Esophageal Cancer and Camp Lejeune

 

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People living or working at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, from the 1950s through the 1980s, were most likely exposed to benzene, industrial solvents, and other chemicals through the drinking water. Researchers believe the contamination was from contaminated wells from 1953 through 1985 that serviced two housing areas at the base. The researchers are still not sure of the intensity and duration of the contamination and are not sure of the geographic extent. Authorities shut down the contaminated wells in 1985.

Diseases Potentially Caused by the Contaminated Water

After many years of researching conditions, researchers have determined that the contaminated drinking water caused certain diseases. The VA ruled that anyone living or working on the base from at least 1953 through 1985 who have certain diseases most likely contracted the disease from the drinking water. The list of VA presumptive diseases includes:
  • Adult leukemia.
  • Aplastic anemia.
  • Certain myelodysplastic syndrome.
  • Bladder cancer.
  • Kidney cancer.
  • Liver cancer.
  • Multiple myeloma.
  • Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
  • Parkinson's disease.
The list of presumptive diseases by the VA is not the complete list of diseases related to the contaminated drinking water at Camp Lejeune. If you have other diseases, seek treatment at the VA or have your doctor forward your records to the VA, something your Camp Lejeune water contamination lawyer can arrange for you. The organization is reviewing more information to determine whether it should add more diseases to its presumptive list. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information in its review of VA Clinical Guidance for the Health Conditions Identified by Camp Lejeune Legislation, the 2012 Act has also listed additional cancers that are related to the contaminated water exposure. Those cancers include:
  • Esophageal cancer.
  • Lung cancer.
  • Breast cancer.
  • Bladder cancer.
The list also includes the cancers on the VA's presumptive disease list, as mentioned above, including leukemia, multiple myeloma, and Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. The 2012 Janey Ensminger Act also mentions the cancers listed above. The VA is using the same rules it set for cancers and other diseases caused by Agent Orange from the Vietnam Conflict, as it gives the benefit of the doubt to the veterans and their family members.

Filing a Camp Lejeune Lawsuit

Normally, the VA does not allow veterans or family members to file lawsuits for service-connected diseases. However, the Camp Lejeune Justice Act (CLJA), passed in August 2022, allows veterans and family members to file lawsuits to recover compensation for esophageal cancer and other illnesses caused by the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune. The CLJA only allows a veteran two years after enactment to file a lawsuit. Thus, it is imperative that you contact an attorney immediately. You must have resolved all administrative remedies before you can file a lawsuit and must file your lawsuit with the Navy JAG prior to August 22, 2024. If you discover you have esophageal cancer after that date, you won't be able to bring a claim. Thus, you will have to file an administrative claim with the Navy JAG and go through the administrative process before you can file a lawsuit. Those who discover a disease related to the drinking water at Camp Lejeune after the final filing date can try to file a disability claim with the VA.

Symptoms of Esophageal Cancer

If you lived at Camp Lejeune during the 1950s through 1985 and you have symptoms of esophageal cancer, you should have your doctor check you for cancer immediately. If you want to file a lawsuit, you will have to receive a diagnosis and file a claim with the Navy JAG immediately, as you only have two years from the enactment of the Camp Lejeune Justice Act. Symptoms of esophageal cancer include dysphagia (difficulty swallowing), losing weight without trying, chest pain, including burning or pressure, coughing, hoarseness, or indigestion and/or heartburn that seem to get worse. Once you notice the symptoms, you most likely have had the cancer for some time, as esophageal cancer doesn't typically cause early symptoms. Additionally, if your doctor diagnosed you with Barrett's esophagus, you are more likely to develop esophageal cancer.

Can I File a Lawsuit While Waiting for a Diagnosis?

No. You must have a diagnosis before you can file a claim or a lawsuit. If you have symptoms of esophageal cancer and have not yet seen a doctor, we recommend seeking medical attention immediately. Let your doctor know that you live at Camp Lejeune during the required time period and need a scan for esophageal cancer. If you have trouble getting your insurance to authorize a visit to an oncologist, contact a Camp Lejeune water contamination attorney for help getting in to see a doctor or visit your local VA.

How Long Does it Take to Approve My Claim?

The time it takes for the JAG office to approve your claim is unknown. According to Reuters, 5,000 veterans filed a claim through their attorneys in the first month Congress passed the CLJA. The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry estimates that up to one million people were exposed to the contaminated water during the decades that the contaminated wells were in use. DHHS also expects that about 500,000 veterans and family members may file claims. The sooner you can get your claim in, the sooner the JAG office can review it. Since time is of the essence, we recommend that you contact a Camp Lejeune water contamination attorney as soon as you receive your diagnosis. If you already have a diagnosis for esophageal cancer or any of the other diseases mentioned in the 2012 Act, contact a Camp Lejeune lawyer as soon as possible.

Can I File an Administrative Claim and/or Lawsuit Myself?

We do not recommend that you try to file an administrative claim or lawsuit yourself. The only place to file the lawsuit is in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina. Your Camp Lejeune contaminated water attorney can make sure you have met all of the requirements to file a lawsuit and will ensure that you do not miss any deadlines. Furthermore, the time you have to file the administration claim and then the lawsuit is very limited—you have less than two years, as you must file the lawsuit by Aug. 10, 2024. It will take some time for the Navy JAG office to review your initial claim as more people learn about the ability to file a lawsuit.

What if My Spouse Died of Esophageal Cancer from Contaminated Water at Camp Lejeune?

You may still be able to recover compensation on behalf of your loved one's estate. Even if the estate was closed, we recommend contacting a Camp Lejeune water contamination attorney to discuss your options.

How Much Could I Recover in a Lawsuit for Esophageal Cancer?

It is unknown how much each person will recover. However, the CLJA provides about $6.7 billion for those who contracted esophageal cancer and other illnesses caused by the drinking water at Camp Lejeune. You might recover medical expenses, lost wages, loss of future earning capacity, loss of quality of life, pain and suffering, and loss of companionship and/or consortium, depending on the effects of the disease. If you lost a loved one due to esophageal cancer or another disease caused by the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune, you might recover pain and suffering, medical expenses, and funeral and burial expenses.

Filing a VA Claim for Water Toxicity from Camp Lejeune

Some veterans may have already filed a claim for esophageal cancer with the VA. If the VA approves your claim, you might still be able to file a lawsuit under the CLJA. If you filed a claim with the VA and it is still pending, we recommend that you contact a Camp Lejeune contaminated water attorney as soon as possible to determine whether you can cancel your claim and file a lawsuit. Even when the VA determines that your service presumptively caused your disease, it is difficult to recover damages. The VA requires you to show proof of your service and proof of your disease. You must also provide documentation showing proof that you paid for care related to esophageal cancer. The VA hospitals and clinics do not communicate with the administrative disability portion of the VA—the veteran has to request his or her medical records from the VA and submit them as part of the claim. If you are receiving care outside of the VA, you will also have to obtain your medical records and forward them to the VA's disability claim center when you file your claim. For proof of service, you can submit a DD-214 with your claim. The VA may ask for additional information.

The Difficulty in Recovering Compensation Through the VA for Esophageal Cancer Related to Water Contamination at Camp Lejeune

While it seems straightforward enough to file a disability claim with the VA, it's not going to be that easy. First, Janey Ensminger Act, passed in 2012, mentions several cancers. However, the VA proposed rule, as published in the Federal Register on Sept. 9, 2016, states that “VA experts agree that there is no science to support a specific minimum exposure level for any of the conditions.” This gives the VA a way to deny your claim. While the VA does give free health care at the VA for esophageal cancer and other diseases listed in Janey Ensminger Act but not on the VA's presumptive list, you might not recover disability for these diseases. If you currently receive treatment for esophageal cancer, you can file a claim with the Navy JAG to recover compensation via that avenue. The VA does, however, require that the person who has these conditions—the veteran or his or her family members—have lived on base for at least 30 days before receiving free health care and/or applying for a disability claim. The VA does not give a scientific basis or any legal requirement for the 30-day rule. Regulatory provisions established the list of presumptive diseases. The VA has not published any requirement for future reports of diseases that might be related to the exposure to the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune. The DAV has suggested that the VA remove the 30-day requirement, as some veterans or their family members may have the presumptive diseases or those listed in Janey Ensminger Act but did not live on the base for 30 days. Additionally, though the VA “recognizes” 15 presumptive diseases, including esophageal cancer, it only acknowledges eight of them—and this is a problem for those who have esophageal cancer or one of the other diseases not on the VA's presumptive disease list. Finally, though the VA states that it is looking into additional diseases, the DAV states that the VA does not have current requirements for any future or updated reports on diseases that may be related to the Camp Lejeune contaminated water. With that said, though it is only conjecture, we believe that the VA will not approve claims for esophageal cancer even though it may be paying for all of your medical expenses. To ensure that you recover the compensation you deserve, we recommend contacting a Camp Lejeune contaminated water attorney to discuss where you are with your VA claim and whether you are eligible to file a lawsuit.

What Can I Do if the VA Denied My Claim for Esophageal Cancer Caused by the Contaminated Water at Camp Lejeune?

Personal Injury Lawyer
Matt Dolman, Camp Lejeune Contaminated Water Lawyer
Contact a Camp Lejeune contaminated water lawyer as soon as possible. If the VA already denied your disability claim as a service-connected disease, your only option to recover the compensation you deserve might be a lawsuit. However, you only have until August 2024 to file the lawsuit with the Navy JAG office. If you have esophageal cancer, lost a loved one, or have other diseases caused by the drinking water at Camp Lejeune, contact a Camp Lejeune water contamination lawyer as soon as possible for a free case evaluation.