U.S. senators from North Carolina and Congressional members are urging the U.S. government to take immediate action to resolve nearly 3.5 million Camp Lejeune toxic water lawsuits, writing that it is “imperative” that the U.S. Navy ensure plaintiffs receive justice, Port City Daily (Wilmington, NC) reported.
North Carolina Senators Ted Budd and Thom Tillis (both Republican), and Mike Braun (R-IN), along with several U.S. House members, sent a letter on May 17 to the U.S. Secretary of the Navy, Carlos Del Toro, and U.S. Attorney General, Merrick Garland, about concerns in settlement delays.
Camp Lejeune, the Jacksonville, North Carolina-based U.S. Marine Corps base, was contaminated with harmful chemicals that were present in the base's drinking water from 1953 until 1987. The contamination was discovered in 1982, and most of the contaminated drinking water wells were shut down in 1985. The contamination is estimated to have affected up to one million individuals who either worked or lived on the base and their families who lived there.
In response to this crisis, the U.S. government passed a law called the Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act in August 2022. This law addresses issues faced by veterans exposed to toxic substances during their service. As a part of the legislation, the Camp Lejeune Justice Act was implemented, allowing those who allegedly have suffered adverse health effects from the contaminated water to seek compensation and receive damages for their suffering.
According to reporting by Port City Daily, however, only 25% of the 5,792 toxicity claims filed between January 2011 and June 2019 were approved by the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. The Camp Lejeune Justice Act was enacted, in part, to ease claimants’ burden of proof that they suffered ill health from exposure to contaminated water. However, many claimants have been denied medical coverage because they could not prove that their health issues were linked to the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune.
Over 45,000 claims have been filed since the Camp Lejeune Justice Act was filed. To date, no claims have been resolved. Prior to the Act being enacted, veterans who served at Camp Lejeune were not able to file claims directly against the federal government.
After the passage of the Act, claimants are allowed to file a lawsuit in the Eastern District of North Carolina if the Navy fails to respond to a claim within 180 days. To date, over 900 Camp Lejeune lawsuits have been filed.
Many plaintiffs or claimants are elderly and in very poor health, and others have died without having their claims resolved.
The senators who signed the letter, along with seven North Carolina House of Representative members, are seeking a response from the Navy and Department of Justice by June 7. “Further delay is unacceptable, and it is critically important that JAG and DOJ move quickly to adjudicate or settle these cases in a transparent, efficient manner. Anything less is an injustice,” the letter states, per Port City Daily.
“Our nation’s service members and their families have made incredible sacrifices in service to the United States,” the letter states. “We owe it to them to provide efficient and timely processing of their claims resulting from government negligence,” the legislators added.