Compensation Offered, But Camp Lejeune Victims Demand Justice in Federal Court

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  • Compensation Offered, But Camp Lejeune Victims Demand Justice in Federal Court

    U.S. CAPITAL -- The government has taken Washington's first steps to compensate those whose water supply was tainted at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina's Marine Corps base. More than 100,000 service members and their families have come forward, alleging that they suffered health problems as a result of drinking the poisonous water from the base, and many are calling for justice.

    Recent events follow the 2022 passage and implementation of the PACT Act, which seeks to compensate military personnel who are exposed to harmful chemicals, such as burn pits, during foreign military operations. Those who were harmed by the tainted water at Camp Lejeune between the years of the mid-1950s and the mid-1980s may submit damage claims to the Navy and bring lawsuits if they are not addressed within six months, according to provisions included in the PACT Act.

    After the first anniversary of the statute in August came and went without any settlements, federal authorities were under increasing pressure to resolve the over 93,000 claims at the Navy's Judge Advocate General's Office and the over 1,100 cases filed in federal court.

    The Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Navy responded to this mounting demand for action on September 6 by introducing the "elective option," which offers settlements between $100,000 and $550,000 depending on the length of time spent at Camp Lejeune and the degree of health harm sustained.

    Tier 1 illnesses covered by this plan include kidney cancer, liver cancer, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, leukemia, and bladder cancer, and sufferers may earn between $150,000 and $450,000 in compensation.

    Amounts ranging from $100,000 to $400,000 are available to those with "Tier 2" illnesses such as multiple myeloma, Parkinson's disease, kidney disease, end-stage renal disease, systemic sclerosis, or scleroderma, again depending on the length of the exposure. When death is unexpectedly brought on by one of these conditions, the government will also pay $100,000.

    According to Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, the "Elective Option" is an important mechanism for expediting the determination of claims filed under the Camp Lejeune Justice Act and providing relief to eligible claimants. Navy Undersecretary Erik Raven stressed how the procedure would simplify settlements and how it would seek to resolve issues in a fair and timely manner.

    However, a team of plaintiffs' lawyers, headed by Ed Bell of Georgetown, S.C.'s Bell Legal Group, found the settlement proposals to be unsatisfactory. Since July, federal courts in North Carolina have assigned them to handle the plaintiffs' claims.

    Breast cancer survivor Mike Partain voiced his displeasure, noting that the window of opportunity to exercise an optional choice is too small. Marine Corps veteran and accountability advocate Jerry Ensminger also voiced his displeasure with the settlements on offer. He threatened legal action if the settlement offer did not meet his needs.

    An estimated one million Marines, family members, and others were exposed to the polluted water at Camp Lejeune, and the entire cost of settlements and verdicts in the case might surpass $20 billion.

    An attorney representing 4,800 victims says the government's compensation program is a good first step, and he recommends it to families looking for closure. He cautioned that there is a major downside in pursuing cases because it may take years.

    There is still disagreement between plaintiffs' counsel and the DOJ on how and when to begin trials. In the coming months, four federal courts in North Carolina will decide on these issues.

    The plaintiffs' attorney Ed Bell requests that trials begin in early 2024, arguing that the government has had plenty of time to prepare. However, concerns have been raised that certain lawyers are pushing for trials that would increase their fee structure.

    Rep. Darrell Issa has proposed a measure that would restrict lawyer fees in Camp Lejeune disputes to between 12 and 17 percent. Nothing has happened in the House or Senate despite these bills being introduced.

    As victims of the tragedy at Camp Lejeune weigh their choices, the road to justice and compensation remains long, and the fight for fairness and resolution rages on.

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