Decades Later, Victims Can Finally Get Their Day in Court
For over thirty years, service members and their families living at the Camp Lejeune military base in Jacksonville, North Carolina drank and bathed in water contaminated with highly toxic volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Over a million residents at the base were exposed to toxics at levels up to 300 times above the safety limit. An estimated 500,000 people—including children—have developed illnesses linked to the contamination, including various cancers, renal toxicity, autoimmune diseases, infertility, and more.
Until now, legal loopholes made it nearly impossible for victims to receive legal compensation for their suffering. But on August 2nd, the U.S. Senate passed the Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act, which will expand health benefits for millions of veterans sickened by burn pits on U.S. military bases. The PACT Act encompasses the Camp Lejeune Justice Act, which will allow anyone who lived or worked at Camp Lejeune for at least thirty days between 1953 and 1987 to file a claim against the U.S. government.
President Biden, a vocal supporter of the PACT Act, signed it into law on August 10, 2022.
Justice is Here—Decades Too Late for Many
Beginning in 1953, leaking underground storage tanks, industrial area spills, and waste disposal sites, as well as a nearby dry cleaner, contaminated two of Camp Lejeune ’s water treatment plants. Documents also revealed that the Marine Corps routinely dumped toxic fluids which leached into the groundwater and contaminated a well. The U.S. government didn’t begin testing Camp Lejeune’s drinking water until 1980, and in 1982, they identified VOCs in the water supply. It was another three years before the most contaminated wells were shut down, but the water wasn’t deemed safe until 1987. In 1999, those exposed were finally notified—17 years after the contamination was discovered. The government has yet to provide an explanation for this delay.
New Legal Options
Those harmed by the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune had previously been unable to pursue legal action against the government because North Carolina is the only state with a ten-year statue of repose for claimants to file a lawsuit. The Camp Lejeune Justice Act will lift this restriction. Even more importantly, the Act prevents the government from asserting immunity in order to avoid litigation.
New Healthcare Benefits
The PACT Act is the biggest expansion of veterans’ benefits since the Agent Orange Act of 1991. It will allocate a projected $280 billion over the next ten years to treat service members who may have been sickened by exposure to burn pits. This funding will benefit nearly 3.5 million veterans. The PACT Act will also give presumptive benefits status for 23 respiratory illnesses and cancers believed to be linked to exposure to the toxic smoke. Additionally, the Act will have a dedicated fund that will not be subject to the annual congressional spending process, ensuring that veterans will get the care they need, uninterrupted by bureaucratic red tape.
The PACT Act is the biggest victory for Camp Lejeune victims yet. In 2019, the Janey Ensminger Act became law, expanding healthcare eligibility to military members who showed evidence that they lived at Camp Lejeune during the contamination period—previous laws placed the burden on victims to prove that their illnesses were caused by the contamination. In 2017, the Obama administration agreed to provide $2 billion in disability benefits to veterans harmed by the contaminated water at the Camp. The new law greatly expands the presumptive conditions that are covered, which include serious health issues such as Parkinson’s disease, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, multiple myeloma, bladder cancer, liver cancer, kidney, cancer and adult leukemia according to the CDC.
How Napoli Shkolnik can help?
While we cannot undo the decades of suffering endured by the service members serving their country, it is a relief that their sacrifice will finally be honored with streamlined access to medical benefits and legal recourse. If you were harmed by the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune, now is an ideal time to meet with an environmental toxins attorney to learn more about how you can get the compensation you deserve.