From 1953 to 1987, the water supply at the North Carolina military base Camp Lejeune was contaminated with potent toxic chemicals. Those stationed at Camp Lejeune incurred a correspondingly higher risk of developing severe and causally linked medical conditions like cancer and Parkinson's disease.
However, congenital defects and gestational complications have attracted considerably less attention and, unsurprisingly, have resulted in fewer options for women and children to seek support from the government. As the Camp Lejeune litigation advances and more individuals file administrative claims with the Department of the Navy, there has been a revival to get women the recognition and compensation they deserve after suffering from miscarriages, stillbirths, and birth defects in their children.
Table of contents
- Federal Studies Establish Connection Between Toxic Chemical Exposure and Neural Tube Defects
- VA Camp Lejeune Committee Recognizes Birth Defects in 2015
- Servicewomen Denied Disability Benefits and Federal Assistance for Decades
- Common Damages in Camp Lejeune Lawsuits
- Contact an Experienced Camp Lejeune Lawyer Today
Federal Studies Establish Connection Between Toxic Chemical Exposure and Neural Tube Defects
The first and, thus far, most authoritative federal study to determine the correlation between toxic chemical exposure at Camp Lejeune and birth defects began in 1999 under the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). The agency is a subsidiary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services which, recently, has played an important role in the promulgation of Camp Lejeune-related guidelines. For example, it partnered with the Department of Justice to devise a list of qualifying diagnoses for the September administrative claim Elective Option.
For the study, the ATSDR contacted the parents of roughly 12,598 children who had been born at Camp Lejeune between 1968 and 1985. The generation was one of the last to experience unmitigated and unknown exposure to toxic substances in Camp Lejeune’s water supply, which the federal government sought to decontaminate in the mid- to late 1980s.
Correlation Between Camp Lejeune Water Exposure and Health Issues Among Resident Children
The federal Camp Lejeune research addresses several significant inquiries, including the correlation between multiple toxic substances and congenital defects and gestational complications, including:
- Neural Tube Defects (NTDs)
- Oral clefts
- Childhood hematopoietic cancers
The ATSDR received voluntary reports containing 15 confirmed cases of neural tube defects, including spina bifida, 24 occurrences of oral clefts, and 13 instances of childhood hematopoietic cancers. In contrast to earlier studies, researchers replicated small-scale, residential exposure to toxic volatile organic compounds (VOCs) through drinking water as opposed to “broad water system level” parameters.
Pregnant women stationed at Camp Lejeune were also exposed to the toxic chemicals in the base’s water supply through swimming and bathing, and epidemiologist Frank Bove states that an individual does not need to sustain “long-term exposure” to place her pregnancy at risk. “It could be days or weeks”, Bove said to NBC News. The unnerving statement confirms the potency of the toxic substances in Camp Lejeune’s wells, including:
- Vinyl chloride
ATSDR Camp Lejeune Birth Defect Research Findings
Published in 2013, the ATSDR’s “Birth Defects and Childhood Cancers” study discovered that there was a strong causal relationship between first-trimester trichloroethylene and benzene exposure and the development of neural tube defects. The discovery corroborates an earlier New Jersey study which establishes an identical link.
Although there was a “weaker association” between first-trimester exposure to tetrachlorethylene (PCE), 1,2-dichloroethylene, vinyl chloride, and childhood hematopoietic cancers, exposed fetuses still ran a comparatively higher risk of developing, for example, leukemia.
In assessing the relationship between toxic substances in Camp Lejeune’s water supply and childhood cancers, the ATSDR concludes that there is a noticeably lower risk in late-term gestational exposure than in the first trimester.
Subsequent ATSDR Camp Lejeune Literature Review
In a 2017 sweeping literature review, the ATSDR surveys dozens of clinical studies analyzing the relationship between toxic chemical exposure at Camp Lejeune and severe medical conditions. Confirming the conclusions of a previous Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) study, the ATSDR asserts that there is “sufficient evidence for causation for TCE and [congenital] cardiac defects” including:
- Septal morphogenesis
- Valvular morphogenesis
VA Camp Lejeune Committee Recognizes Birth Defects in 2015
Official government figures place the probable number of Camp Lejeune toxic chemical exposure victims at one million. The North Carolina Marine Corps Base (MCB) was the home for active servicemembers, their families, and civilian contractors and personnel.
Although the federal government and military undertook extensive decontamination campaigns in the 1980s to purify the water supply at Camp Lejeune, legislation enshrining special protections for the victims of toxic chemical exposure, especially children, was noticeably delayed. The 2012 Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act seeks to address, however partially, the lack of healthcare for the military families stationed at the base between 1957 and 1987.
Containing a clause that ensures healthcare access for “veterans and their families” who suffered medical complications on account of toxic chemical exposure, the bill prompted the VA to convene a committee of experts to devise a set of clinical guidelines to direct physicians and healthcare providers.
The committee’s 2015 “Review of Clinical Guidance for the Health Conditions Identified by the Camp Lejeune Legislation” expanded healthcare coverage to women who had suffered a miscarriage or children who had developed neurobehavioral complications connected to NTDs. It did not go so far as to list any such health complication as a “presumptive condition”, qualifying a claimant to disability benefits.
Servicewomen Denied Disability Benefits and Federal Assistance for Decades
In late September 2023, NBC News published a disturbing report detailing the experiences of women who had suffered miscarriages and stillbirths at Camp Lejeune but failed to receive any substantial support from the government. Largely a consequence of minimal official recognition that Camp Lejeune’s polluted water supply could cause such severe congenital anomalies, the women have begun to file administrative complaints pursuant to the CLJA of August 2022.
Nevertheless, J. Edward Bell III, court-appointed lead counsel in the Camp Lejeune litigation based in North Carolina, told the outlet that a lack of sufficient medical documentation greatly complicates acquiring both government support and compensation. Another prominent attorney, Andrew Van Arsdale, suspects that the future of miscarriage and congenital defects claims and lawsuits will consist of “a very scrutinizing process”.
Be that as it may, LaVeda Kendrix told NBC that, for women bearing the grief and trauma of stillbirths and miscarriages, “It’s like we’re invisible”. In an intimate interview with NBC, former Camp Lejeune marine mechanic Crystal Dickens revealed that she had suffered three consecutive miscarriages and an additional complication that took the life of one of her twins in utero.
For the story, Dickens took NBC reporters to the so-called “Baby Heaven” at Camp Lejeune, a sprawling cemetery that contains the remains of countless infants who died from severe birth defects at Camp Lejeune.
Common Damages in Camp Lejeune Lawsuits
The severity and longevity of injuries associated with toxic chemical exposure at Camp Lejeune often result in mounting medical expenses and long-term emotional distress. Although each case, especially a Camp Lejeune birth defect claim, is unique, common damages in the pending Camp Lejeune lawsuits include:
- Medical expenses – past, present, and future
- Lost wages and income
- Emotional distress
- Decreased quality of life
In recent weeks, the DON and DOJ have introduced an Elective Option that permits eligible Camp Lejeune claimants to access fixed compensation rates for qualifying injuries. Unfortunately, the EO does not include a provision for women and children who have suffered from congenital and gestational complications.
Acquiring due compensation from the government, therefore, may require such an individual either to seek a payout with the notoriously slow-moving DON through the traditional administrative claims process or file suit against the government after satisfying the criteria to sue established in the 2022 CLJA.
Contact an Experienced Camp Lejeune Lawyer Today
The government’s failure to mitigate toxic chemical exposure at Camp Lejeune represents a tremendous breach of public trust. Its subsequent failure to address the enduring misery of women and children who suffered from congenital and gestational complications is disrespectful and unconscionable.
Nearly a decade’s worth of authoritative studies have confirmed the correlation between toxic chemicals in the Camp Lejeune water supply and such devastating conditions. At LLN, we believe that women and their children deserve more.
That’s why we intend to get accountability for those who have been forgotten. Our excellent team of qualified Camp Lejeune lawyers offer free consultations for prospective clients and work around the clock to provide you the information, recognition, and assistance you need.
The deadline to file a Camp Lejeune administrative claim and/or lawsuit is August 2024, so the sooner you get in contact with legal counsel, the more time you’ll have to weigh all of your options and make a critical decision.