In this two-part series, personal injury attorney Jackie Houser will cover the Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act, which is where the Camp Lejeune Justice Act was born. Part 1 includes the impact of the PACT Act of 2022 that resulted in the largest VA benefits and health care expansion in history. Part 2 includes information regarding necessary steps to file a claim or join an existing class action suit before the statute of limitations expires.
Because of the unified voices of veterans, the PACT Act of 2022 expanded VA health care and benefits to not only those exposed to the burn pits in Iraq but also Vietnam veterans exposed to toxic gases used in Agent Orange and those exposed to the contaminated water supply at Camp Lejeune.
What sets the Camp Lejeune Justice Act apart from Agent Orange or the burn pits in Iraq is the length of time (over thirty years), the expansion of the reach (not just veterans affected), and the means of exposure (ingested rather than inhaled). The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services has estimated that as many as one million military members, civilian staff, and their families may have been exposed to the contaminated drinking water at Campe LeJeune between 1953 and 1987.
In 1982, the U.S. Marine Corps discovered one quarter of the water wells on Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune were contaminated with over 70 harmful chemicals at concentrations ranging from 340-2400 times the safe level of exposure. These water wells serviced barracks, family housing, daycares, schools, administrative buildings, industrial areas, and the base hospital.
Upon further investigation, the contamination was traced back to three primary sources: on-base divisions using harsh chemicals to clean military gear, underground fuel tanks on base leaking an estimated 800,000 gallons of fuel, and the waste disposal practices from a nearby off-base dry-cleaning facility.
There has been plenty of debate as to whether the actions and official communications from the Marine Corps and Department of the Navy were timely and appropriate between the discovery in 1982 and the removal of the contaminated water tanks in 1987. Since the initial discovery over 40 years ago, many subsequent investigations have taken place and hundreds of claims have been filed with the Department of the Navy.
How do you know if you have a claim?
The first requirement is for minimum contact at Camp Lejeune. The veteran, civilian contractor, or dependent must have spent at least 30 consecutive days at Camp Lejeune between 1953 and 1987.
The next requirement determines whether the illnesses suffered are among the presumptive illnesses. While there are numerous illnesses identified (e.g., numerous cancers, lymphoma, scleroderma, leukemia, infertility, miscarriage, neurobehavioral effects, etc.), there is the potential for additional illnesses to be added to the presumptive illness list (for example, Parkinson’s disease). The best advice is to allow an attorney to review the medical conditions and determine if it has been included or—more importantly—has not been excluded.
Finally, the filing may be made on behalf of a deceased family member who meets the prior criteria.
How to file a claim?
First, file a claim with the VA. There are several ways to do that including via their website, through the mail, or in person. More information can be found here.
After the VA responds to the claim, you will have to decide whether to accept their offer or seek further action. For instance, if the claim is denied or minimal assistance is offered, a decision must be made whether to proceed with legal action.
How do you determine whether or not you want to join a lawsuit?
Most of us would rather not get involved in a lawsuit, for a variety of reasons. But if you or a loved one has suffered from a severe illness from toxic exposure, you are bound to encounter significant medical fees. Between surgeries, treatment, hospital stays, long-term care, and other costs, the medical expenses can be enough to cripple a family financially. No amount of money can undo the wrong caused by exposure to toxins. What a lawsuit can do is provide financial security to your family and help bring attention to the larger problem. In addition to helping your own family get the compensation deserved, a lawsuit now may serve to protect current and future service members and their families.
How do you find the right attorney to represent you?
There are numerous law firms ready to help you get the compensation you deserve, but there are also plenty of “sharks in the water.” Some measures have been put in place to prevent predatory practices by limiting attorney fee percentages and the types of fees that can be collected (example: Protect Camp Lejeune VETS Act of 2023).
When you decide to seek legal advice, turn to people you trust to refer you to the right legal team. You want an advocate who has the manpower and capacity to treat your case with care and consideration. At Flexner Houser Injury Law, we are not taking on any of the Camp Lejeune cases, but we are ready to offer referrals and advice for anyone who may need it.
Remember, approximately $6.7 billion has been set aside for the Camp Lejeune Justice Act with only a window of two years to file from the date of it going into effect. In the first year alone, there are already around 6,000 claims filed. With limited time and limited funding available, it is best that you do not delay getting your claim started.
Camp Lejeune Information-VA Website
How file a VA Claim
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