Camp Lejeune Lawsuit [Explained]

Infographic of a judge and a trial

If you’ve watched television lately, you’ve probably seen at least one commercial about the Camp Lejeune lawsuit, causing you to wonder what happened at the military base. In 2022, Congress passed the Camp Lejeune Justice Act, making it easier for veterans and their families to recover damages for health problems caused by exposure to contaminated water. Keep reading to learn more about this lawsuit and find out who qualifies for compensation.

What Is Camp Lejeune?

Located in North Carolina, U.S. Marine Base Camp Lejeune started out as an amphibious training facility for the United States Navy. Near the end of World War II, the United States Marine Corps began using it for their training exercises, and it continues to operate as a Marine Corps training facility today. Since it’s home to more than 100,000 people, including active-duty Marines and their family members, Camp Lejeune has schools, stores, daycare centers, gyms, movie theaters and other amenities.

What makes Camp Lejeune such a valuable military asset is its location along North Carolina’s coast. The facility has 11 miles of beach and 50 tactical landing zones, allowing troops to participate in landing exercises and learn amphibious warfare tactics. Camp Lejeune also hosts military units from other countries, making it one of the most active bases in the United States.

Water Contamination at Camp Lejeune

Infographic of a water contamination trial for Camp Lejeune lawsuit

The Camp Lejeune lawsuit stems from water contamination that went undetected for decades. Anyone who lived on the base from the 1950s to the 1980s may have been exposed to volatile organic compounds (VOCs) or substances that have low levels of solubility and high vapor pressure. VOCs are dangerous because they can cause eye irritation, nausea, difficulty breathing and other health problems. Unfortunately, many people are exposed to VOCs without their knowledge, increasing the risk of serious illnesses.

In 1982, Marine Corps officials discovered that the water from two on-base treatment plants had high levels of VOCs. Water processed at the Hadnot Point Treatment Plant had trichloroethylene (TCE) levels as high as 1,400 micrograms per liter, approximately 280 times higher than the current TCE limit of 5 micrograms per liter. Wells at the Hadnot Point Treatment Plant were also contaminated with benzene, a chemical used to make synthetic fibers, plastics and other materials. These contaminants came from local waste disposal tanks and underground storage tanks.

Water processed by the Tarawa Terrace Treatment Plant was contaminated by tetrachloroethylene, which breaks down into vinyl chloride, trans-1,2-dichloroethylene and TCE over time. In February 1985, wells at this treatment plant contained levels of tetrachloroethylene, also known as perchloroethylene (PCE), as high as 215 micrograms per liter, which is 43 times higher than the current maximum contaminant level. The contamination at the Tarawa Terrace Treatment Plant came from a local dry cleaning company.

Health Effects of Volatile Organic Compounds

Exposure to TCE, tetrachloroethylene, benzene and other toxic substances increases the risk for neurological disorders, blood disorders and several types of cancer. Attorneys involved in the Camp Lejeune lawsuit are working to help individuals with the following conditions:

  • Multiple myeloma
  • Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
  • Adult leukemia
  • Cancers of the bladder, liver and kidneys
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Disorders caused by abnormal blood cells
  • Birth defects
  • Infertility
  • Fatty liver
  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease)
  • Scleroderma
  • Bone marrow abnormalities

The risk of health problems is highest in veterans and family members who lived on base between the early 1950s and the mid-1980s. Individuals who lived near the base may also have been exposed to VOCs, giving them a heightened risk of serious health conditions.

An Overview of the Camp Lejeune Lawsuit

Although Camp Lejeune had contaminated water as early as the 1950s, officials didn’t become aware of the problem until the mid-1980s. As a result, thousands of people were exposed to VOCs without their knowledge. Some of these individuals filed their own lawsuits, but those suits were dismissed under the North Carolina Statute of Repose, which limits the amount of time people have to seek compensation for personal harm.

Camp Lejeune Families Act

President Obama signed the Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012, better known as the Camp Lejeune Families Act, to ensure that affected veterans and their family members would have access to high-quality healthcare. The law doesn’t apply to every veteran, just the ones who have certain health problems associated with TCE, tetrachloroethylene, vinyl chloride and benzene. Qualifying veterans and their family members can get care from the Department of Veterans Affairs if they have one of these conditions:

  • Scleroderma
  • Multiple myeloma
  • Renal (kidney) toxicity
  • Esophageal cancer
  • Liver cancer
  • Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
  • Female infertility

Female veterans who had miscarriages or stillborn babies due to their VOC exposure are also covered under the Camp Lejeune Families Act, along with individuals who developed birth defects because they were exposed to VOCs while in utero.

Federal Tort Claims Act

Established in 1946, the Federal Tort Claims Act allows an individual to sue the federal government for property damage, personal injuries or deaths that arise from the actions of a government employee. Some individuals harmed by water contamination at Camp Lejeune may be able to sue the federal government for their medical expenses and suffering.

Does Lawsuit Participation Affect VA Benefits?

No. If you were exposed to VOCs while living at Camp Lejeune, participating in a Camp Lejeune lawsuit doesn’t preclude you from using your VA benefits. The Department of Veterans Affairs offers a variety of medical and financial benefits to ensure that veterans can access high-quality healthcare services. As a veteran, you may also qualify for a pension, assistance buying a home or other benefits offered by the VA.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has set aside approximately $2 billion to pay out claims associated with the Camp Lejeune lawsuit. If you decide to sue the federal government on your own, you can still use these benefits to receive medical care for a condition linked to the water contamination at Camp Lejeune.

Do I Qualify For The Camp Lejeune Lawsuit? 

In order to qualify for the lawsuit, you must be either a veteran or a direct relative of a veteran and lived on the base for at least 30 days between August 1, 1953, and December 31, 1987, and you have at least one of the presumptive conditions listed here

Camp Lejeune plays a major role in the United States Marine Corps, with a large presence on the Atlantic Ocean made up of 50 tactical landing zones and multiple training facilities. Despite being a populated base centered around aquatics, there was a time when clean drinking water was hard to come by. Families on base between 1950 and 1987 came into contact with heavily contaminated water from two different processing plants. The results include kidney cancer, Multiple myeloma, Parkinson’s Disease, infertility, and more. Affected veterans have the resources they need to settle their claims, thanks to the Camp Lejeune Justice Act. 

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