How Camp Lejeune Residents Have Fought for Justice and Recovery

For decades, residents of Camp Lejeune, a Marine Corps base in North Carolina, unknowingly faced a hidden enemy – their tap water. From the 1950s to the late 1980s, the water supply at the base was contaminated with harmful chemicals. This exposed residents to serious health risks. 


In this article, we’ll explore how the Camp Lejeune residents fought for recognition and compensation for the health problems they faced.

The Legacy of Contamination

The contamination at the base traces back to the mid-20th century. It spans from 1953 to 1987 when residents at the base were exposed to a toxic cocktail of chemicals in their drinking water. The primary contaminants included volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as trichloroethylene (TCE), perchloroethylene (PCE), benzene, and vinyl chloride. 

These substances, along with other hazardous materials, stemmed from improper waste disposal practices on the base. This led to widespread contamination of the base’s drinking water supply. 

Despite mounting evidence of health risks associated with prolonged exposure to these contaminants, comprehensive action to address the issue was delayed. The contamination affected active-duty Marines and their families, civilian employees, and residents of the surrounding communities. 

Health Effects of Camp Lejeune Water Contamination

The health effects stemming from the contaminated water at the base are staggering. They encompass a myriad of serious illnesses and conditions that have afflicted military personnel and their families. 

According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), a comprehensive study evaluated the causes of death among Camp Lejeune residents. They compared them with a similar cohort from Camp Pendleton, which did not have a contaminated water supply.

The study found an alarming association between exposure to the contaminated water at the base and a range of adverse health outcomes. These included various cancers as well as Hodgkin’s lymphoma, leukemia, and multiple myeloma. 

Additionally, non-cancerous kidney and liver diseases, multiple sclerosis, and other serious conditions were linked to contaminated water exposure. Significantly higher mortality rates were observed among the Camp Lejeune group compared to the Camp Pendleton cohort for several causes of death. 

These findings underscore the profound impact of water contamination on the health and well-being of those exposed.

The Fight for Recognition

Despite mounting evidence linking the contamination to a myriad of serious illnesses, residents of the base encountered challenges in getting their health issues acknowledged.

One significant milestone in this struggle was the enactment of the Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012. The Act provided some relief for qualifying veterans. 

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, individuals who served at the base during the contamination period could receive comprehensive health care. This entitlement extends regardless of whether they have a health condition presumed to be related to exposure.

For those with one of the 16 medical conditions presumed to be linked to exposure, health care would be provided at no charge. Others would have co-pays based on income and eligibility.

However, justice remained elusive for affected individuals who did not fall under the provisions of the Camp Lejeune Families Act. It wasn’t until the Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022 that further avenues for recourse opened up. This legislation allowed individuals who were exposed to contaminated water at the base to sue the government for harm suffered. 

Legal Remedies and Settlements for Camp Lejeune Victims

The Camp Lejeune Claims Center outlines two primary legal avenues for settlements. One option involves accepting a voluntary Elective Option payout from the Department of Justice and the Department of the Navy. Alternatively, individuals can negotiate directly with the government, especially if they don’t qualify for an EO or are unsatisfied with the offer.

According to TorHoerman Law, these settlements are facilitated through the Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022 (CLJA). However, the window for filing a claim is limited, with a deadline set until August 2024. Given that claims are processed in the order they are received, prompt action is crucial.

The Camp Lejeune water settlements are poised to deliver significant compensation, with over $21 billion expected in payouts. Families impacted by the toxic water could potentially receive settlements ranging from $25,000 to over $1 million. This compensation is contingent upon the severity of harm, duration of exposure, and other pertinent factors. 

These settlements represent a beacon of hope for those who have endured the devastating health consequences of water contamination. They offer a measure of financial relief and acknowledgment of their suffering.

Recovery Initiatives for Affected Communities

The fight for justice at the base extended beyond compensation. Recovery efforts focused on ensuring long-term health and environmental well-being.

Firstly, increased healthcare access became a priority. The VA expanded healthcare services for veterans exposed to contaminated water, providing screenings, treatment for related illnesses, and long-term care. Additionally, programs were established to connect affected residents with civilian healthcare resources. 

Secondly, cleaning up the contaminated water sources at the base remains an ongoing effort. The Navy, under the Superfund Site law, leads the cleanup process. This involves extensive measures like removing contaminated soil and groundwater, treating remaining pollutants, and monitoring water quality. 

While progress has been made, ensuring a safe and sustainable water supply for the base is a long-term commitment.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Justice Act of Camp Lejeune?

The Justice Act of Camp Lejeune is legislation that allows individuals exposed to contaminated water at the base to sue for damages. This act aims to provide legal recourse and compensation for those affected by the contamination.

Has any individual received a settlement from Camp Lejeune?

Yes. The Department of Justice has extended multiple offers to Camp Lejeune families via the Elective Option. These offers have resulted in 15 payouts totaling $3.6 million as of March 2024. There’s still an opportunity to file a claim and seek a settlement.

Who benefits from the Camp Lejeune lawsuit?

Those affected by the Camp Lejeune water contamination benefit from the lawsuit. This includes military personnel, their families, and civilian employees who suffered health issues due to exposure. Settlements provide financial compensation and acknowledgment of the harm endured, aiding in their recovery and pursuit of justice.

In conclusion, the story of Camp Lejeune is a testament to the unwavering spirit of its residents in the face of adversity. Their fight for justice not only secured compensation but also led to crucial healthcare programs and ongoing environmental cleanup efforts. 

The journey for recovery is far from over, but the steps taken offer a beacon of hope for a healthier future for those affected. However, the long-term health consequences of exposure remain a concern, underscoring the need for continued support and research.  This fight serves as a reminder of the need for swift action when public health is at risk.

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