collins Law Firm will be able to assist you in understanding your rights. Call us at (630) 527-1595 or fill out our contact form for a FREE EVALUATION of your toxic tort claim now. Our Firm has been representing individuals, families, and communities impacted by toxic exposure for two decades, and we have recovered millions for our clients.
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