New Law Allows Victims the Chance to Seek CompensationOn August 10, 2022, the Camp Lejeune Justice Act became law. This legislation is the result of many years of fighting on behalf of victims of the water contamination at Camp Lejeune. For decades, advocates, victims, their families, and the community have advocated for fair compensation for the damage to victims of this overwhelming devastation occurring at the Camp Lejeune military base. In the past, there were some attempts by the government to provide relief to victims, but it was not enough and, in many cases, left victims without any compensation. The hope is that under this new legislation, victims and their families can finally fight for the compensation they deserve from the government for their losses. The Camp Lejeune Justice Act works to open the government to civil lawsuits from parties affected by the Camp Lejeune water contamination. Under the Camp Lejeune Justice Act, individuals who “worked, lived, or were otherwise exposed” to water containing hazardous contaminants during the period of known contamination are eligible to seek recovery of their losses. The law identifies the period of eligibility as beginning on August 1, 1953, to December 31, 1987, and the location of exposure limited only to the Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune area.
The Eligibility Requirements for a Victim to Seek Damages for Camp Lejeune Water ContaminationTo seek compensation for damages under the Camp Lejeune Justice Act, an individual must be a member of the military, the military member's family, or a civilian that spent at least 30 days living or working at the Camp Lejeune base during the contamination period. It is worth noting that the 30 days do not need to be continuous. If at any point you cumulatively reached 30 days of time at Camp Lejeune over the decades of water contamination, you may be eligible for compensation. The areas defined as Camp Lejeune were served primarily by the contaminated water plants of Tarawa Terrace, Hadnot Point, and Holcomb Boulevard. If you lived or worked anywhere within the perimeter of the Camp Lejeune military base, you likely meet the requirement of exposure during the time of contamination. The timeframe under the law allowing for a claim is from August 1, 1953, the earliest known contamination of the water at Camp Lejeune, through December 31, 1987, when the last of the water plants affected by the contamination shut down and the clean-up process complete. Although the final affected water plant shut down in 1985, it took some time for the water to be considered safe after subsequent testing. Additionally, a contamination victim must prove they suffered some kind of harm under the law to make a successful claim. There is a wide range of medical conditions and diseases linking the illnesses developed over the years to exposure from the contaminated water of Camp Lejeune. Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is one of the presumptive conditions listed by the VA for those seeking reimbursement of medical expenses in the past. A non-Hodgkin's lymphoma diagnosis of a victim is likely strong grounds for compensation under the new legislation.
How Did the Camp Lejeune Water Become Contaminated?There is not just one source of contamination that occurred at Camp Lejeune. The water plants primarily responsible for supplying water to the base and residential areas on the base had contamination from various culprits. In one instance, the contamination came from a dry-cleaning company upriver from the military base that improperly disposed of the chemicals they were using in their day-to-day business operations spanning decades. As a result, the chemicals seeped into the water and the water system at one of the plants supplying the water to the base. Further contamination of the water at the Camp Lejeune base traces to the functions and operations of the military base itself. Storage areas and facilities and the use of solvents and other chemicals on the base used in the routine cleaning of equipment or tanks crept into the ground and subsequently the water over time. Additionally, spills of hazardous materials, nearby garbage facilities, and other instances of reckless disposal of carcinogenic compounds affected the water quality in the area.
What Contaminants in the Water Raised the Risk of Developing Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma?The dangerous substances found in the waters of Camp Lejeune between 1953 to 1987 included various materials potentially harmful to humans. Those living on the base were not coming into contact with contaminated water in one particular instance or situation, but rather it was a continuous risk of exposure over 30 plus years when the contaminants were entering the water system. Testing of the water and analysis of the sources of the water contamination revealed that the substances entering the water included TCE, also known as Trichloroethylene. Additionally, PCE compounds discovered in the water increased the risks of developing certain illnesses and medical conditions. However, TCE, in particular, is relevant to victims that developed non-Hodgkin lymphoma after their time at Camp Lejeune. This chemical compound is a cancer-causing substance linked to developing non-Hodgkin lymphoma, kidney cancer, and possibly liver cancer. Individuals that sustain prolonged or repeated exposure to this chemical are at an increased risk of developing one of these types of cancer. Each time exposure occurs a victim's risk increases. For example, victims of Camp Lejeune water contamination could have suffered exposure multiple times when TCE was in the water on the base. Victims of TCE exposure may inhale or absorb the substance through the skin. However, the victims of Camp Lejeune could have also ingested the substance through the water, which may exacerbate and increase the risk of disease as well.
The Development of Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma After Your Time at Camp LejeuneNon-Hodgkin lymphoma is a type of cancer that can develop after environmental exposures, certain infections, viruses, or due to unknown reasons. While exposure to TCE does not automatically mean you will develop cancer, if you develop cancer after your exposure to these compounds, it is likely the exposure played a part in the development of the illness. For example, if you developed non-Hodgkin Lymphoma after your time serving, living, or working at Camp Lejeune, you might be eligible for compensation. Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma primarily affects your lymphatic system, and the treatment is often extensive and traumatic. Remission from non-Hodgkin lymphoma is possible with today's medical advances. Unfortunately, the treatment for this condition is often costly, requires prolonged monitoring even after completion of therapy, and can involve various approaches and combinations of therapies to get the best possible outcome and prognosis. Treatments that water contamination victims with this type of cancer may undergo include:
- Bone marrow transplant
- Drug therapy
Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma and Camp Lejeune Water Contamination FAQsFor many victims of Camp Lejeune water contamination, the unfortunate outcome and impact on their health were significant. Furthermore, receiving the news of a non-Hodgkin's lymphoma diagnosis may have created uncertainty not only about the victim's personal health but also as to the future of their family when they are responsible for caring for and supporting them. The passage of time since the exposure from the contamination and since the initial diagnosis of your illness at this point in time is likely decades-long. This, however, does not preclude you from filing for damages. The Camp Lejeune Justice Act aims to allow victims an opportunity to seek damages that the law otherwise would prevent because of the extensive amount of time that has passed since the period of contamination at the base.
What Is a Presumptive Condition Relating to Camp Lejeune?While a victim of the Camp Lejeune water contamination can proceed to claim damages for any harm or illness they suffer due to their exposure to contaminants during their time at Camp Lejeune, there are certain conditions the government already presumes a connection to between the water contamination and the development of the illness. This does not necessarily mean that the government will automatically accept a claim for this type of condition. Instead, it is likely to presume that the cause of the illness was, in fact, the contaminated water at the base if an individual can prove exposure occurred during their time there. The presumptive conditions listed by the VA in reference to the Camp Lejeune contamination of water are:
- Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma
- Aplastic anemia
- Adult leukemia
- Bladder cancer
- Multiple myeloma
- Kidney cancer
- Parkinson's disease
- Liver cancer
How Can the Categorization of Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma as a Presumptive Condition Affect Your Case?The inclusion of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma on the VA's list of presumptive conditions relating to the Camp Lejeune water contamination is likely to work favorably in your case. A presumption indicates that the government acknowledges the contaminants of the water present during the period of contamination are likely to have caused these specific conditions. Proving the causal link between your illness and the exposure is likely to be easier in cases where a victim's ailment falls into one of the presumptive condition categories. You will still need to prove you were at Camp Lejeune when the contamination occurred, that you spent at least 30 days there and that you developed and received treatment for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma at some point after.
What Damages Might You Receive Compensation for in a Camp Lejeune Settlement?If you are a victim of the Camp Lejeune water contamination, the enactment of the Camp Lejeune Justice Act gives you the chance to make a claim for your damages arising from the illness or injury you developed after exposure to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune. The damages you can claim to receive compensation for include all the damages available to other victims of injury in negligence cases. The only damages excluded and not allowable under the special considerations of the statute are the recovery of punitive damages against the government. The damages available to non-Hodgkin's lymphoma victims from Camp Lejeune may include:
- Medical costs. Medical expenses relating to diagnosing and caring for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma can be significant and have overwhelming impacts over time. Depending on the severity and type of NHL detected, a patient may undergo anywhere from weeks to months of treatment. In some aggressive forms and cases, the treatment course can be just as aggressive and difficult on the patient.
- Lost wages and income. The disease and treatment of NHL on a victim are likely to cause a considerable interruption in their day-to-day life, leaving them unable to work or even meet the day-to-day responsibilities within their households and families. This can put an enormous financial strain on the individuals and their families that must manage and support their care during treatment.
- Pain and suffering. Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma can take a physical toll on your health but is also an experience that can cause emotional and mental trauma through the diagnosis process and treatment. As a Camp Lejeune water contamination victim, you can claim these damages under the Camp Lejeune Justice Act.
- Wrongful death. Sadly, not all victims that developed NHL beat the disease. If you are a family member of a loved one that suffered from non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, and you believe it is due to their time in Camp Lejeune, you may have a right to sue the government on their behalf. Wrongful death compensation could include your loved one's medical expenses, pain and suffering after diagnosis but preceding their death, funeral and burial expenses, and other possible damages.
How Do You Know if Camp Lejeune Water Contamination Caused Your Illness?You may wonder how you will know if your injuries and illness resulted from your exposure at Camp Lejeune. If you spent at least the 30-day minimum time at the base during the potential exposure period and later developed an illness. The law presumes that contaminants in Camp Lejeune's water caused many serious health conditions. When considering your claim, the court can also consider evidence to support the condition you developed and the causal link between your illness and the tainted water at Camp Lejeune. Evidence that can prove this link and your illness includes:
- Medical records. Your medical history before your time at Camp Lejeune, during your time at the base and during the diagnosis and treatment for your illness can all be relevant to show the deterioration of your health after exposure to the Camp Lejeune contaminated water.
- Expert testimony. The testimony of your doctors, researchers, and experts relating to the Camp Lejeune water crisis can support your case. Many studies and analyses of the water at the base and the actions at the base can show patterns over time of the development of certain conditions and diseases in those exposed to the water.
- Presumptive condition list. In the prior passage of legislation relating to the support of victims affected at Camp Lejeune, the government acknowledged the connection between the water and eight medical conditions strongly connected and likely caused by the water at the military base during the contamination period. Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is one of those eight conditions.
What Is the Statute of Limitations for Camp Lejeune Claims?The time for victims to decide whether they will act on a potential claim for damages is not long. For decades, the Camp Lejeune water contamination victims could not fight for compensation for their losses due to time limitations on the laws in North Carolina. By the time many of the victims discovered their illnesses and the link to the water at the base, the ten-year statute of repose in the state had run up, leaving the victims with little to no options. The Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022 opens the statute of limitations to the victims and surviving family members but only for a very small and limited timeframe. Victims have only two years from the date of passage of the law to file a lawsuit for their damages—until August 10, 2024—to act or lose their opportunity to claim and negotiate a settlement for their losses. You should call a lawyer as soon as possible to discuss the facts of your case and the options available to move forward in filing a lawsuit.
Is the Camp Lejeune Justice Act the Same as the Camp Lejeune Families Act?There are two major pieces of legislation relating to Camp Lejeune, the Camp Lejeune Justice Act and the Camp Lejeune Families Act. While both laws attempt to provide victims some relief for their illnesses associated with water contamination, the type of relief available is very different under each statute. Under the Camp Lejeune Families Act, victims that developed one of the eight presumptive conditions were able to file a claim for benefits under the Veterans Affairs Administration. These benefits, however, included only reimbursement for medical expenses relating to the illness suffered from the water contamination. Furthermore, many victims who filed claims for these benefits were ultimately denied for various reasons and did not receive the compensation they were looking for. The newest legislation, referred to as the Camp Lejeune Justice Act offers victims of the water contamination at the base to pursue their total damages related to the illness they developed after their time at the camp. Under the act, victims and, in some cases, their families can fight for the compensation for losses, including medical expenses, income losses, pain and suffering, and wrongful death damages.
If you received VA Benefits for Your Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma Diagnosis Under the Camp Lejeune Families Act, Can You Seek Damages Now?Any victim that received payments for medical costs through a Camp Lejeune-related VA claim may still be able to seek additional damages under the Camp Lejeune Justice Act. While you cannot claim damages for which you have already received compensation, you can make a claim for the recovery of any other damages you did not receive any money for. This may include unpaid or unreimbursed medical expenses, loss of wages, and the pain and suffering relating to your illness.
Are Only Survivors of Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma Eligible to Seek Compensation?The harsh and sad reality of the Camp Lejeune Justice Act is that for many of the victims, the opportunity for help came far too late. Decades and, in some cases, over half a century passed since the exposure to toxic materials in the water at Camp Lejeune occurred and the subsequent development of health problems from that exposure, including non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Victims that died following their NHL diagnosis cannot benefit from the Camp Lejeune Justice Act. Still, it is possible for certain family members to take legal action on their behalf through a wrongful death claim. Wrongful death damages may include a family member's past medical expenses, pain and suffering, funeral and burial expenses, and other losses.
Do You Still Need to Be Sick to Seek Compensation for Your Damages?Many victims may wonder whether they must still be actively ill to seek compensation for damages related to the Camp Lejeune water contamination. No, under the statute, you need only prove your time at the base, an illness you believe relates to the contamination of the water and resulting damages to you. If you meet the eligibility criteria and the timeline set by the statute, you are able to make a claim for your damages from an NHL diagnosis. It does not matter whether or not you are still sick or in remission to the basis of filing a claim. While your current health state may become relevant as to the amount of money, you may seek your damages claim. It does not preclude you from seeking compensation for prior damages that relate to the water contamination on the military base.
Who Can Claim Damages Under the Law?While much of the focus of the legislation might mention service men and women working at and living on the base during this time, the law allows anyone that suffered exposure to the water contaminants from 1953 to 1987 at the camp and later developed NHL or another illness to seek compensation. Eligible claimants under the Camp Lejeune Justice Act may include:
- Military personnel working and/or living on the base
- The family of military personnel that lived on base
- Civilians that worked at the base
- Children that may have been in-utero at the time of contamination, even if born off the base
- Families of victims that would have otherwise been eligible for compensation under the act
What Will You Need to Prove for Compensation Under the Camp Lejeune Justice Act?Under the act, you must prove several elements to be eligible for compensation for your damages relating to the Camp Lejeune water contamination. The following are the facts you will need to prove and provide evidence of as part of your claim for damages under the act.
- A minimum of 30 days at Camp Lejeune during contamination between August 1, 1953, and December 31, 1987
- Evidence you were living or working at the base during this time or were otherwise exposed, such as in-utero
- Medical proof of your NHL diagnosis and treatment timeline
- The damages you sustained due to your illness and health challenges
What Information Should You Gather as Soon as Possible?The hardest part for many of the victims of the Camp Lejeune water contamination will potentially be the accessing and availability of records. Military records, employment records and medical records are all necessary to prove the time you were at the base, whether while serving or working, and the conditions you developed in the aftermath of that time. To prepare for a meeting with a Camp Lejeune water contamination attorney, it may help to take the time to collect any and all evidence you may have easily accessible to you.
- Medical records. Your medical history is how you will show the timeline of the diagnosis of NHL in relation to the time spent at Camp Lejeune. The medical records can show the harm you suffered and the extent of treatment necessary. It will also provide insight into how much time the illness had an effect on your life and any recurrences that may have occurred since the initial diagnosis.
- Military records. Your history with the military and your records, specifically your DD form 214, will help you prove you were at Camp Lejeune during the time period specified by the statute and for at least a cumulative 30 days.
- Employment records. If you were not a military member at the camp but rather a civilian working in another capacity, your employment records can be helpful to show that you were at Camp Lejeune during the time of contamination as well as how you may have come in contact with the water in your day to day work duties.
- Housing records. You can prove through evidence that you were living on the base at the time of the contamination with your housing records and documentation. Lease agreements that fall within the time period of the contamination will help you prove your minimum 30 days of exposure. Unfortunately, because the eligible time period is decades prior, it may be difficult for you to track down this evidence. However, if you have anything that can support your living at the base, such as photographs, bills, insurance policies, and schooling records, it can support your claim.