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Camp Lejeune Water Contamination Settlement

In the early 1980s, researchers discovered that two water supply systems at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, NC were contaminated with volatile organic chemicals, including industrial solvents. 

Since then, the government has removed the source of the contamination. However, these actions did not occur soon enough to prevent on-base personnel, service members, and their families from suffering its effects.

If you spent time at Camp Lejeune during the contamination period, then you could have been exposed to these toxic chemicals. The health effects can be devastating, but you don’t have to fight them alone. Camp Lejeune water contamination settlement amounts reveal that affected individuals are winning their cases and paving the way for others to follow. 

Today, we’re taking a closer look at what’s been accomplished so far and the work that still lies ahead. 

A Brief Background on the Camp Lejeune Water Contamination Issue

Camp Lejeune was built in 1942 as a training facility for troops entering World War II. Around eight to 10 years later, experts believe the groundwater supply on the base started becoming contaminated. 

At that time, there were eight water treatment plants that supplied drinking water to family housing units and barracks. Of these, two contained elevated levels of VOCs. 

The affected plants were Tarawa Terrace and Hadnot Point. The main chemicals found in these plants included:

  • Trichloroethylene (TCE)
  • Tetrachloroethylene (PCE)
  • Vinyl chloride
  • Benzene

Chemical concentrations varied at each plant. For instance, the main contaminant at Tarawa Terrace was PCE. Analysts traced it back to improper waste disposal procedures performed at an off-site dry cleaning firm called ABC One-Hour Cleaners.

At Hadnot Point, the primary contaminants were TCE, PCE, benzene, and vinyl chloride. Analysts determined that these chemicals entered the groundwater supply via multiple sources, including:

  • Storage tanks leaking underground
  • Spills near industrial areas
  • Improper waste disposal practices 

In addition, there was also a third water treatment plant involved: Holcomb Boulevard. Though the wells at this plant were not directly contaminated themselves, it did rely on Hadnot Point to serve as a backup water supply during periods of peak demand. When these periods occurred, individuals drinking, cleaning, and cooking with the contaminated water had no idea they were being exposed to toxic chemicals and carcinogens. 

For a more complete background and history of the Camp Lejeune water contamination issue, check out our recent post

Health Risks of Elevated Exposure Levels

There are regulatory bodies that dictate which percentages of VOCs are considered safe in both the air and groundwater. These limits, called maximum containment levels (MCLs) are usually expressed in parts per million (ppm) or parts per billion (ppb). The EPA sets MCLs for drinking water, noting that levels of TCE should not exceed 5ppb.

While these limits exist, they aren’t always followed. This was the case at Camp Lejeune. When researchers uncovered the TCE contamination at Hadnot Point, for instance, they realized that the exposure level was 1,400 ppb.

Both short-term (acute) and long-term (chronic) exposure to VOCs can cause long-lasting effects. For instance, scientists have discovered a link between acute or chronic PCE exposure and a heightened risk of several conditions in laboratory animals, including: 

  • Liver cancer
  • Kidney cancer 
  • Leukemia 

In addition, elevated TCE exposure can negatively alter your central nervous system (CNS) response, leaving you feeling dizzy and confused. It can also have detrimental effects on the following systems and organs:

  • Neurological
  • Lung
  • Kidney
  • Heart 
  • Gastrointestinal 
  • Skin

If you develop any of these symptoms, you might not feel immediately inclined to associate them with your time on base. After all, they can also be signs of other conditions that aren’t related to chemical contamination. However, it’s important to understand how widescale and far-reaching these connections are. 

The government estimates that close to one million individuals could be feeling health effects right now due to the water they used on a regular basis at Camp Lejeune during the contamination period. Even if you aren’t sure about a service connection, you can still benefit from legal counsel. 

It’s important to partner with a skilled and experienced lawyer who can help you develop your case and fight for your rights. Yet, just what are those rights exactly? Let’s take a look. 

Understanding Your Rights

In the years since the government exposed the water contamination issue at Camp Lejeune, former service members stationed at Camp Lejeune have started drawing connections.

Not only are they realizing that a potential exposure could be the catalyst behind their health troubles, but they’re also discovering that their spouses and children could be equally afflicted. As such, they’re taking action to partner with attorneys so they can receive the compensation that they’re due for their pain and suffering. 

Filing a Claim With the VA

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) recognizes the scientific and medical evidence that shows an association between contaminant exposure during military service and the development of certain health conditions later on. 

However, the list of conditions that they acknowledge to have a service connection is limited to only eight. These include:

  • Adult leukemia
  • Aplastic anemia and other myelodysplastic syndromes
  • Bladder cancer
  • Kidney cancer
  • Liver cancer
  • Multiple myeloma
  • Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
  • Parkinson’s disease

The VA refers to these as presumptive conditions. This means that they presume the condition developed during your time on the base. If you have one or more of these conditions, then you could be eligible to receive government disability benefits. 

However, you must also be able to demonstrate that you meet the following qualification conditions:

  • Served at Camp Lejeune for at least 30 cumulative days between August 1953 and December 1987
  • Did not receive a dishonorable discharge when you separated from the U.S. military. 

These VA disability benefits are available to veterans, reservists, and guardsmen, as well as eligible spouses and family members. In addition to the eight presumptive conditions listed above, the VA may also reimburse eligible individuals for out-of-pocket costs associated with any of these 15 conditions:

  • Bladder cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Esophageal cancer
  • Female infertility
  • Hepatic steatosis
  • Kidney cancer
  • Leukemia
  • Lung cancer
  • Miscarriage
  • Multiple myeloma
  • Myelodysplastic syndromes
  • Neurobehavioral effects
  • Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
  • Renal toxicity
  • Scleroderma

These conditions are also linked to the water contamination issue, and if you require treatment for any of them, you could be eligible for compensation.

Cancers and Other Conditions Associated With Water Contamination 

So far, the VA may only recognize the above conditions as linked to the on-base contamination issue at Camp Lejeune. However, there is scientific and medical evidence that shows a number of different health issues are attributed to toxic chemical exposure. 

Referencing the specific VOCs found at Camp Lejeune, the full scope of potential cancer risks includes: 

  • Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML)
  • Brain Cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Bladder cancer
  • Central Nervous System Cancer
  • Cervical cancer
  • Esophageal cancer
  • Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
  • Kidney cancer
  • Liver cancer
  • Lung cancer
  • Ovarian cancer
  • Leukemia
  • Multiple myeloma
  • Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
  • Prostate Cancer
  • Rectal Cancer

While this list alone is concerning, it doesn’t show the full picture. In addition to cancer, there are other health conditions that you may experience after drinking, cooking with, or using contaminated water. These include: 

  • Aplastic anemia
  • Birth defects
  • Epilepsy (seizures)
  • Female infertility
  • Hepatic steatosis (fatty liver disease)
  • Immune Disorders
  • Kidney Damage
  • Miscarriage
  • Menstrual irregularities 
  • Nerve Damage
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Renal toxicity
  • Scleroderma

In addition, exposed individuals may also experience a range of neurobehavioral effects that mimic the signs and symptoms of undiagnosed Parkinson’s disease. These may include:

  • Muscle tremors
  • Chronic headaches
  • Lack of coordination 
  • Extreme confusion
  • Chronic depression
  • Sensory disturbances
  • Movement issues
  • Motor problems 
  • Visuomotor impairment

Birth Defects

Some of the victims of the Camp Lejeune water contamination were not even old enough to work or play on base when the issue first began. These are the children who were born to parents who suffered exposure. 

In 2013, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a study showing that children who were born to mothers after they ingested the contaminated water on base were more likely to suffer from certain birth defects. These included:

  • Spina bifida
  • Cleft palates 
  • Childhood hematopoietic cancers

As the study was based on a small sample size, the CDC explained that it cannot prove exposure to the chemicals caused individual illnesses. In all, the researchers surveyed parents of 12,598 children born on base between 1968 and 1985 (the year the USMC closed most of the contaminated wells). 

They determined that babies born to mothers who drank contaminated tap water while pregnant were four times more likely to develop serious birth defects compared to women in similar circumstances who did not consume such water. They also found that babies who were exposed to the toxins also had a slightly elevated risk of developing certain childhood cancers, including leukemia. 

When referencing the sample, the CDC found 15 cases of spina bifida and anencephaly, as well as 24 oral clefts and 13 cancers. In all, the agency received reports of more than 100 cases of birth defects and childhood cancers, but could only confirm 52 through medical records. 

The First Step: VA Action in 2017

As you can see, the VA’s list of acknowledged conditions only touches the tip of the iceberg. It also severely limits the number of affected individuals who can apply for and receive VA disability benefits. In recent years, there has been a push in Washington to expand the process and make it easier for affected individuals to apply. 

In January 2017, the VA made a monumental decision that set today’s current legislature into action. In that month, the VA officially recognized the eight presumptive conditions that likely stemmed from the water contamination that occurred at Camp Lejeune from the 1950s to the 1980s. 

This was a groundbreaking move, most notably because it didn’t require service members to be deployed for war to claim eligibility. Rather, any former personnel who was exposed to the toxic chemicals on base could be deemed eligible for a cash payout. 

The decision came after outgoing VA Secretary Bob McDonald noted that there was sufficient scientific and medical evidence to establish a strong connection between the water contamination and eight related medical conditions. Adding this issue to the list of available VA disability benefits made it easier for veterans to receive the care and benefits they deserved.

The estimated taxpayer cost of the legislation was $2.2 billion over a five-year period. At the time, although nearly one million people were potentially exposed to the toxic water, the VA only expected about 23,000 veterans to apply and qualify for the benefit. 

What Is the Camp Lejeune Justice Act?

While the VA’s action in 2017 was commendable, it was also limited in scope. We now know that there are many other medical conditions linked to toxic water contamination and that the full list extends well beyond the eight health issues currently listed as presumptive conditions. 

Now, the government is looking to expand those benefits and make them more widely available. 

The Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022 is a proposed federal mandate that has bipartisan support. Under the act, former residents of Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, including military, civilians, and their families, would have the right to seek reparations from the U.S. government in return for pain and suffering they’ve experienced due to the on-base water contamination.

The act is part of a larger act called the “Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act of 2022.” The PACT Act seeks to provide compensation to all veterans exposed to toxins, across all eras. It’s designed to ensure these individuals receive the health care and benefits they deserve from the VA.

In addition to toxic chemicals, the PACT Act also seeks to support military personnel and their family members who were exposed to toxic burn pits, including those in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

The Next Step: The White House

If President Biden signs the Camp Lejeune Justice Act, Bill Number H.R. 2192 into law, it would allow any individual affected by water contamination at Camp Lejeune to sue the government for compensatory damages. While the VA disability benefits decision in 2017 had a price tag of a little over $2 billion, the PACT Act is expected to be much broader in scope and price.

Any time that Congress is considering the passage of new legislation, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) will analyze the bill and estimate how much government spending it will require. Then, they share these reports and explain what the legislation will cost over a 10-year period. 

The CBO’s cost estimate for the PACT Act shows that the total payouts will equal around $667 billion over a 10-year period. The portion of that payout expected to be specific to Camp Lejeune is around $6.7 billion, representing only 1% of the overall bill. 

On June 16, 2022, the U.S. Senate voted to pass the Camp Lejeune Justice Act by a vote of 84 to 14. On March 3, 2022, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to pass the Act by a vote of 256 to 174. Now, it’s headed to the Oval Office. 

What’s Next in the Legislature?

For now, the nation is awaiting the passage of the bill. The good news is that President Biden has shown early support of the legislature, as evidenced in this speech made on June 7, 2022. 

In it, he mentions that in his State of the Union Address, he laid out what’s known as the Unity Agenda. This agenda centers on four main pillars that should matter to all Americans, regardless of personal party affiliations. These include:

  • The opioid crisis
  • Mental health
  • Cancer 
  • Supporting our veterans 

President Biden mentioned that all Americans can and should work together to support these initiatives. It’s expected that he will sign the Camp Lejeune Justice Act, as well as the overarching PACT Act, in an effort to spearhead these types of future-focused changes.

To date, there is only one issue holding up the bill from becoming law. The delay stems from a minor provision designed to offer a small tax credit to VA healthcare providers who are willing to relocate to help underserviced locations. The provision is unrelated to the issue at Camp Lejeune and is not a primary part of the PACT Act. 

While it has come under constitutional objection, it should be relatively straightforward to either revise it or eliminate it to move the rest of the legislation forward.  

When it does happen, it will be important for qualifying veterans and family members to move quickly. The Act will operate under a two-year statute of limitations window, meaning that all prior toxic water claims must be filed within that timeframe. This is the case even if those claims would have previously been barred for consideration by the VA due to how long ago the injury occurred. 

It’s important to team with a qualified lawyer who is well-versed in the Camp Lejeune water contamination issue and can help you navigate these next steps. They’ll collaborate with medical professionals and record-keeping companies to move the process along quickly once the law becomes official. 

Camp Lejeune Water Contamination Settlement Amounts

Once the Camp Lejeune Act becomes signed into law, it’s expected that many more individuals will come forward with claims. However, this doesn’t mean that there haven’t been successful VA settlements to date. 

As described above, the VA does recognize certain health conditions as having a service connection to the water contamination that occurred at Camp Lejeune. As such, individuals whose symptoms fall into those categories have been able to make claims and seek settlements. 

According to this government document titled “Camp Lejeune: Contamination and Compensation: Looking Back, Moving Forward”, the VA was reviewing a total of 191 claims from Camp Lejeune veterans in 2010. Of those, they had actively reviewed 15 to 16 cases and granted claims to between five and six veterans. When the agency did grant a claim, it was because it believed that the illnesses were “more likely than not” tied to the on-base water contamination. 

Now, those numbers are much higher.

In February 2022, CBS News reported that there are 2,443 Camp Lejeune contaminated water claims still pending, and more than half of those are considered to be backlogged. Some of that delay is linked to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which has limited the processing of records requests at the Federal Records Centers and likewise suspended Compensation and Pension (C&P) examinations. 

Next, let’s take a look at some of the class action lawsuits that veterans have already filed against the VA, as well as the timeline of events leading up to their filing. It’s important to understand what went on, how the government acted, and what their response might mean for you as you prepare to file your own claim. 

The Early 1990s: First Lawsuits Filed

The first lawsuit filed against the VA in regard to the water contamination at Camp Lejeune occurred in 1993. At that time, a group of veterans and their families gathered together to complete the claim. The lawsuit alleged that Camp Lejeune should be held responsible for the toxic chemical exposure they experienced and the consequential health conditions they suffered. 

The basis? The defendants claimed that the USMC knew about the exposure and had knowingly exposed military personnel to the contaminated water. 

2009: First Camp Lejeune Lawsuit Filed

The first lawsuit filed against the U.S. government over the Camp Lejeune water contamination issue occurred in 2009. In that year, Laura Jones, the wife of a former Marine, filed an official claim seeking compensation for the damage that the exposure caused her and her family. 

Jones explained that she lived at Camp Lejeune with her husband from 1980 to 1983. She said the house that they lived in received drinking water from one of the contaminated water treatment plants on the base. As a result, she said that they were exposed to a range of different chemicals through the Camp Lejeune water supply, including TCE, PCE, DCE, benzene, and vinyl chloride. 

In the lawsuit, Jones linked her non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL) diagnosis to her toxic water exposure on base. The government denied her claim, stating that it was outside of the state’s statute of repose for injury claims. 

To counter, Jones explained that she only learned about the connection between her illness and the toxic chemical exposure in 2005. 

2009: First Contamination-Specific MDL Issued 

In 2009, groups of Marines, employees, and their family members once stationed at Camp Lejeune started to file lawsuits against the government under a piece of legislation known as the Federal Tort Claims Act. In these lawsuits, they claimed that they developed cancer and other related health conditions after drinking contaminated water on the base. 

All of these lawsuits were consolidated together into a Multidistrict Litigation (MDL) class action lawsuit. There were more than 850 individual lawsuits in all. The MDL was filed in the Eastern District of North Carolina in 2012. 

2010: Camp Lejeune Toxic Water Settlement: Multiple Myeloma

In 2010, military veteran Paul Buckley received a 100% disability rating from the VA after filing a claim that exposure to toxic water at Camp Lejeune in the 1980s caused him to develop multiple myeloma, a form of incurable bone cancer. 

Though Buckley repeatedly made this case to the VA, his claim was denied until he received a letter on March 8, 2010. This reversal meant that he could start collecting disability benefits, which would also extend to his wife upon his death. 

2016: More Than 800 Cases Dismissed

On December 12, 2016, a federal judge dismissed all 850 lawsuits brought to the agency under the MDL. 

The judge justified the dismissal by explaining that the cases fell outside of North Carolina’s 10-year statute of repose. Similar to a statute of limitations, a statute of repose cuts off certain legal rights if they are not acted on by a specified deadline.

2018: Appeal Efforts Exhausted

As you might expect, the 2016 dismissal left veterans discouraged. For two years, those involved in the MDL sought to appeal the dismissal and validate their Camp Lejeune water contamination lawsuits. 

However, they were met with another roadblock when their efforts were blocked on September 20, 2018. On that date, their dismissal efforts were officially exhausted, leaving their attempts at compensation unmet.  

What Can You Expect?

There are many different variables that will go into the settlement amounts we expect to see from the Camp Lejeune water contamination cases. As such, it can be difficult to come up with accurate estimates on the payouts we expect to see come down the pipeline.  There is no settlement calculator and every case is different.  Ultimately, jury verdicts will determine what cases are worth.  Once several cases have been tried before a jury, the justice department and the victims will have a better idea of the value of these cases.

Filing a Claim for Camp Lejeune Water Contamination 

Once the Camp Lejeune Justice Act becomes law, veterans and their family members will be able to file a claim to receive compensation for damages they’ve suffered due to Camp Lejuene water contamination. 

This act will effectively remove barriers and red tape from the process, allowing veterans and their families to finally have their day in court. When this happens, we expect the claims to be joined together in a mass tort lawsuit, filed with the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina. 

Find Help With Your Camp Lejeune Water Contamination Claim 

Even if you’ve been denied VA disability benefits in the past, you can still file a lawsuit for Camp Lejeune water contamination. Our team of lawyers understands this issue inside and out, and we’re working tirelessly to help qualifying individuals find the support they deserve. 

We understand the legal process can be daunting, and we’re here to help. To take the guesswork out of the process, we’ve created this checklist that explains everything you need to do to file a claim for yourself or your family member. 

When the time comes to act, we’ll be on your side. Contact us today to discuss your case and learn more about the services we can provide. 

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