After a lot of back-and-forth in Congress, the Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022 (S.3373) has finally been signed into law. President Biden signed the bill on Wednesday, August 10th, 2022.
The Act will allow military veterans, their families, and civilian residents who lived or worked at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune between August 1, 1953, and December 31, 1987, to file civil lawsuits against the U.S. Government for harm caused by at least 30 days of exposure (including in utero exposure) to water at the camp.
The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina will be the exclusive venue for actions brought pursuant to the Act.
New Law Part of the Large PACT Act
The new law is part of the much broader PACT Act, which expands health care and benefits for veterans exposed to burn bits and other toxic substances. Perhaps the largest health care and benefits expansion in VA history, the PACT Act provides the following changes:
- Expands and extends eligibility for VA health care for veterans with toxic exposures and veterans of the Vietnam, Gulf War, and post-9/11 eras
- Adds more than 20 new presumptive conditions for burn pits and other toxic exposures from drinking water, airborne gasses, and other hazards
- Adds more presumptive-exposure locations for Agent Orange and radiation
- Requires VA to provide a toxic exposure screening to every veteran enrolled in VA health care
- Helps improve research, education, and treatment related to toxic exposures
The PACT Act also includes the Camp Lejeune Justice Act, which will allow victims to be compensated for their injuries.
Victims Will Finally Be Able to Pursue Justice
Victims of water contamination at Camp Lejeune have been waiting for decades for justice when it comes to the harm they suffered at the camp. Previous lawsuits filed against the government, however, were dismissed for three reasons:
- North Carolina has a 10-year statute of repose, which sets a strict timeline of 10 years for an injured party to file a civil claim.
- The Feres doctrine prohibits any civil suit by service members against the U.S. government for injuries that arise out of or are incurred incident to military service.
- The U.S. government is protected from lawsuits in cases in which negligence is not clearly established.
The new law overrides these exceptions, allowing Camp Lejeune lawsuits to move forward. Veterans, their family members, and civilians who lived or worked at the camp during the designated period are now eligible to file suit for damages.
New Lawsuits Already Being Filed
In 2017, the VA started providing new disability benefits to eligible veterans who were stationed at the Marine base for at least 30 cumulative days between August 1, 1953, and December 31, 1987. Veterans did have to submit evidence of their diagnoses and service information.
The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) estimates that at least 900,000 service members were potentially exposed to the tainted water. Scientific evidence is sufficient to establish a strong association between exposure and at least eight medical conditions.
Yet investigations into the VA’s approval of claims related to Camp Lejeune water contamination have revealed troubling findings concerning the number of claims that have been denied.
The new law gives hope that these victims will finally obtain the compensation they deserve. There is much uncertainty in this unprecedented Act, but it is believed that as the number of lawsuits increases in this litigation, it may pave the way for future settlement negotiations.
At least one lawsuit has already been filed by a Marine veteran who suffered multiple myeloma and other injuries caused by his exposure to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune.
Exclusively focused on representing plaintiffs, especially in mass tort litigation, Eric Chaffin prides himself on providing unsurpassed professional legal services in pursuit of the specific goals of his clients and their families. Both his work and his cases have been featured in the national press, including on ABC’s Good Morning America.