About 14,000 claims submitted by veterans, military family members and others injured by contaminants have already been filed since the Act came into effect. As well, members of the British armed forces also spent time at the camp. This number likely only represents a fraction of the total number of claims that will be pursued for Camp Lejeune water contamination settlements, a spokesperson for the U.S. Navy Judge Advocate’s General’s (JAG) Corps confirmed, according to a recent NationalWorld report. Taking into consideration that more than a million Marines and their family members were exposed to contaminated Camp Lejeune water between the early 1950s and late 1980s, and given the number of claims filed so far, Camp Lejeune water contamination could become the largest mass litigation in US history.
Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022 and Red Tape
However, only fraction of claims has resulted in actual lawsuits filed in Court, because the Act requires that complainants exhaust settlement options and even then a complaint can only be filed if the U.S. Government fails to resolve the claim within six months after notice of the claim is presented. Last December (just days after President Biden signed the new legislation) a federal judge dismissed several Camp Lejeune lawsuits because the plaintiffs failed to wait the required six months before bringing their claim in Court, reported About Lawsuits. Despite plaintiffs’ arguing that they already exhausted the administrative Camp Lejeune settlement options when they submitted their claims years ago, the U.S. District Judge determined that they must still have their claims evaluated by the U.S. Government under the new cause of action created by the Act.
Toxic chemicals from Camp Lejeune are believed by many experts to be responsible for more than 50,000 cases of breast cancer, 28,000 cases of bladder cancer, and 24,000 cases of renal cancer, various other cancers and Parkinson’s disease. Camp Lejeune water may be responsible for birth defects and miscarriages. The main chemicals found in the water were Trichloroethylene (TCE), Tetrachloroethylene (PCE), Vinyl chloride (VC), and Benzene, all of which are known or thought to be likely carcinogens. It transpired that the water was contaminated with chemicals up to 280 times higher than the safe exposure limits. A personal injury lawyer told National World that, “As long as you were on the base for any 30 days, and not even a consecutive 30 days, you are presumed to have consumed enough water that if you have certain diseases, mostly cancers you can be presumed to have been exposed.” He went on: “I think this may be a bit wider than just simply United States Marines and their families. Because there are birth defects, there are all kinds of things. So this affected generations.”
From 1953 to 1987, marines and their families stationed at the main base and surrounding areas drank and bathed in contaminated water. The main chemicals found in two wells at the base were Trichloroethylene (TCE), Tetrachloroethylene (PCE), Vinyl chloride (VC), and Benzene, all of which are known or thought to be likely carcinogens. Testing revealed that the water was contaminated with chemicals up to 280 times higher than the safe exposure limits.
In 1999 the US Marine Corps (USMC) began to notify former base residents that they might have consumed contaminated water, but the U.S. federal government waited until 2009 to investigate the allegations of contaminated water and failures by US Marine officials to do anything about it. By early 2014 the the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the Camp’s contaminated water significantly increased the risk of possibly contracting multiple diseases.
Filing Camp Lejeune Claim
This new legislation means that veterans and their families can file a complaint if they had developed serious illnesses from water contamination. The action is available to those who were exposed for at least 30 days, and they have until 10 August 2024 to file claims. WECT News reported in January 2023 that Jason Johns, chair of BMBFC Law’s Military Advisory Board, told a VFW town hall meeting that “Anybody who was at Camp Lejeune between August 1, 1953, and December 31, 1987, who consumed that water for 30 days or more, they’re eligible to file for that claim as long as they’ve got a condition that’s been diagnosed.”
Although the U.S. Government has acknowledged that toxic chemicals contaminated the Camp Lejeune water for decades, the new law still places the burden of proof on individual plaintiffs to establish that their specific injury was caused by the toxic water.