President Biden signed the PACT Act today, which contains the “Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022”. Doran & Murphy has been following the progress of this important bill as it made its way through the legislative process.
What is the Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022, and what does it do?
The Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022 (H.R. 2192) is a law that will allow veterans, family members, non-military (civilian) workers, contractors, and any other person who lived or worked at Camp Lejeune to file claims to recover damages for harm caused by exposure to contaminated water at the base between August 1, 1953, and December 31, 1987.
The Act will create a process for the Department of Veterans Affairs (V.A.) to adjudicate these claims and provide compensation to eligible claimants. It will provide compensation for pain and suffering, economic damages, as well as for the wrongful death of a family member. This law is a significant victory for those affected by Camp Lejeune water contamination and their families.
Anyone who was at Camp Lejeune for 30 days or more and has been diagnosed with one of the following illnesses will be presumed to have been exposed to the contaminated water and will be eligible for compensation:
- Adult leukemia
- Aplastic anemia and other myelodysplastic syndromes
- Bladder cancer
- Kidney cancer
- Liver cancer
- Multiple myeloma
- Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
- Parkinson’s disease
In addition, to these presumptive conditions, individuals who develop diseases such as lung cancer, prostate cancer, breast cancer, colon cancer, laryngeal cancer, pancreatic cancer, rectal cancer, or scleroderma/systemic sclerosis may also be entitled to compensation.
How did the water at Camp Lejeune become contaminated and why has it taken so long to get justice for the victims and their families?
In the early 1980s, reports of high cancer rates in adults and children living at Camp Lejeune, a U.S. Marine Corps base in North Carolina, led to an investigation by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC found that two water supplies at the base were contaminated with synthetic organic chemicals, including the dry-cleaning solvent perchloroethylene (PCE) and the degreaser trichloroethylene (TCE).
In 1981, the United States Marine Corps began testing water in the rifle range area of its Camp Lejeune base. The goal of the testing was to determine if chemicals had drifted from a hazardous waste dump to nearby water wells. One of the water wells was contaminated with some of the same compounds seen elsewhere at the base. Three months later, engineers overseeing drinking water at the base ordered the closure of that water well.
In 1982, a Raleigh, North Carolina, laboratory was hired to test water at Camp Lejeune. The lab’s first test revealed the presence of “synthetic organic cleaning solvents” in water from two of the base’s largest living areas. These solvents, which included TCE and PCE, were known to cause cancer and other serious health problems. However, it would take nearly another decade for the full extent of the contamination to be uncovered.
In 1985, the federal government shut down the “most contaminated” wells at Camp Lejeune. However, because this was a time-consuming process that didn’t remove all contaminants at once, it wasn’t until the end of 1987 that the water was completely safe. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) has conducted several studies on the health effects of exposure to the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune, the results of which can be found here.
These studies have found an increased risk of certain cancers and other health problems among people exposed to the water. The ATSDR has also issued a public health advisory for people exposed to the water. If you believe you were exposed to the water at Camp Lejeune, you should consult your doctor and get tested for these possible health effects.
What has occurred since 1987?
Since 1987, numerous studies have linked exposure to the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune to various health problems, including leukemia, liver cancer, scleroderma, and myelodysplastic syndromes. However, it has taken decades for the victims and their families to get justice.
In 1999, the Marine Corps began notifying former Camp Lejeune residents of the known health risks from exposure to contaminated water at the base. Sadly, a North Carolina law known as a statute of repose, requires all tort lawsuits to be filed within 10 years, regardless of whether the victim even knows the cause of the injury or death. Since many of the diseases associated with the contaminated water can take years or even decades to develop after exposure, this law has prevented many of the people affected by Camp Lejeune’s water from bringing claims for their injuries.
In 2012, President Obama signed the Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012 into law, which provided medical care and benefits to those affected by the contamination. Still, victims and their families were not fairly compensated for the pain and suffering they endured because of the diseases caused by the water contamination.
In 2021, however, lawmakers renewed interest in permitting service members’ Camp Lejeune toxic water claims. And earlier this year, the Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022 was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate and has now been signed into law by President Biden. The law will essentially circumvent North Carolina’s statute of repose and allow victims to file lawsuits in federal court if they, or a loved one, were exposed (even in-utero) to the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune between August 1953 and December 1987 and suffered adverse health effects.
What are some of the lasting effects of exposure to toxic water at Camp Lejeune, and how will this bill help to address them?
As part of the PACT Act, this new law aims to ensure that all veterans have access to quality health care. The Act expands and extends eligibility for V.A. health care for Veterans with toxic exposures and veterans of the Vietnam war, the Gulf war, and post-9/11 eras. The Act also requires the V.A. to provide a toxic exposure screening to every veteran enrolled in the V.A. health care system. This new law will help improve research, staff education, and treatment related to toxic exposures. This is an essential piece of legislation that will help ensure that all Veterans receive the care they deserve.
A hopeful future
The Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022 is a long-awaited and much-needed piece of legislation that will finally provide some justice for the victims who have suffered from exposure to toxic water at Camp Lejeune and their families. We must continue to support these victims as they struggle with the lasting effects of this environmental disaster. If you or a loved one believe you may have been affected by the water contamination at Camp Lejeune, contact us today for a free consultation.