Enlisting in the United States Marine Corps is the ultimate patriotic sacrifice, a commitment that the Marine is willing to risk bodily harm or death for one’s country.
That risk is not supposed to come from the faucet.
Yet it did, for decades at Camp Lejeune, a sprawling complex in Jacksonville, North Carolina that’s home to more than 100,000 Marines, employees, retirees, and their families.
Between 1953 and 1987, as many as a million Marines, Navy sailors, their families, and other Camp Lejeune residents were at risk of exposure to highly contaminated tap water on the base. Toxins found at hugely elevated levels in Camp Lejeune water are linked to multiple kinds of cancer, birth defects, leukemia, infertility, and Parkinson’s disease, among other ailments.
Drinking water at Camp Lejeune was poisoned by multiple contributors, including a dry cleaning operation, and the leaking of storage containers of cleaning solvents and jet fuel into wells that served the base. These poisoned the water used daily by unsuspecting Marines, Navy sailors, and their families, including more than 10,000 newborn babies.
Camp Lejeune Cancer Cluster
Camp Lejeune is only the third confirmed cancer cluster in United States history.
Various lab tests dating back to 1980 have found elevated levels of dangerous chemicals in the Camp Lejeune water supply, including those linked to elevated risks of certain types of cancer.
After many years of under-reporting and outright denial by base leadership and other authorities, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) issued a definitive report in 2017.
The ATSDR findings indicated the presence of substances, including vinyl chloride, benzene, perchlorethylene, and trichlorethylene, all acknowledged to be carcinogenic by Veterans Affairs (VA).
These and other Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) were found in high concentrations in Camp Lejeune water, in some cases at hundreds of times the amount considered safe for exposure. A typical Marine drinks an estimated 30 liters of water per week, according to the ATSDR study, and the median posting at Camp Lejeune lasted 18 months.
Because Marines tend to be healthier and have access to better medical care than the general public, recent assessments have sought to compare Camp Lejeune health outcomes to those of their peers. The results leave little doubt of the effect of the tainted water.
When compared to Camp Pendleton base in California, those who had lived at Camp Lejeune were found to have higher cancer rates in 16 out of 21 kinds of cancer, and a 10 percent higher cancer mortality rate. In one example, someone at Camp Lejeune was 35 percent more likely to suffer from kidney cancer than their Camp Pendleton counterparts.
Qualifying Conditions Related to Camp Lejeune Water Exposure
Medical conditions potentially tied to exposure to Camp Lejeune tap water are broken down into three categories. The first, called “presumptive cases,” are those where a causal relationship between exposure and illness is presumed, according to scientific literature recognized by Veterans Affairs.
The following conditions fall under the presumptive category:
- Bladder Cancer
- Cardiac Birth Defects
- Kidney Cancer
- Kidney Disease
- Liver Cancer
- Multiple Myeloma
- Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma
- Parkinson’s Disease
- Systemic Sclerosis/scleroderma
Other conditions that may have developed due to exposure to water at Camp Lejeune include, but are not limited to:
- Breast Cancer
- Esophageal Cancer
- Hepatic Steatosis
- Brain/CNS Cancers
- Pancreatic Cancer
- Prostate Cancer
- Rectal Cancer
- Female Infertility
- Lung Cancer
- Aplastic Anemia and other Myelodysplastic Syndromes
- Neurobehavioral Effects
Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022
The road to potential legal justice for those sickened from exposure on base has been a long one. Military and federal experts at first denied the dangers posed to those who had lived at Camp Lejeune.
In 2012, in a long overdue acknowledgment of the hazards of serving at Camp Lejeune, Congress passed a law extending free medical care to veterans and their families. About five years later, the Obama administration approved $2.2 billion in cash benefits to eligible veterans.
Crucially, these federal efforts affected only veterans themselves, and not civilians or family members. The money allotted was minimal compared to the demand from those exposed during four decades at Camp Lejeune.
In 2019, the U.S. Navy dismissed thousands of claims seeking nearly $1 trillion in benefits, citing a North Carolina law that prohibited lawsuits for injuries suffered more than 10 years prior. The law’s invocation seemed especially cruel to those who had first learned of their exposure in 1999, when the Marines initially informed former residents of Camp Lejeune.
Camp Lejeune Administrative Claims
After years of legislative wrangling, in August 2022 Congress passed the Camp Lejeune Justice Act. Under the law, any person – including service members, civilians, and family members – who spent more than 30 days at Camp Lejeune between August 1953 and December 1987 is eligible to file an administrative claim for benefits. The 30 days spent there does not need to be consecutive.
Eligible claims must be filed within two years of the signing of the Camp Lejeune Justice Act, which occurred on August 10, 2022. Claims are to be filed with the Office of the Judge Advocate General of the Navy. Lawsuits may be filed if an administrative claim is dismissed, or if six months have passed from the date of the filing. Unlike most actions against the government, plaintiffs are entitled to a jury trial to hear their case.
The legislation does not allow for punitive benefits, and any compensation paid out will first subtract the value of related coverage received through the VA, Medicare, or Medicaid. Compensation must be related to health care, disability, or wrongful death connected to Camp Lejeune water contamination.
Individuals are able to file an administrative claim in their own capacity. However, Johnson//Becker strongly encourages each individual to seek legal counsel before filing an initial claim. Once a claimant enters a sum of their damages as part of an administrative claim, that is the maximum amount that can be pursued in a subsequent civil action. For this reason, it’s important to submit properly completed paperwork and to seek the appropriate amount the first time.
Questions about a Camp Lejeune Water Lawsuit? Contact a Johnson//Becker lawyer today for a free case review.
If you or a loved one was harmed by contaminated water at Camp Lejeune, you may want to speak with attorneys at Johnson//Becker.
We offer a free case evaluation. Please contact us using the form below, or by calling directly (800)-279-6386. We would be honored to speak with you and respond promptly to every inquiry we receive.