From 1953 to 1987, the Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that close to one million people were exposed to toxic chemicals that had contaminated the water supply of Camp Lejeune in Onslow County, North Carolina. The Marine Corps Base and training facility was the temporary and permanent residence of active service members, their families, and a slew of civilian personnel. Eventually, vinyl chloride, tetrachloroethylene (TCE), and other industrial chemicals that polluted base water supplies took their toll as hundreds of thousands developed severe medical conditions ranging from various cancers to Parkinson’s disease.
Beginning in August 2022, the federal government took proactive legislative and procedural steps to address the mounting legal challenges and calls for compensation from Camp Lejeune victims and their families. After a year of inefficiency, the Justice Department and Department of the Navy (DON) have released a new Elective Option to resolve administrative claims and standardize settlement payouts for certain filings.
Although the Camp Lejeune Elective Option will, hopefully, ensure that terminally ill victims receive swift claim assessments, it is likely to have dramatic consequences for the active Camp Lejeune mass tort litigation progressing in North Carolina.
Why Was There A Need for An Elective Option for Camp Lejeune Claims?
The Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of the Navy (DON) have been facing a tremendous amount of criticism in recent months on account of their failure to sufficiently address over 93,000 Camp Lejeune administrative claims filed by the victims of Camp Lejeune toxic chemical exposure. These Camp Lejeune administrative claims constitute a critical step in the process of seeking compensation for damages sustained after living at or serving on the North Carolina Marine Corps base when water supplies were tainted.
The August 2022 Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act and the Camp Lejeune Justice Act (CLJA) explicitly require that a potential Camp Lejeune victim file an administrative claim with the Judge Advocate General’s Office (JAG) in the Department of the Navy. If the claim goes unaddressed for a period of 6 months or the government cannot reach an agreement with a claimant over a settlement sum, then the United States can be held liable in a court of law.
Unfortunately, the Navy has been remarkably slow to address the accumulating claims. By February 2023, the first month in which the 6 month deadline expired for those who had filed an administrative claim in August 2022, Camp Lejeune water contamination lawsuits began flooding in. They have recently been consolidated into a multidistrict litigation in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina.
At the same time as the Camp Lejeune litigation was reaching an inflection point, bipartisan congressional pressure prompted the Navy to commit to devising a more efficient system for logging and addressing claims. The slowness of the Navy’s response was especially egregious because of the terminal status of many Camp Lejeune water contamination victims.
What is the Camp Lejeune Elective Option?
The Camp Lejeune Elective Option is the product of a cross-agency and multi-department federal collaboration to produce a standard and more effective framework for processing the CLJA-mandated administrative claims. In an official press release, Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta stated that the Elective Option will provide “an avenue for receiving quick and early resolution of claims under” the CLJA.
There are some considerable differences between the Elective Option and the inefficient processing system that the Navy relied upon in the past. Most importantly, the two controlling criteria for an assessment of one’s claim under the Elective Option are medical condition diagnosis and length of time at Camp Lejeune.
The Tiered Settlement System of the Camp Lejeune Elective Option
The Elective Option proposed by the DOJ and DON for Camp Lejeune administrative claims is “tiered”. The tiers were created to encapsulate specific diagnoses associated with toxic chemical exposure at Camp Lejeune between August 1, 1953 and December 31, 1987.
In compiling a list of core diseases to address, the Justice Department says that it relied upon the determinations produced by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR).
Camp Lejeune Contaminated Water Injuries and Their Tiers
The two tiers for the new Camp Lejeune Elective Option are:
- Tier 1 Diagnoses
- Kidney cancer
- Liver cancer
- Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
- Bladder cancer
- Tier 2 Diagnoses
- Multiple myeloma
- Parkinson’s disease
- Kidney disease (end-stage renal)
- Systemic sclerosis/systemic scleroderma
Camp Lejeune Elective Option Tiered Compensation Rates
The second aspect of the Elective Option tier system addresses compensation for those who can prove that their diagnosis was caused by exposure to industrial chemicals in the Camp Lejeune water supply. The DOJ and DON made their determinations based on the length of time one resided at or worked on Camp Lejeune in either a civilian or military capacity.
Each tier has different compensation rates:
- Tier 1 Diagnoses
- 5+ years at Camp Lejeune: $450,000
- Between 1 – 5 years at Camp Lejeune: $300,000
- Between 30 – 364 days at Camp Lejeune: $150,000
- Tier 2 Diagnoses
- 5+ years at Camp Lejeune: $400,000
- Between 1 – 5 years at Camp Lejeune: $250,000
- Between 30 – 364 days at Camp Lejeune: $100,000
Given that the goal of the Elective Option is to “streamline” and enhance the settlement process, compensation rates appear to be fixed and may be nonnegotiable. They are not, however, compulsory.
If you submit a Camp Lejeune administrative claim through the Elective Option and receive a settlement offer, you do not have to accept the proposed compensation. Should you reject the offered Camp Lejeune settlement sum, you will then be eligible to file a lawsuit.
Wrongful Death Compensation in Camp Lejeune Settlements
Another important facet of the new Camp Lejeune Elective Option is the ability to seek additional compensation for wrongful death. The devastating reality is that thousands of former Camp Lejeune residents and their families are actively facing the prospect of or coping with the loss of a loved one from the illnesses they developed from the toxic chemicals in Camp Lejeune’s water supply.
Much of the outcry directed against the Department of the Navy and DOJ between August 2022 and September 5, 2023, originated from their failure to acknowledge this tragic fact. Fortunately, the Elective Option explicitly addresses wrongful death compensation. Regardless of an individual’s tier status, they can pursue an additional $100,000 for wrongful death from Camp Lejeune’s contaminated water.
Camp Lejeune Elective Option FAQs
Does the Elective Option Replace the Camp Lejeune Justice Act (CLJA)?
The Elective Option does not supersede or entirely replace the parameters for filing an administrative claim with the JAG. It is designed to ensure that severe but specific medical conditions and illnesses associated with toxic chemical exposure at Camp Lejeune are dealt with swiftly and compensated without any legal proceedings.
The same basic standards which govern the normal administrative claim process still apply. An individual must file a claim with the JAG of the Department of the Navy before having it assessed within a period of 6 months. Should the Camp Lejeune claimant reject the offered Elective Option settlement sum or find himself neglected by the DON after 6 months, he then becomes eligible to file suit against the United States government.
Will the DOJ and DON Elective Option Affect Camp Lejeune VA Disability Benefits?
Many veterans who were stationed at Camp Lejeune between the period August 1, 1953 and December 31, 1987 and subsequently developed the symptoms of Camp Lejeune toxic chemical exposure receive disability assistance from the VA. Some of these Camp Lejeune victims may also qualify for the newly introduced Elective Option.
To account for this fact, the Elective Option does not interfere with, disqualify, or restrict an individual’s capacity to access disability funds from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
How Does the Elective Option Impact Camp Lejeune Water Contamination Litigation?
At the moment, there are over 1,100 Camp Lejeune lawsuits consolidated into multidistrict litigation (MDL) in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina. Per the PACT and CLJA Acts of August 2022, only after a lapsed or unresolved administrative claim with the JAG in the Department of the Navy can an individual pursue a Camp Lejeune lawsuit against the government.
The DOJ recognizes this fact, but still intends to “screen already-filed lawsuits and extend settlement offers in qualifying cases that are similar to awards under the Elective Option.” It remains to be seen how this will change the trajectory and dynamics of the currently contentious Camp Lejeune mass tort litigation.
Experienced Camp Lejeune Attorneys Can Help You Understand the New Elective Option
The recent introduction of the Elective Option protocol drastically changes the legal and procedural landscape of Camp Lejeune water contamination claims and lawsuits. That is why it is paramount to understand your eligibility and due compensation.
Fortunately, qualified Camp Lejeune attorneys have extensive experience in mass tort litigation and assisting prospective and active clients with making pivotal decisions about how or whether to proceed with an administrative claim or lawsuit. The legal team at LLN offers free consultations and works on a contingency-fee basis, which means you don’t pay until we deliver results.
If you were stationed at Camp Lejeune between August 1, 1953 and December 31, 1987 and were subsequently diagnosed with any of the illnesses outlined in the tiered Elective Option you may be eligible to seek compensation. The window of eligibility established in the August 2022 CLJA expires in August 2024. The sooner you file a claim with the assistance of a Camp Lejeune lawyer, the better.