Only a month after the Camp Lejeune Justice Act became law and opened the door to legal recourse for veterans, an estimated 5,000 claims have been filed with the Navy’s Judge Advocate General’s Corps over health issues stemming from contaminated water at the Marine Corps base in North Carolina.
Administrative claims made possible by the recent legislation were filed with the Department of the Navy’s JAG Corps in Norfolk, Virginia. The claims are the required first step before a civil Camp Lejeune lawsuit can be filed against the federal government.
The Camp Lejeune Justice Act is part of the much broader $300 billion Honoring out PACT Act of 2022, the most comprehensive toxic exposure legislation ever passed for U.S. military veterans and their families.
Until the legislation was passed, the federal government had immunity protections that prohibited any civil lawsuits from moving forward at Camp Lejeune, denying those harmed from seeking compensation. The act also overrides a long-standing state law in North Carolina that prohibited filing claims after 10 years, preventing many of those harmed from seeking compensation.
It is expected to spark a flood of legal action, potentially becoming one of the largest individual tort litigations in U.S. history.
An estimated 1 million people – from 1953 to 1987 – were potentially exposed in the Camp Lejeune area to the worst contamination of a public water system in American history.
“The system is going to be filled with claims,” New York City attorney Daniel Wasserberg told Consumer Notice. “This was landmark legislation that seeks to redress mistakes made in the past.”
Camp Lejeune Lawsuits Don’t Impact VA Benefits
Litigants have up to two years to file claims based on health issues stemming from the Camp Lejeune water contamination. Anyone who worked, resided or was otherwise exposed, including in-utero exposure, for at least 30 days between Aug. 1, 1953, and Dec. 31, 1987, is eligible.
It includes active-duty personnel, National Guard members, Army Reserve, family members and local citizens.
Before the bill was passed, the Congressional Budget Office estimated it would cost $7 billion to compensate those harmed at Camp Lejeune, although several experienced attorneys are predicting a significantly higher number.
According to JAG, filing a claim will not impact Veterans Administration disability benefits that many from Camp Lejeune already are receiving.
VA Mishandled Camp Lejeune Disability Claims
One reason for the early surge in legal filings, and the expected avalanche of claims in the coming months, was the mishandling of earlier claims by the VA.
According to a recent report from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Office of Inspector General, almost 40% of recent disability claims from Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune were processed incorrectly.
From 2017 to 2021, the VA mishandled more than 21,000 disability claims involving water contamination, according to the report, which was first made public Aug. 25.
Data from the Veterans Benefits Administration shows that 57,500 disability compensation claims related to Camp Lejeune were filed during that four-year period, and 71% of them were denied.
Mistakes made by the VA have increased the focus on the long-awaited Camp Lejeune Justice Act. Under this new legislation, individuals will be subject to a lowered burden of proof that they were harmed in any way, making it easier to show that their health issue or injury was related to the toxic water where they lived.
Camp Lejeune Water Contamination Caused Multiple Health Issues
The Centers for Disease Control has linked the contaminants found at Camp Lejeune to bladder cancer, liver cancer, kidney cancer, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, adult leukemia and Parkinson’s disease, among other health problems.
Initial claims filed with the Office of the Judge Advocate General should include:
- Dates of residence or employment at Camp Lejeune
- Details about exposure to the toxic water
- Dates of diagnosis, with health condition or disease
- Medical treatment and outcome
- Impact on one’s life, including mental and economic conditions
- A financial compensation request
After the claim is filed, JAG will have six months to either accept or deny the claim. Only then can a federal lawsuit be filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina.