Presumptions in the EEOICPA Program IIJune 9, 2023
Medical Malpractice Birth injury New YorkOctober 3, 2023
People living at the Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina between August 1, 1953, and December 31, 1987, including unborn children, were exposed to high levels of toxic chemicals from contaminated wells. For a long time, the law limited their eligibility for compensation. However, with the signing of the Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022, affected victims who were present at the Camp can now file Camp Lejeune contamination Lawsuits for government compensation in the US District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina.
The contaminated water at Camp Lejeune affected over one million people living at the Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune and Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) New River, North Carolina, between August 1, 1953 and December 31, 1987. The affected people, mainly military, veterans, workers, and their families suffered from different types of cancer and congenital disabilities.
Compensation matrix for Camp Lejeune claims
The 2022 to 2031 Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates the cost of Camp Lejeune contaminated water claims to be approximately $6.1 billion. In September 2023, the US government (Department of the Navy and the Department of Justice) released a compensation matrix for victims of Camp Lejeune contamination. The compensation is an elective option (EO) to ease compensation for those eligible without going through a court process. It is based on the exposure period and type of disease, with victims suffering from cancer and those exposed to Camp Lejeune water for more extended periods receiving the highest amount. Qualified claimants must have been diagnosed with the illness within 35 years of the last exposure.
Tier 1 includes Camp Lejeune victims suffering from cancers of the kidney, liver, bladder, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and leukemia. Qualified claimants exposed to contaminants at the base for 30 to 364 days receive $150,000, those exposed for one to five years receive $300,000, and those with exposure periods of five years and above receive $450,000. Survivors whose loved one died of Camp Lejeune illness are eligible to receive an additional $100,000.
The second tier includes victims suffering from multiple myeloma, Parkinson’s disease, kidney disease/end-stage renal disease, and systemic scleroderma. Victims exposed to Camp Lejeune contamination for 30 to 360 days receive $100,000, those exposed for one to five years will be awarded $250,000, and those exposed to the toxins for five years and above receive $400,000. Survivors of claimants who died of the illnesses are eligible to receive an additional $100,000.
Other Eligibility Requirements
The claimant must have been diagnosed with the injury or treated before August 10, 2022, before the CLJA’s enactment. The illness must have been diagnosed or treated not less than two (2) years after the claimant’s first exposure and not greater than thirty-five (35) years after the claimant’s last exposure. A single 2-year minimum latency and a 35-year maximum latency for all injury types allow for easier and quicker claims review. Those who don’t meet these requirements can offer proof of causation outside the EO, such as medical documentation showing a diagnosis for the illness or condition before August 10, 2022. The medical documents must be originals or certified copies of the originals signed by a certified medical doctor. They may include medical records, treatment notes, test results, billing records, death certificates, or a letter from a medical doctor. Suppose it is impossible to obtain an original or a certified copy of the original. In that case, the claimant can provide a written statement under oath with the uncertified copy explaining why it is impossible to provide an original or a certified copy of an original.
There must be housing or employment documentation to prove that the claimant (or the claimant’s mother while in utero) resided or worked at Camp Lejeune for at least 30 days between August 1, 1953, and December 31, 1987. Veteran claimants who had previously received Camp Lejeunehealthcare or disability benefits from the VA may rely on those benefits to establish a Qualifying Injury and a Duration of Exposure of between 30 and 364 days.
Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022 (CLJA)
The provisions of the “Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022” under “Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxins Act (PACT) of 2022” precludes the US Government from immunity and overrides the North Carolina statute of repose that prohibits the filing of certain tort claims beyond ten years after the defendants, last capable act.
This Act, signed into law on August 10, 2022, addresses explicitly those stationed at Camp Lejeune during the stated period. It allows anyone who was exposed to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune for 30 days or more between 1953 and 1987 and believes they suffered injuries due to the exposure to file their claim with the Office of the Judge Advocate General of the Navy’s Tort Claims Unit (TCU) in Norfolk, VA.
Punitive damages do not apply to claims brought under the CLJA. The awards under CLJA may be offset by any disability awards, payments, or benefits from any healthcare or disability program administered by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, the Medicaid program, or the Medicare program relating to exposure to water supplied by the US Government at Camp Lejeune.
Once signed into law, the CJLA gave the Navy’s Judge Advocate General (JAG) a deadline of six months to act on the administrative claims. This six-month deadline expired in February 2023, and no settlements had been made as of May 2023.
Refiling of Camp Lejeune legacy cases
If your water contamination at Marine Corps base Camp Lejeune claim was denied under the Federal Tort Claims Act, you must refile it for consideration. In December 2022, a judge in the Eastern District of Northern Carolina dismissed eight Camp Lejeune lawsuits for failure to refile with the Judge Advocate General (JAG) after the passing of the Camp Lejeune Justice Act. The government had filed identical motions to dismiss all Camp Lejeune legacy cases in which the plaintiffs failed to resubmit a claim to JAG.
Eligibility for compensation
Camp Lejeune’s compensation is established on a presumptive basis. As set forth in the CLJA, victims don’t need to prove that their military service led to their condition. Instead, it is automatically assumed that the victim’s service caused the disease. The individual must meet the specific service requirements for the presumption to apply. Eligible persons include all veterans, National Guard members, and reservists who:
- Served at Camp Lejeune or Marine Corps Air Station New River, North Carolina, for at least 30 days total between August 1, 1953, and December 31, 1987
- You weren’t separated from the military through dishonorable discharge
Illnesses associated with Camp Lejeune drinking water and Marine Corps Air Station New River water contamination include:
- Adult leukemia
- Aplastic anemia/Myelodysplastic syndromes
- Liver cancer
- Kidney cancer
- Bladder cancer
- Parkinson’s disease
- Multiple myeloma
- Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
If you want to file a claim for compensation, it is possible to do it online or in person. However, the assistance of an attorney is likely to prove beneficial. When filing a claim, you typically want to state that you are applying for one or more Camp Lejeune presumptive conditions. A claimant must also provide evidence in the form of supporting documents, which include:
- Military records indicating 30-day service at Camp Lejeune or Marine Corps Air Station New River between August 1, 1953, and December 31, 1987
- Medical records to prove that you have at least one of the eight Camp Lejeune presumptive conditions
If you meet the above conditions, you might also be eligible for VA healthcare benefits for 15 covered conditions, and you don’t need to pay a copay. Other VA health care benefits may require the payment of a copay. These 15 covered conditions include:
- Esophageal cancer
- Bladder cancer
- Breast cancer
- Hepatic steatosis
- Female infertility
- Lung cancer
- Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
- Myelodysplastic syndromes
- Multiple myeloma
- Kidney cancer
- Renal toxicity
- Neurobehavioral effects
For you to file a Camp Lejeune claim, you need to have the following documents:
- Your social security number and those of your spouse and dependent(s)
- Military separation and discharge documents (DD214) are not required immediately when filing a claim. Veteran military service records are available at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). They usually take three to five months, but obtaining the records may take a while due to the backlog arising from Camp Lejeune claims. However, a good attorney can assist you through this tedious process.
- Information on all companies covering you directly and those covering you through your spouse (it could be employer insurance, private insurance, or Medicare).
- Sometimes, you may have to provide information on your previous year’s gross household income(s). This includes your spouse’s and dependents’ incomes from all sources before tax.
- In some instances, applicants must provide information on their previous year’s deductible expenses, including health care and education costs.
Procedure for filing a Camp Lejeune claim
The Navy JAG has been developing an online electronic claim portal for submitting claims and supporting documents. Once the portal is launched, claimants must log in to their claim file and upload the required documents.
Currently, claims are being filed through email and via mail/carrier. The claimant has to complete the CLJA claims form and save the documents as “LAST NAME FIRST NAME MM.DD.YYYY,” which is the submission date. The completed form is then emailed to the TCU at CLclaims@us.navy.mil. Also, attorneys filing multiple claims should contact the TCU through the same email for filing instructions with “Batch Filing Request” as the email’s subject. Submitting these forms helps in expediting the processing of the claim.
The mailing address for completed CLJA claims is:
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
On its website, the Department of the Navy (DON) expresses its commitment to resolving all CJLA claims fairly and on time. However, they admit to anticipating many claims, which could take a while to process.
After filing a claim, the claimant should keep the Tort Claims Unit (TCU) informed of their current phone number and address in case they relocate or change their phone number.
The National Personnel Records Center (NPRC), a division of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), is working together with the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the DON to find a global solution to ease the gathering of personnel and federal employment records for CLJA military-linked claimants.
The NPRC has received overwhelming CLJA claimant personnel/employment records requests, which has slowed the process. As a result, the DON doesn’t require claimants to provide these records when filing administrative claims. Instead, the documents will be requested on a case-by-case basis after the Navy evaluates the claim, which will be after the launch of the electronic portal by the Admiralty & Claims Division. When these documents are required for substantiation, claimants and their representatives will be notified to submit them to the DON. At that point, the claimants can engage NARA to obtain the documents required.
It is important to note that claims filed with the TCU will not affect the benefits and programs the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) provides. Through the Department of Veteran Affairs, the government also encourages Camp Lejeune victims pursuing a claim under the CLJA to make two claims for VA disability benefits. In their statement issued in 2023, the VA’s Office of the General Counsel assured claimants that they would not deny or reduce their benefits. Thus, VA disability benefits will remain available to those bringing Camp Lejeune lawsuits under the CLJA.
About the Camp Lejeune water contamination
Camp Lejeune in Onslow County, North Carolina, is a Marine Corps military base and operational training facility that occupies an area of 250 square miles. The camp is the traditional home for resident Marine Corps commandants and is used for military training operations by some armed forces branches.
The Camp Lejeune water contamination began in the 1950s. In 1982, the Marine Corps found specific volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in two of the eight drinking water treatment plants supplying the base (Tarawa Terrace and Hadnot Point treatment plants), which were shut down in 1985. About one million people living and working at this US Marine Corps Base were exposed to toxic chemicals in their drinking water. According to the CDC, tests from routine water treatment plant sampling identified high levels of over 70 carcinogenic industrial solvents, including tetrachloroethylene (PCE), trichloroethylene (TCE), vinyl chloride (VC), and benzene in some drinking water sources at the camp. The levels of these chemicals in the water used by the residents were up to 3400 times higher than the US-permitted safe limits.
Medical and scientific evidence has shown that exposure to these carcinogenic chemicals on those living or working at Camp Lejeune led to thousands developing cancer and congenital disabilities, among other health conditions. Until the passing of the Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022, North Carolina law prohibited those affected from bringing lawsuits against the government for financial compensation.
Trichloroethylene (TCE) contamination
Trichloroethylene (TCE) was found in the Hadnot Point water treatment facility. The US military used the chemical as a degreaser and solvent for cleaning large metal equipment and weapons. The EPA’s TCE limits in drinking water are five parts per billion (ppb). Hadnot Point water plant contained 1,400 ppb levels of TCE chemical. The contamination in this plant is believed to have occurred from 1953 to 1985.
Tetrachloroethylene (PERC) contamination
Tarawa Terrance water treatment plant at Camp Lejeune was found to contain tetrachloroethylene (PERC). The chemical is used as a fabric solvent in commercial dry-cleaning, and the contamination occurred from a nearby dry-cleaning business (ABC One-Hour Cleaners). The EPA’s safe limit for PERC in drinking water is 5ppb. However, the water from this plant contained PEC levels of 215ppb, and the contamination is believed to have lasted since the facility’s establishment.
Studies on the Camp Lejeune water contamination
Studies have shown that exposure to tetrachloroethylene and trichloroethylene increases the risk of developing certain types of cancer, congenital disabilities, and neurological disorders. Many studies have been conducted to establish the effects of these chemicals’ exposure on Camp Lejeune residents, all indicating that the exposure significantly increased the mortality rates from specific conditions and illnesses. A 2014 retrospective cohort study by the CDC comparing the mortality rates of military personnel stationed at Camp Lejeune between 1975 and 1985 and those at Camp Pendleton, CA, showed that those at Camp Lejeune had elevated risks for specific causes, including cancers of kidney, liver, esophageal, and cervix, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, multiple myeloma, and LouGehrig’s disease.
The findings in these studies were also backed up by other comprehensive investigations conducted by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), which showed clear evidence that water contamination increases the risks of cancer and death.
Research findings by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) indicated that fetal exposure to Camp Lejeune contaminated water resulted in a significantly increased rate of children born with spina bifida, among other neural tube congenital disabilities. This study looked at congenital disabilities where the expectant mothers resided in the camp between 1968 and 1985 and identified a link between gestational exposure to TCE and PCE chemicals and neural tube congenital disabilities. Children exposed to the chemicals during the first trimester of pregnancy were five times more likely to develop congenital disabilities.
The military concealed Camp Lejeune water contamination
Some evidence shows that the Marine Corps was aware of the water contamination as early as 1980 after the enactment of EPA regulations requiring the testing of water sources. The testing was done by the US Army Environmental Hygiene Agency, which issued its report in March 1981 warning that the water was highly contaminated with chlorinated hydrocarbons. The Marine Corps, however, delayed taking action and concealed the information from the public. In 1982, they contracted Grainger Laboratories to extensively test the Campbase’s water. Those reports confirmed water from certain wells contained high levels of TEC and PCE. The reports were followed by a meeting between Grainger scientists and the base deputy director and a letter addressed to Camp Lejeune base commander, Marine Major General D.J. Fulham, regarding the same issue, among three other warnings issued between 1982 and 1983.
In April 1983, the US Marie Corps officials at Camp Lejeune base submitted a false report to EPA indicating no environmental contamination. Two months later, the North Carolina water supply administration requested that the US Marine Corps provide it with Camp Lejeune water testing reports prepared by Grainger. The base refused to provide the required documents and limited Grainger’s access to water testing at the facility. Tests done in 1984 by another laboratory under EPA’s superfund program confirmed the same toxins in the wells identified previously, leading to a decision to shut down the wells. The base also notified North Carolina’s water supply administration of the water contamination, leaving out details about the specific toxins in the water.