Many people stationed at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina between 1953 and 1987 were exposed to water tainted with toxic chemicals like perchloroethylene (PCE), trichloroethylene (TCE), vinyl chloride, and benzene. These victims have suffered adverse health conditions from exposure to Camp Lejeune contaminated water, including brain cancer, breast cancer, and renal toxicity. The adverse health conditions caused damages, such as medical bills, lost earning potential, and mental anguish.
For years, victims could not seek compensation for their damages. That was until the Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022 was signed into law earlier this year. Despite legislation providing a path toward financial restitution, no Camp Lejeune toxic water administrative claim with the Judge Advocate General for the Department of the Navy has reached adjudication due to obstacles toward proving they were exposed to contaminated water through tangible evidence.
Camp Lejeune Water Contamination
Camp Lejeune is a Marine Corps Base in North Carolina that trains troops to be combat-ready for deployment. However, veterans and their families staying at the base were exposed to contaminated water, leading to adverse health effects.
The two water treatment facilities at Camp Lejeune, Tarawa Terrace Facility, and Hadnot Point Treatment Plant Facility, had their water contaminated by hazardous chemicals due to improper disposal of chemicals, industrial spills, and leaking underground storage tanks and waste disposal sites.
The water at Camp Lejeune was contaminated by four carcinogens: perchloroethylene (PCE), trichloroethylene (TCE), vinyl chloride, and benzene. People living at the military base were exposed to the water for over three decades without any indication that the water was contaminated.
What Cancer Was Caused by the Water Contamination at Camp Lejeune
Many veterans stationed at Camp Lejeune suffered from presumptive conditions, which are chronic illnesses received during active duty. The most common of the presumptive conditions caused by water contamination at Camp Lejeune was various forms of cancer. The contaminants in the water exposed veterans and family members there to cancer, which drastically affected their standard of living and caused long-term pain and suffering.
The following are some of the types of cancer Camp Lejeune water contamination victims have suffered from:
- Brain cancer
- Breast cancer
- Adult Leukemia
- Lung cancer
- Ovarian cancer
- Liver cancer
- Pancreatic cancer
- CNS cancers
- Cervical cancer
- Bladder cancer
- Esophageal cancer
- Prostate cancer
- Soft tissue cancer
- Rectal cancer
- Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
Adverse Health Conditions Caused by Camp Lejeune Water Contamination
Cancer was not the only illness caused by the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune. Many people suffered from other forms of illness that caused intense pain, worsened standard of living, and emotional suffering. On top of the veterans and family members being exposed to adverse health conditions, children in utero also experienced birth defects due to their mothers’ consumption of contaminated drinking water.
The following are some of the diseases and adverse health conditions linked to Camp Lejeune contaminated water exposure:
- Birth defects
- Hepatic Steatosis
- Choanal atresia
- Parkinson’s disease
- Infertility and miscarriages
- Eye defects
- Renal toxicity
- Myelodysplastic syndromes
Camp Lejeune Water Contamination Claims are Time Sensitive
Recovering compensation for Camp Lejeune toxic water damages has been a near-impossible task for victims of the contaminated water. Take the story of Nick Geiger for example. Nick was a Marine that drove a hospital bus to Camp Lejeune for a year in the 1970s. He eventually suffered from liver problems, blood clots, headaches, and over 200 tumors that he believed came from toxic water exposure at Camp Lejeune.
Nick Geiger felt he was entitled to compensation for Camp Lejeune toxic water damages. He filed a claim to recover Camp Lejeune toxic water damages compensation five separate times, with the Veterans Administration (VA) denying it each time. His toxic water injuries eventually took his life in 2018 before he could receive any financial restitution. His mother, Patricia Geiger, continues to work toward recovering compensation for her son’s toxic water injuries.
The Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022 Allowed Victims to Seek Compensation
For decades, victims of Camp Lejeune contaminated water were not allowed to file personal injury claims to pursue compensation for damages due to North Carolina’s statute of repose. This law imposes a strict ten-year window for filing personal injury claims, meaning you cannot pursue compensation for damages ten years after an incident.
Most Camp Lejeune water contamination victims did not discover their adverse health conditions stemmed from contaminated water until after this deadline. The Veterans Administration (VA) also excluded Camp Lejeune military families from receiving disability benefits.
However, this all changed when President Biden signed the Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022 into law on August 10th, 2022. It lifted North Carolina’s statute of repose and allowed victims of Camp Lejeune water contamination to file an administrative claim with the Judge Advocate General for the Department of the Navy to pursue compensation until August 10th, 2024.
Following the filing of an administrative claim, the Department of the Navy has six months to approve or deny the claim, with a Camp Lejeune toxic water lawsuit being able to be filed only after a decision from the Navy is made. Anybody who was stationed at, lived at, or was carried in utero by their mother that lived at Camp Lejeune can file an administrative claim to pursue compensation for toxic water damages if:
- They were at the camp for at least 30 days
- They were at the camp between August 31st, 1953 and December 31st, 1987
- They suffered from one of the illnesses or cancers codified by the Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022
Marine Master Sergeant Jerry Ensminger Advocacy for the Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022
The passing of the Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022 was the culmination of decades worth of work for Marine Master Sergeant Jerry Ensminger, who stood behind the president as the law was signed. He has been one of the major advocates for Camp Lejeune toxic water legislation for over 25 years.
The work toward recovering fair compensation for Camp Lejeune toxic water damages was personal for Ensminger, whose daughter Janey was born at Camp Lejeune in 1976 and passed away in 1985 due to leukemia caused by contaminated water exposure.
Decades of advocacy and urging Congress to pass legislation to help victims finally paid off when the law was signed in August of 2022. He described it as a “hallelujah moment.” Despite a path for Camp Lejeune toxic water victims to recover compensation, it has not been that simple so far.
Trouble Recovering Documentation in Order to Get Camp Lejeune Compensation
Recovering compensation through the Camp Lejeune Justice Act is not the same as a class-action lawsuit, where defendants get the benefit of streamlined discovery. Each Camp Lejeune toxic water victim must collect their own evidence of toxic water exposure, which can prove to be a challenge.
Marine Major Sidney Huguenin III suffers from kidney cancer and autoimmune disease from living at Camp Lejeune from 1955 to 1959. His parents, who also lived there, both died from cancer, and his sister was born with a heart valve defect. To recover compensation for his Camp Lejeune toxic water damages, Huguenin has to prove exactly where he lived on the base through old records. This is particularly challenging for him, as he was a very young boy at the time he lived there.
Huguenin’s attorney Bruce Poole has pointed to the major issue regarding Camp Lejeune toxic water claims. "You have to substantiate not only that you have cancer or that birth defect because you were at Camp Lejeune and you were exposed, but then you have to show what that loss was to you." Tracking down decades-old housing and medical records has proven to be a challenge that has halted Camp Lejeune toxic water victims from recovering compensation for their damages.
The Navy Judge Advocate General’s Corps’ Role in Camp Lejeune Toxic Water Claims
Claims for compensation for damages stemming from exposure to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune are handled by the Navy Judge Advocate General’s Corps. Navy JAG Spokeswoman Patricia Babb recently spoke about the difficulties presented by the process for recovering compensation: "The Navy ... is closely monitoring the number of claims received and continually assessing its practice. The Navy will take appropriate actions, if required, to address any potential bottlenecks."
So far, the Navy JAG has received about 10,000 Camp Lejeune toxic water administrative claims, with none adjudicated. Upon filing a claim, the Navy JAG has six months to make a decision, with victims having six months after that decision to file a lawsuit in federal court. Camp Lejeune contaminated water victims continue to work toward compensation despite the difficulties presented by the process.