On September 6, the U.S. Department of Justice and the Navy announced the “Elective Option”, supposedly a streamlined process to help veterans and others more quickly resolve qualifying claims under the Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022. This option supplements other processes, but an administrative claim must still be filed. The Elective Option has award amounts broken down to two tiers: compensation is awarded depending upon your illness. And an extra $100,00 is awarded for claims “involving death”, so the maximum settlement under the Elective Option is $550,000.
The illnesses covered are the specific medical conditions identified by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) as potentially linked to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune:
Tier 1 Diagnoses: Claimants with kidney cancer, liver cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, leukemia and bladder cancer would receive settlement offers of $450,000, $300,000 or $150,000, depending on whether the claimant was exposed to Camp Lejeune water for over five years, between one and five years or between 30 and 364 days, respectively.
Tier 2 Diagnoses: Claimants with multiple myeloma, Parkinson’s disease, kidney disease (end stage renal disease), systemic sclerosis/systemic scleroderma would receive settlement offers of $400,000, $250,000, or $100,000, depending on exposure (as above).
A Camp Lejeune claimant likely has a difficult decision: whether to take the Elective Option, which promises to be quick and convenient, or wait for the court to award an amount if and when their lawsuit goes to trial. The U.S. government has estimated its total payout to veterans and their families could amount to more than $20 billion. Either way, to qualify for part of that payout, a Camp Lejeune lawyer only needs to prove a veteran, family member or anyone who spent at least 30 days on the base was there when the water was contaminated and has an injury that falls into one of the above tiers.
The Long Stall
In early August 2022 President Joe Biden signed the Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022. It was intended to “clear the path to legal claims for those harmed by the four decades of contaminated drinking water” at Camp Lejeune. “I am urging veterans of those decades of war to promptly file for your claims,” Biden said. “The VA will move as quickly as possible to resolve your claim and get you the benefits and the care you have earned.” The VA seems to have moved at a snail’s pace.
Currently, some claimants have filed administrative claims with JAG’s Tort Claims Units (which must be filed by August 2024 at the latest) while those who have filed are in a 6-month waiting period before filing a civil lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina. And over 1,000 civil lawsuits that have been filed in federal court are stalled as the court tries to manage this caseload.