Individuals who suffered a serious medical condition from exposure to hazardous substances in the drinking water while living or working at U.S. Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune have until August 24, 2024, to file a claim for compensation through the Camp Lejeune Justice Act.
Here is a look at the timeline of how water contamination was discovered at Camp Lejeune, the creation of the law that provides compensation, and the process of determining your eligibility, filing your claim, and receiving your compensation.
What Happened to the Water at Camp Lejeune?
According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), the issue of water contamination on the base occurred over decades.
Here is a brief look at the timeline of events leading to the discovery of water contamination and the difficulty historically incurred by those seeking compensation for the expenses and impacts of illnesses they experienced linked to that contamination.
- 1942: U.S. Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune is established in North Carolina. One of the three contaminated water distribution plants connected to the contamination—Hadnot Point—begins operations, serving Mainside barracks and many of the base’s family housing units.
- 1952: The Tarawa Terrace water distribution plant begins operation, servicing the Tarawa Terrace family housing and Knox trailer park.
- 1972: The Holcomb Boulevard water distribution plant began operation in June, providing drinking water for several family housing units.
- 1953: At least one test for water contamination at Hadnot Point exceeded maximum contaminant levels at Hadnot Point based on current Environmental Protection Agency Standards.
- 1982: Trichloroethylene (TCE) contamination is discovered at the Hadnot Point distribution system. In May, the maximum TCE discovered in the system was 1,400 parts per billion. The current standard for TCE in drinking water is five parts per billion. Other contaminants were also detected in the system, including PCE (perchloroethylene or tetrachloroethylene), DCE (trans-1,2-dichloroethylene), vinyl chloride, and benzene. The contaminants were believed to have infiltrated the water system through several sources, including leaking underground storage tanks and waste disposal sites.
- 1985: The Holcomb Boulevard water distribution plant is taken offline for a couple of weeks in January – February. While the plant was generally not a source of contamination, individuals were receiving drinking water from the contaminated Hadnot Point system while it was offline. It was discovered that the Hadnot Point system was used during dry months intermittently in the 13 years prior. Most contaminated wells feeding Hadnot Point were shut down by February.
- 1985: Also in February, it was discovered that the Tarawa Terrace distribution plant was contaminated with PCE, with maximum contaminant levels detected in drinking water at 215 parts per billion. The current EPA maximum allowable level of PCE is five parts per billion. ATSDR later calculated that PCE concentrations at Tarawa Terrace exceeded current EPA standards for 346 months between 1957-1987. The source of the contamination at Tarawa Terrace was an off-base dry cleaner that improperly disposed of chemicals used in their business practices.
- 1987: The Tarawa Terrace water distribution plant was shut down in March. Tarawa Terrace family housing begins receiving their drinking water from the Holcomb Boulevard plant.
- 1987 – 1989: New standards were added to The Safe Drinking Water Act for TCE, vinyl chloride, and benzene—three of the volatile organic compounds found in the drinking water at Camp Lejeune.
- 1999: The U.S. Marine Corps began notifying former Camp Lejeune residents that they had been exposed to toxic chemicals at the base.
- 2009: A former Marine’s wife becomes the first to file a Camp Lejeune water contamination lawsuit. Laura Jones and her husband lived at Camp Lejeune from 1980 to 1983. She was later diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, one of many conditions linked to exposure to the chemicals found in Camp Lejeune drinking water.
- 2012: Then-President Barack Obama signed the Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act into law to provide service members with healthcare benefits for medical conditions linked to water contamination at the base. Family members who lived on the base and incurred related medical conditions could seek reimbursement for their medical care expenses through this act.
- 2016: A multi-district litigation (MDL) containing 850 Camp Lejeune water contamination lawsuits—including Laura Jones’ lawsuit—is dismissed by a federal judge, as they violate North Carolina’s strict 10-year statute of repose. The statute of repose is the maximum time someone has to file a claim after harm has occurred, even if they did not immediately know that they had incurred harm, and is stricter than the statute of limitations.
- 2017: The Department of Veterans Affairs establishes a presumptive connection in claims for compensation submitted by service members stationed at Camp Lejeune. The VA begins paying claims from a $2.2 billion fund for five years’ worth.
- 2021: The Camp Lejeune Justice Act is introduced in Congress, focusing on removing loopholes such as the statute of repose that historically have prevented service members and their families from obtaining compensation through North Carolina’s personal injury claims process.
- 2022: The Camp Lejeune Justice Act is passed by both chambers of congress and is signed into law by President Joe Biden. The act provides a two-year filing window for those wishing to file a claim and establishes a claim-filing process through the U.S. Naval Judge Advocate General’s Corps (JAG).
Who May File a Camp Lejeune Water Contamination Claim?
According to JAG, eligible individuals to file a Camp Lejeune water contamination claim must have lived at the base camp for at least 30 days between 1953-1987 and suffer from a medical condition linked to the chemicals found in the water at those three distribution plants.
The VA has established a presumptive service connection between these illnesses and exposure periods of at least 30 days.
- Adult or childhood leukemia
- Aplastic anemia and other myelodysplastic syndromes
- Bladder cancer
- Cardiac defect
- Kidney cancer
- Liver cancer
- Multiple myeloma
- Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
- Parkinson’s disease
While these conditions currently have the most scientific and medical evidence of a positive link to water contamination at Camp Lejeune, other conditions have also been linked to the chemicals found in the drinking water there.
Those conditions include:
- Esophageal cancer
- Breast cancer
- Renal toxicity
- Female infertility
- Lung cancer
- Hepatic steatosis
- Neurobehavioral effects
What Happens When You File Your Claim?
The JAG claims process involves filing a claim in one of two ways:
- The claimant downloads the Camp Lejeune Justice Act (CLJA) form, fills it out and submits it to JAG by email at CLclaims@us.navy.mil. The document must be saved in the following format: “LAST NAME FIRST NAME DATE OF SUBMISSION in MM/DD/YYYY.” Claims that are emailed receive expedited processing.
- The claimant can also mail their completed form to the Department of the Navy, Office of the Judge Advocate General, Tort Claims Unit Norfolk, Attention—Camp Lejeune Claims, 9620 Maryland Avenue, Suite 205, Norfolk, VA 23511-2949.
Claimants should not submit supporting medical documents when they file their official claim. They may need to provide them later. The claimant will need to check boxes for each presumptively eligible condition they contracted.
If the claimant believes that they have acquired a different condition from Camp Lejeune water contamination (including the conditions listed in the second grouping above), they’re asked to mark the box for “other” and provide the names of those conditions in the box provided.
How Long Does the Claims Process Take?
JAG’s Tort Claims Unit (TCU) has up to six months to accept or deny an administrative claim filed for Camp Lejeune water contamination. If the claim is approved, JAG must provide a settlement amount to resolve the claim.
If the claim is denied, the claimant can immediately file a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina. Federal tort cases generally see a resolution between 16 to 26 months after the start of the trial. However, Camp Lejeune water contamination cases will likely follow a slightly different timeline due to the number of cases potentially involved in mass litigation.
The steps of a federal tort claim include:
- The complaint (lawsuit) is filed in U.S. District Court, and the defendant is served with a copy of the complaint.
- The defendant will have an opportunity to file a legal answer to the complaint in court. Often, they will file a motion to dismiss the complaint.
- The case proceeds to the discovery phase if the court does not grant the motion to dismiss. This is when both parties to the claim—the claimant and the federal government—have the opportunity to review the evidence the other side plans to submit and the witnesses they’re prepared to call.
- Once both sides have sufficiently developed a factual record of the claim and their responses, either side can file a motion for summary judgment. This is a statement that the other party cannot prevail in light of applicable law and undisputed facts. The judge can help resolve legal questions at this trial phase, but cannot resolve factual disputes.
- If the case is not resolved through summary judgment, it will proceed to trial.
- If the court makes a determination on the matter that either party disagrees with, they have the opportunity to appeal the decision by filing a claim with the U.S. Federal Court of Appeals. Generally, an appealing party has 60 days from the issuance of the lower court’s decision to file their claim with the appellate court. The Congressional Research Service reports that the recent median time frame from filing a case with the U.S. Federal Court of Appeals until the court decided on the matter was nine months.
- If either party disputes the appellate court’s decision, they can petition for a rehearing en banc, which involves a hearing before all of the active judges in a circuit that is requested within 45 days of the original decision from the Court of Appeals.
- If either party is dissatisfied with the outcome of the rehearing en banc process, they have 90 days from the lower court’s decision to file their case with the Supreme Court. At least four of the nine Supreme Court justices must approve the petition filed by the claimant for the full court to hear the case. The Court receives up to 8,000 petitions yearly but only votes to hear around 80 cases.
Of course, if the Camp Lejeune water contamination lawsuits are consolidated into mass litigation, there are additional steps involved in the process to facilitate the sharing of evidence and witness depositions between claimants during the discovery phase.
How an Attorney Can Assist You In the Claims Process
The Camp Lejeune Justice Act provided an important two-year window for service members and their families to seek compensation for the expenses and impacts of the serious—and often debilitating and life-threatening—illnesses linked to the water distribution systems for more than 30 years on base. However, while this opportunity presents hope for many claimants, the process is often overwhelming for them.
An experienced Camp Lejeune water contamination lawyer provides important knowledge and insight about the claims process. A lawyer can provide a free case evaluation to consider the situation in which your exposure occurred, the illnesses that you believe that contamination caused, and your overall eligibility for a claims.
Your Camp Lejeune water contamination lawyer can file your initial administrative claim to JAG. The TCU has committed to allowing attorneys to submit batch-filing claims, allowing them to submit multiple claims for expedited consideration.
Your attorney’s legal team can also gather the documentation needed to prove your presence at Camp Lejeune for at least 30 days during the contamination period and medical information about your diagnosis and treatments. They will value your claim based on your contamination-related illness, the expense of your treatments, and the psychological impacts you experienced from that illness. Finally, they can appeal any denials.
Call a Camp Lejeune water contamination lawyer near you today.