The Camp Lejeune Justice Act is now law, though political drama briefly made its fate seem murky. The measure was part of the Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act, a bill designed to help veterans injured by toxic exposure. Camp Lejeune is a North Carolina military base that had a contaminated water supply for nearly 30 years, sickening veterans and their families. Military members aren’t allowed to sue the government for injuries sustained during service, but the Camp Lejeune Justice Act adds an exception.
The PACT Act received unprecedented bipartisan support, passing the Senate with an 84-14 vote in June. Because of a technical error, it was sent to the Senate a second time for a vote — but this time, 25 Republicans indicated opposition to the bill. After intense public pressure from fellow politicians, veterans, and celebrities, they reversed course. Cheers broke out in the gallery when the Senate passed the bill, and President Biden signed it into law on Wednesday, August 10, 2022. Within hours, affected veterans started to file Camp Lejeune lawsuits against the U.S. government for failing to warn servicemembers about the dangers of the water at Camp Lejeune.
The PACT Act is a significant victory for veteran healthcare advocates. Named in honor of Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson, a National Guardsman who died after burn pit exposure while deployed, the bill lifts the burden of proof from veterans to prove burn pit exposure caused their illnesses. As a result, millions of veterans will be eligible for expanded benefits. It is expected to cost $280 billion over the next decade, and some Republicans raised objections because they disapproved of the funding plan.
If the PACT Act failed, it would’ve also spelled trouble for the Camp Lejeune Justice Act, making it impossible for servicemembers to sue the U.S. government for Camp Lejeune health problems. The Republican senators who opposed the act faced widespread criticism, partly because of questions about whether the change in heart was politically motivated. The opposition emerged after Democrats revealed they’d reached a deal on unrelated matters. In a 9-minute viral video, comedian Jon Stewart denounced the politicians opposing the bill. He accused them of acting cruelly and said the behavior was “an embarrassment to the Senate, to the country, to the founders, and all that they profess to hold dear.” Stewart, who has advocated for veterans’ rights for years, was present when Biden signed the PACT Act into law on August 10, 2022.
Who Can File a Camp Lejeune Lawsuit?
In the next few weeks, the number of Camp Lejeune lawsuits against the federal government will likely swell. More than a million people lived at the military base during the water contamination period, drinking and bathing in water they didn’t know contained toxic substances not meant for human consumption. Some veterans later developed health conditions like kidney cancer, adult leukemia, and Parkinson’s disease. Others died before the federal government revealed the full extent of the water pollution at Camp Lejeune. Contamination began in the early 1950s, but the wells weren’t shut down until 1985.
No one knows how many veterans and civilians were sickened because of the Camp Lejeune toxic water exposure. Still, many have developed serious illnesses in the years since water testing showed dangerously high levels of benzene, industrial solvents, and other chemicals in the Camp Lejeune drinking water. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers disability benefits for people stationed at Camp Lejeune for at least 30 days who have qualifying health conditions, allowing veterans to get ongoing medical expenses covered. The Camp Lejeune Justice Act takes things a step further. Veterans will now be able file Camp Lejeune lawsuits to recover damages for losses like pain and suffering, mental anguish, and lost earnings and receive significantly more compensation than the VA provides.
Any individuals with certain illnesses who lived or worked at Camp Lejeune for at least 30 days from August 1, 1953, to December 31, 1987 can now file a Camp Lejeune water contamination lawsuit. Some of the diseases associated with the toxic water at Camp Lejeune include various cancers, aplastic anemia and other myelodysplastic syndromes, multiple myeloma, Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and Parkinson’s disease. Families of those who died from various diseases due to the contaminated water can also file a Camp Lejeune lawsuit seeking compensation from a government that failed them for years.