Under the Camp Lejeune Justice Act (CLJA), which became law in August 2022, veterans and their family members and civilians who lived at the U.S. Marine Corps military base in North Carolina can file a lawsuit with the U.S. government to receive financial compensation for their illnesses allegedly caused by exposure to toxic water.
In addition to being entitled to compensation under the CLJA, veterans can also receive disability compensation from the Veterans Administration (VA). However, according to Jonathan Sharp of the Environmental Litigation Group, writing in the North Carolina-based Laurinburg Exchange, the acceptance rate for Camp Lejeune claims is currently only 17%.
The VA has rejected the majority of Camp Lejeune claims, because since 2012, the U.S.’s largest integrated healthcare system and Cabinet-level department of the executive branch have been working with “subject matter experts” to evaluate the claims of veterans. Sharp claims that these medical professionals are, for the most part, general and preventive medicine doctors “lacking the expertise to diagnose the complex diseases veterans develop as a result of toxic exposure.”
Camp Lejeune claims approved by the VA dropped from 25% to just 5% shortly after the VA began using subject matter experts, adds Sharp. For its part, the VA claims its medical professionals have “appropriate credentials” and underwent four hours of training on the health issues associated with the toxic water at Camp Lejeune.
From 1953 to 1987, nearly one million people were exposed to toxic chemicals including trichloroethylene, vinyl chloride, perchloroethylene, and benzene at Camp Lejeune, where two of the base’s eight water supplies had alarming levels of these toxic chemicals. The contamination largely occurred because these toxic chemicals were used for base operations and via illegal dumping by a dry cleaning facility located in neighboring Jacksonville, North Carolina.
Adding insult to injury, according to the VA’s Office of the Inspector General, the agency’s internal watchdog, the VA mishandled nearly 40% of disability claims filed by Camp Lejeune veterans, denying or delaying benefits for over 21,000 affected individuals. The VA’s Office of the Inspector General report adds that of 57,500 Camp Lejeune claims filed since 2017, the agency denied 17,200 "prematurely" instead of asking for additional information. In addition, 2,300 veterans who filed claims were denied $14 million in retroactive disability payments because they were assigned incorrect dates.
Over 700 Camp Lejeune lawsuits were filed in the first two months after the earliest claims became eligible to file a civil lawsuit. Under the Camp Lejeune Justice Act, a lawsuit can only be filed in federal court in North Carolina if the Navy’s Judge Advocate General (JAG) has failed to act on a claim after six months.