Last summer, Camp Lejeune military veterans and their families received news many had anticipated for years. The Camp Lejeune Justice Act (CLJA) was passed last August, and it allows these veterans to sue the government for health problems they developed due to water contamination at the North Carolina military base. The CLJA is a bipartisan effort that became law under the Honoring Our PACT Act, which expands benefits and care for veterans exposed to toxic substances. Over 65,000 people have filed Camp Lejeune claims since the bill became law, but the U.S. Navy hasn’t settled any cases.
Navy attorney Jennifer Tennile Karnes sent an email to claimants’ attorneys last month attributing the delays to staffing shortages and funding problems. Karnes paints a detailed picture of the issues contributing to the delays in her email, saying that her unit is “building the plane in mid-air,” according to a report from Bloomberg. According to the attorney, a few contributing factors hinder the Navy from moving forward. The contamination at Camp Lejeune began in the 1950s and ended in the 1980s, which means that many victims are elderly and may not have much time left. Lawyers have argued that claims should be handled efficiently, but the settlement process has still stalled.
What Happened At Camp Lejeune?
For more than 30 years, military service members, family members, and civilian workers were exposed to dangerous chemicals in the water supply of the Camp Lejeune military base. The water contained volatile organic chemicals detrimental to human health, including trichloroethylene, tetrachloroethylene, vinyl chloride, and benzene. These chemicals are associated with an increased risk of Parkinson’s disease, infertility, and several types of cancer. There’s ample evidence that military officials knew about the contamination, but the water wells remained open until 1987. Meanwhile, the people stationed at the base unknowingly drank and bathed in contaminated water, and many developed health problems afterward. An estimated one million people were exposed to the toxic water at Camp Lejeune.
Historically, former and current military members haven’t been permitted to sue the government for injuries sustained during service. Instead, they must seek disability benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The CLJA carves out an important exception and allows Camp Lejeune victims to seek compensation from the government and receive VA benefits simultaneously. Some people who developed illnesses after spending time at Camp Lejeune allege that the U.S. military acted negligently and could have shut the wells down sooner.
Camp Lejeune Claim Delays
The Camp Lejeune Justice Act allows a two-year window for victims to seek justice, and the bill created an August 10, 2024 deadline for claims to be submitted. Thousands of veterans rushed to file before the deadline, and hundreds of Camp Lejeune lawyers have registered to represent clients — but no claims have been settled. Karnes said in the email to lawyers that the Tort Claims Unit is working an “unsustainable” amount of overtime while processing claims.
The Navy plans to hire more staff by the end of the summer to ease the burden. The military has promised to launch an online portal to expedite claims but hasn’t completed it months later. Navy officials say they can’t provide a timeline for when they will process individual claims. A bipartisan group of U.S. Senators and Representatives have pressured the Navy to resolve claims quicker than they are. According to estimates from the Congressional Budget Office, payouts to Camp Lejeune victims could top $21 billion. But veterans don’t know when they’ll see the promised compensation.
There’s still time to pursue a Camp Lejeune lawsuit. Experts estimate that tens of thousands more claims will be filed before the deadline. To qualify, you must prove that you were stationed at the military base for at least 30 days between August 1, 1953, and December 31, 1987. You must also prove that you were exposed to the contaminated water and developed an injury or illness linked to toxic water exposure. Family members can file wrongful death lawsuits for a loved one who died from a disease linked to Camp Lejeune.
You can file a claim without an attorney, but there are reasons to consider hiring legal help. A lawyer will help you collect the evidence you need for a successful claim, and they can ensure your case doesn’t get lost among thousands of others. A Camp Lejeune attorney can also provide updates on the proceedings and potential delays. A Camp Lejeune lawyer can help you receive the compensation many veterans say is long overdue.