Between 1953 and 1987, something terrible was happening at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune—the water the base personnel used was slowly poisoning them. For years, the US Government denied and deflected reports of illnesses in people who had served at the base.
Finally, in 2009, the information started to come to light, and the scale of the disaster was astronomical. Today, we’ll look at what the process has been for US Military Veterans in their never-ending quest for justice and compensation, and what you should do if you are seeking a Camp Lejeune settlement lawyer.
When Did the Military Know Something Was Wrong?
The first signs of trouble started appearing in the early 80s. Thanks to a plethora of new environmental legislation passed in the 1970s, water and air testing was taking place all around the United States. The water tested at Camp Lejeune was found to have high levels of chemicals from a nearby dry cleaning business–these levels were reported to base commanders as unhealthy, and the warnings were repeatedly ignored.
In 1984, further testing took place, this time finding additional chemicals as well as high levels of a type of fuel—benzene. However, the benzene results were completely redacted from official reports. In 1997, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) conducted further tests and reported that cancerous effects were unlikely from the water at Camp Lejeune, which was the government’s official stance until 2009.
In 1999, the VA started informing people that they may have been exposed to contaminated water during their service at Camp Lejeune. However, this warning was only related to possible birth defects that had occurred in children born to base personnel during the time the water was contaminated.
Thanks to continued veterans advocacy, the ATSDR was forced to withdraw their 1997 report in 2009 and admit the presence of benzene in the water. A fuel farm had leaked an estimated 800,000 gallons of benzene into the ground over the course of thirty years–this groundwater fed two wells that were the source of water for base personnel living quarters and the hospital.
Justice for Victims of Camp Lejeune
Compensation was slow due to a Supreme Court ruling in the 1950s known as the Feres Doctrine—a ruling that essentially made it impossible for veterans to sue the government for their injuries. Additionally, many service members have been denied claims after filing lawsuits because according to the State of North Carolina, you cannot file lawsuits for injuries that happened more than ten years in the past.
In reality, exposure to these chemicals resulted in bodily damage that took decades to develop. By the time the service members and civilian contractors realized they had cancer, disease, or even dental issues from Camp Lejeune water contamination, it was far beyond the ten year period to file lawsuits, leaving thousands of families unable to file legal claims. Because of this, it’s still impossible to know the true number of Camp Lejeune water contamination deaths.
After continued outcries from the public and veterans advocacy groups, Congress passed the Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Act and the Janey Ensminger Act in 2012. These acts authorized free healthcare at VA hospitals for service members and their families and children who may have been affected. However, these two congressional acts did not provide compensation to the victims or grant military veterans the ability to file lawsuits.
As of mid 2022, the U.S. Senate is still debating the Camp Lejeune Justice Act, which has already passed the House with bipartisan support. This legislation is intended to expand the 2012 Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act. One of the most important provisions of the new legislation would be the removal of limitations that have prevented certain legal claims, significantly eliminating red tape in seeking compensation. If you or a loved one was stationed at Camp Lejeune from 1953 to 1987 for more than thirty days and has become seriously ill, reach out to a qualified attorney at Strom Law as soon as possible so that you can obtain the compensation you deserve.