Camp Lejeune Litigation Backlogs: Cases of Illness or Wrongful Deaths?

1941 was a celebratory year for the US military, marking the acquisition of land for Camp Lejeune – a substantial military base for the Marine Corps. It was only a matter of a few years before this Camp made it to the headlines for all of the wrong reasons.

Just eight years after the formal establishment of the North Carolina Camp, cases of water toxicity began emerging. Veterans and their civilian families had consumed deadly proportions of water contaminated with Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), namely tetrachloroethylene or PERC.

The three polluted tanks – Hadnot Point, Tarawa Terrace, and Holcomb Boulevard had managed to cause the deaths of hundreds of people whilst injuring a thousand others. This unfortunate scenario lasted for nearly three decades, right from 1953 all the way up to 1987.

Today, Camp Lejeune water toxicity victims are eligible for compensation from the Federal government. However, things are not going as initially planned. Let’s explore the reasons behind the high number of litigation backlogs and what measures are underway to expedite the process.


Legal Action for Camp Lejeune Victims

The first major discovery of VOCs in the Camp’s water was made back in 1982. But, matters were pushed under the rug for a couple more years. It was only in 1989 that rigorous efforts toward public health assessments were made by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Even then, no concerns were raised regarding adult health. The EPA presented questions regarding children’s health from the contaminated water, leaving the case ongoing till 1998. In the early 2000s, the Federal government intervened, and investigations gave irrefutable proof of the direct link between water toxicity and a rising number of health issues.

President Obama’s administration passed the official Camp Lejeune Bill after major efforts from a Camp veteran, Jerry Ensminger. This Bill made Camp Lejeune victims eligible for free medical care. Only 10 years later did the victims receive any hope of justice.

President Joe Biden passed the Camp Lejeune Justice Act in August 2022, making the victims and their families eligible for compensation and justice.

The Standard Camp Lejeune Water Contamination Lawsuit Process

Affected veterans and their families cannot directly file a lawsuit in North Carolina. They must first make an administrative claim with the US Navy Judge Advocate General or Navy JAG. If they receive a resolution from the Navy’s end, the litigation is further pushed to the Federal court.

If no resolution is given within six months of filing or the claim is altogether denied, the plaintiff may file a Camp Lejeune water contamination lawsuit as an alternative. It is estimated that the payout for Camp Lejeune could reach as high as $1 million, depending upon the victim’s injuries.

According to TorHoerman Law attorneys, some of the most common injuries suffered by Camp Lejeune victims include cancers of the bladder, lungs, liver, blood, and esophagus. Other health conditions include female infertility, neurological disorders, Parkinson’s disease, and more.

The lawsuit may be filed by the victim or their families in the case of the deceased. It is estimated that nearly 60,000 administrative claims have been made with the US Navy JAG.

Rising Number of Backlogs

The registry of the US Department of Defense shows that Florida has the maximum number of administrative claims, as high as 25,000. These numbers are nothing when compared to the 1 million victims (directly or indirectly affected) of the Camp, according to the US Department of Veteran Affairs.

Out of these 1 million, at least 60,000 veterans already have their claim hanging in the Navy JAG’s office. To date, most of these claims have had no resolution from the Navy’s end. In fact, Roll Call discovered that the Navy still does not have a standard resolution process in place.

Speculations regarding the US military and Navy JAG’s vested interest in the matter continue to circulate. People are raising questions about their denial since they have stepped back from assuming responsibility ever since water toxicity was discovered in 1982.

  • Firstly, the Navy JAG’s casual reply to the masses is that they only adjudicate claims based on the applicable law. This is concerning because no standardized process for claim resolution is available.
  • Secondly, the Navy JAG responded to Fox News that they had started the “initial process” of claim resolution. This includes visiting victims and their families, conducting interviews, etc.
  • Thirdly, the Navy JAG has completely denied all responsibility for a six-month resolution. This leaves plaintiffs with only two alternatives – find a reliable lawyer and file a lawsuit or continue awaiting the Navy JAG’s resolution.

Cases of Illness Turning into Wrongful Deaths

While the Navy JAG continues to deny active responsibility in the Camp Lejeune litigation process, victims are concerned that they may never have a chance at resolution.

Earlier, victims were unable to sue the government for damages due to “qualified immunity defenses.” Today, the problem is that victims fear they may never live long enough to witness their claims reaching trial.

Mike Partain, who was born at Camp Lejeune in 1968, was later diagnosed with a rare breast cancer in men (2007). He fears that he may succumb to the illness before his case reaches the court for trial. Not only that, but it is also possible that most of the victims die naturally due to age.

Jerry Ensminger is another veteran whose daughter Janey died due to leukemia at age 9. He has filed a case of wrongful death. However, he believes that at least 40% of the Camp Lejeune illness cases have now turned into cases of wrongful deaths. If the Navy does not expedite the process, the Federal Judge may only have the victims’ preserved testimonies to rely on.

Rubio Breaking the Silence on the Bureaucratic Waiting Game

With over 1 million affected due to water toxicity, Camp Lejeune could easily become the largest-ever mass tort in US litigation history. Marco Rubio, the US Senator, has expressed his deep concerns to the Secretary of the US Navy – Carlos Del Toro.

In a letter, he has made it clear that it is unfair for Camp Lejeune victims to be forever stuck in a cruel waiting game, especially when these people have served the nation in one way or another. The US Senator went on to say that most of the victims have had to suffer from severe injuries, and it is only fitting that they receive the compensation they deserve at the earliest possible opportunity.

As such, he demanded the Navy Secretary to disclose the following information –

  • Factors contributing to the delays in claims resolution
  • Cause for the delay in launching an online portal for claims management
  • How the Navy plans on giving out relevant compensation
  • How the different Navy employees are tasked in the claims resolution process
  • If and how the Navy plans to expedite the claims resolution process for those with financial difficulties and medical sensitivities
  • A realistic timeline for the 60,000 claims resolution still pending

The Alternative Route

Some victims of Camp Lejeune are currently awaiting the Navy’s response. Some others are choosing to file a lawsuit with the help of a reliable lawyer. If you or a loved one is also stuck in a rut, it is best to take this alternative route if possible.

Before partnering with a law firm, ask for a free Camp Lejeune case review. Observe the level of experience the firm has in obtaining compensation from the government (because that is not an easy process). Moreover, a team of passionate and empathetic legal professionals is needed to make the lengthy legal process convenient.

Also, it is best to choose a firm that does not ask for any fees or charges upfront. They should demand payments only after the case has won the court’s verdict. As to the question of litigation backlogs, only time will tell if the Navy JAG appropriates its time and resources to expedite the process for the victims’ sake.

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