Service members can face a multitude of dangers during their time in the military. Most people may picture physical wounds when personnel experience harm and need to apply for benefits. However, disabilities can arise from severe illnesses due to chemical exposure.
Plenty of marines develop various debilitating diseases. Locations like Camp Lejeune and the Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) in New River, North Carolina, had issues with unsafe drinking water. As a repercussion, a notable portion of former military members suffers from presumptive conditions.
The Source of Contamination in Camp Lejeune
Camp Lejeune has been around since the 1940s, and the water contamination issue began soon after the base opened. Multiple treatment plants provided residents with drinking water, but a couple had a significant level of solvents.
The primary source of contamination was a dry cleaning business near Camp Lejeune. Like other dry cleaning places, the company regularly used PCE to wash fabrics. Additionally, another off-base cleaning firm usually disposed of the chemical. PCE would then leak into the water source.
Other contaminants made their way into the area’s drinking water from multiple sources. For instance, chemical spills and storage tank leaks would occur. The amount of solvent in the water exceeded the Environmental Protection Agency’s maximum limit.
However, the Marine Corps would not discover how much hazardous material was in the wells until 1982. Decades prior, people routinely used the water every day. As a consequence, they unknowingly exposed themselves to dangerous chemicals.
A later investigation would show the effects of the constant exposure. Many people became at risk of developing cancer, and others experienced birth complications. Some veterans had to apply for disability benefits when they received diagnoses for presumptive diseases.
What Is a Presumptive Condition?
A presumptive disease is a diagnosis of a chronic illness a veteran receives during active duty. The Department of Veteran Affairs assumes the circumstances of a person’s military service caused the disease. Common examples include arthritis and Type 2 diabetes. A military member can claim non-taxable benefits as compensation.
For a condition to be presumptive, a veteran must receive a diagnosis no later than a year after release from active duty. Additionally, certain groups of former service members may qualify for benefits for presumptive diseases.
For instance, prisoners of war and veterans of specific wars can apply for VA disability benefits. However, people may qualify if they served at Camp Lejeune or MCAS.
Camp Lejeune Water Contamination Presumptive Conditions
The development of a specific chronic disease may occur weeks or months after exposure to contaminated water. An investigation has found a link to a variety of medical conditions. However, the Depart of Veteran Affairs labeled eight of them as presumptive.
To recover disability benefits, a person should have developed:
- Adult leukemia. Leukemia in adults is a life-threatening illness. Treatment can become extensive and expensive. Additionally, the severe symptoms reduce an individual’s quality of life.
- Liver cancer. The Department of Veteran Affairs considers liver cancer as a form of disability. The disease impedes the organ’s ability to function correctly, which the body requires. VA benefits have a rating system, and liver cancer ranges from 10 percent to 100 percent.
- Bladder cancer. A few forms of bladder cancer may have resulted from chemicals in the water supply. Someone can experience pain and suffering due to painful urination and back pain. A person may have to spend thousands of dollars on surgery or chemotherapy for treatment.
- Aplastic anemia. While rare, a person could develop the disease after significant exposure. The government offers benefits since the condition affects the body’s ability to create red blood cells.
- Kidney cancer. The disability rating for kidney cancer may vary based on its current stage and if the disease causes other conditions. A person could have a 100 percent rating and get over $3,000 per month for the presumptive illness.
- Parkinson’s disease. The condition causes disabling symptoms like muscle stiffness and impaired balance. The minimum VA disability rating is 30 percent, but it can increase due to various factors. Higher ratings generally mean more money during monthly payments.
- Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Radiation therapy, bone marrow transplant, and other treatment options can be expensive. Veteran disability benefits help pay for the care someone needs. However, payments might not be enough, and other legal options may be necessary.
- Multiple myeloma. Due to the severe issues the disease causes, the disability rating usually is 100 percent. The rating remains the same for five years after the diagnosis. Payments help cover extensive treatment.
If someone received a diagnosis for a non-presumptive disease, they do not qualify for benefits. However, they may have the chance to file a water contamination lawsuit. Contact a personal injury law firm to learn more.
Can Family Members Get Health Benefits?
Roughly one million military members and their loved ones have suffered from the effects of polluted water at Camp Lejeune. While veterans can apply for VA benefits, their relatives may wonder if they can receive payments.
The Depart of Veteran Affairs does allow benefits for the spouses, children, and other dependents of veterans and service members. Victims of Camp Lejeune water contamination can receive coverage for health care.
The program recognizes the economic loss a person faces concerning the military member’s service. When you need to pay out-of-pocket costs for treatment, you receive reimbursement from the system.
However, medical care needs to relate to at least one of the listed conditions:
- Kidney cancer
- Breast cancer
- Bladder cancer
- Female infertility
- Esophageal cancer
- Lung cancer
- Hepatic steatosis
- Multiple myeloma
- Renal toxicity
- Myelodysplastic syndromes
- Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
- Neurobehavioral effects
If a veteran’s condition causes them to pass away, their surviving family members can qualify for additional benefits. Compensation may help pay for funeral and burial expenses.
To qualify, family members must prove their relationship with the service member. Additionally, they need to collect records to show they were on the base between 1953 and 1987.
The Department of Veteran Affairs Can Deny Claims
The Department of Veteran Affairs may deny a person’s disability benefits claim. The common argument is the condition does not relate to the individual’s military service. These presumptive diseases have multiple causes and risk factors.
The program may not think an illness relates to a person’s service at Camp Lejeune because of a lack of a diagnosis. The veteran may not have a medical diagnosis in their service treatment records. However, the law does not require one. You only need to document the current condition from an outside provider.
The department might say the claimant failed to establish a clear link between the illness and their time at Camp Lejeune. Proving the connection can become difficult the longer someone has been out of the military. Must show a link at least as likely as not exists.
Additionally, a claimant has to display symptoms of the disability. The early stages of a few illnesses, like kidney cancer, do not show signs. As a result, the VA benefits program may deny the claim.
Appeal a Denied Claim
Veterans can appeal a rejected claim. They must submit a notice of disagreement where they write why they disagree with the decision. The submission has to occur no more than a year after the denial.
A person can request a decision review officer to evaluate the appeal or go straight to the Board of Veterans Appeal (BVA). If the decision review officer denies the request, the veteran can still go to the BVA.
A Board member may deny the appeal, but the person still has a couple of options. They could reopen a new request with their local VA office. The decision may go back to the Board if a clear error is present in the original verdict.
Alternatively, some victims have tried to go the legal route for compensation. A lawsuit can get someone the money they need for damages.
Camp Lejeune Water Contamination Lawsuits
The military members and their families from Camp Lejeune and MCAS have tried to pursue compensation through the legal system. However, the court has repeatedly denied them financial reimbursement. Nevertheless, recent legislation could help many victims.
President Biden will probably sign the Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022 into law. As a result, people can file lawsuits against the United States government for the losses they gained due to contaminated water.
Victims may be able to claim damages for medical expenses, missed wages, lost earning potential, pain and suffering, and loss of consortium. However, punitive damages would not apply. The amount they receive in a settlement depends on the severity of the condition and other factors.
If the bill becomes law, you have two years from the enactment to start your case. Hire a Camp Lejeune attorney as soon as possible to ensure you do not miss any deadlines.
Who Can File a Lawsuit?
One group that can file a Camp Lejeune water contamination lawsuit is the people who lived on the base. The residents include service members and their relatives. Furthermore, the duration of their residence should not be less than 30 days between August 1953 and December 1987.
Other eligible claimants include people who worked on the base for at least one month. Some of the workers include civilians. The government could have hired contractors who got sick while performing their duties.
The third eligible group is anyone who otherwise became exposed on the base between 1953 and 1987. For example, a person could have suffered from the chemical’s life-long effects while in the womb. They did not realize it until years after the base shut down the polluted wells.
Schedule a consultation if you are unsure if you qualify for a lawsuit. The initial meeting can provide you with valuable information about your case.
Camp Lejeune Water Contamination Lawsuit Process
The process to start a Camp Lejeune water contamination lawsuit begins at a law firm. You can schedule a free consultation with a lawyer to determine if you are eligible. Once you and the lawyer agree to work together, the attorney proceeds to build a strong case.
During the lawsuit process, your lawyer collects sufficient evidence to support your claim. They speak to military experts, obtain medical records, and provide documents to prove your residence at the Marine Corps base.
Next, the attorney submits a notice of claim before officially filing a lawsuit on your behalf. Afterward, they negotiate with the opposing party for a fair settlement amount. Most cases resolve before anyone has to visit the courtroom.
If a trial is necessary, your attorney can present your case. Camp Lejeune water contamination lawyers find the best strategy to get the jury to decide in your favor.
What to Look for in a Camp Lejeune Water Contamination Lawyer
If you decide to pursue legal action, you should find a lawyer who will work on a Camp Lejeune water contamination case. The attorney must have the appropriate characteristics to improve the possibility of success.
You can look for specific qualities during the consultation. You can learn more about the attorney when you have the chance to ask questions.
One thing to look for is the amount of experience a firm has. A lawyer who has practiced law for decades is familiar with the lawsuit process and court procedures. They are aware of how the defendant may act and how to counter defensive arguments.
In addition to experience, a Camp Lejeune water contamination attorney should have a history of success. Many firms post successful case results on their websites to inform potential clients. Additionally, client testimonials may give insight into the lawyer’s track record.
Your lawyer must have sufficient knowledge about the laws regarding water contamination. They should stay up to date with any statutory changes as well. If a lawyer is unfamiliar with a service member’s rights, they are less likely to secure a settlement.
Contact the right attorney that makes you feel comfortable with divulging personal information. They should appear welcoming and seem interested in taking your case. You can gauge how at ease the lawyer makes you feel at the initial meeting.