Response from JAG to Congress RE: The Delays on Camp Lejeune Claims Processing
Response from JAG to Congress RE: The Delays on Camp Lejeune Claims Processing
May 17, 2023 Update:
Letter to JAG from Congress RE: The Delays on Camp Lejeune Claims Processing
In 1982, the U.S. Marine Corps discovered dangerous chemicals known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the drinking water at Camp Lejeune. Further investigation revealed the contamination started in 1953 and continued to expose the base workers, Servicemembers and their families until 1987, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), though the most contaminated wells were removed from service in February 1985. The toxic VOCs found that the drinking water included:
- Benzene: which is typically used to make other chemicals that compose plastics, resins and nylon and synthetic fibers
- Tetrachloroethylene (also known as perchloroethylene or PCE): for dry cleaning and metal degreasing
- Trichloroethylene (TCE): used to clean metal parts
- Vinyl chloride (VC): Over time, TCE and PCE in groundwater degrade to become VC
Benzene, TCE and VC are each classified as cancer-causing chemicals, while PCE is classified as probably carcinogenic. Exposure to these chemicals may also increase the risk of birth defects and other health problems.
The Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act was signed into law on August 10, 2022, to expand VA health care and benefits for Veterans exposed to toxic substances. The PACT Act also provides former Camp Lejeune residents, employees and soldiers the legal right to bring forth a claim, and ultimately a civil lawsuit, against the federal government for injuries caused by the Camp Lejeune water contamination. To qualify, the individual needs to have resided, worked, or otherwise been exposed (including being in utero) for no less than 30 cumulative days during the period beginning on August 1, 1953, and ending on December 31, 1987, to the water at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. The 30-day period does not have to be consecutive days.
This means that anyone who for a cumulative total of 30 days or more:
- Lived at Camp Lejeune;
- Worked at Camp Lejeune (as a soldier, civilian contractor, or other worker); or
- Was “otherwise exposed” to the drinking water at Camp Lejeune between the years August 1, 1953, and December 31, 1987, can file a claim. If the individual exposed to Camp Lejeune’s contaminated water has passed away, their surviving family members, or “legal representative”, will be eligible to file their claim.
TO FILE A CLAIM
To file the claim, we must provide evidence of medical records proving the physical harm or injuries suffered by exposure to Camp Lejeune’s contaminated water. The Junell & Associates team is ready to help you gather this evidence for your claim. However, you can move your claim along more quickly if you provide us with the documents. The following links can help obtain many of these medical records and move your claim quickly:
- Medicals: https://www.tricareonline.com/
- For harm/diagnosis made at the Veteran’s Administration Hospital or Clinic, VA Medical Records: https://www.myhealth.va.gov/mhv-portal-web/home
- For Personnel records if the individual injured by Camp Lejeune’s contaminated water has passed away and served at Camp Lejeune: https://vetrecs.archives.gov/VeteranRequest/home.html#BasicInformation
- How To Download Your VA Medical Records (click here for step by step instructions)
Proof of exposure on Camp Lejeune is NO LONGER required to file the initial claim so we will focus on assisting you in obtaining medical records to submit your claim as quickly as possible. However, the Government does reserve the right to request proof of exposure to the Camp Lejeune contaminated water at a later date. Therefore, after the medical records are obtained, you can help obtain proof of residence, work, or exposure to Camp Lejeune for a cumulative of 30 days in the event the Government requests proof of time on Camp Lejeune. A DD214 may be sufficient to prove the time in service. This can be better proven for military personnel through the Enlisted Record Brief if stationed at Camp Lejeune and through school certificates if merely attending a school at Camp Lejeune. For civilians on Camp Lejeune, social security employment history records or other types of employment verification may prove being on Camp Lejeune. Helpful links to obtain proof of military service or DOD personnel records are:
- Navy and Marines Personnel and Military Service medical records to prove time on Camp Lejeune: https://www.mynavyhr.navy.mil/Career-Management/Records-Management/Military-Personnel-Records/
- Other DOD Personnel record to prove time on Camp Lejeune: https://milconnect.dmdc.osd.mil/milconnect/
Once the claim is filed with the government, they have up to six (6) months to evaluate the claim and determine what amount, if any, they would offer to resolve the claim. Should the claim offer not be accepted, then a lawsuit may be filed in the Eastern District of North Carolina.
Most Frequently Asked Questions
1. Will my participation in the Camp Lejeune claim process put my VA disability claims at risk?
- An understandable yet unfounded concern being voiced is that participation in this litigation will negatively affect disability benefits from the VA, however, the answer is no your involvement in this litigation WILL NOT impact your benefits. Recently the Department of Navy JAG (Judge Advocate General) posted a section about VA claims and Camp Lejeune injuries stating that claims filed with the Office of the JAG of the Navy’s Tort Claims Unit do NOT impact benefits or programs administered by the Department of Veterans Affair. https://www.jag.navy.mil/organization/code_15_Camp_Lejeune_Claims.htm
- To start the Camp Lejeune compensation process, the PACT Act requires that you file a claim with a specific Judge Advocate General’s Office. Then the government has up to six (6) months to review the claim and make an offer for resolution.
- This is like a mass tort as there are many individuals who will be filing claims. If the government’s offer to the claim is not reasonable, we can then file a lawsuit in the Eastern District of North Carolina federal court. Therefore, this is a complex and lengthy process, but it is the system established by the PACT Act and is ultimately the most advantageous way to pursue your claim against the government.
3. Is this a class action?
- This litigation is NOT a class action. Class actions involve a large group of claimants who have suffered the same injury, who share the same cause of action, and who, in the interest of efficiency, file one action as one named party. Class members share in the settlement funds in equal, identical amounts. Under the PACT Act, we need to file your claim individually. Then, should your offer not be accepted, we can file your case in the Eastern District of North Carolina, the only court where Camp Lejeune lawsuits are allowed to be filed. If we file a lawsuit on your behalf, it will be like a mass tort. Mass tort litigation involves claimants who have suffered similar injuries with similar causes of action, however, cases are filed individually. More importantly, at the time of a potential settlement offer, each case is evaluated individually and offered an individual settlement amount reflective of the injuries suffered. This is a key distinction to make and one that we believe is more favorable to you and to all our clients.
4. I have hired more than one law firm to help me through the Camp LeJeune claims process to see who can get me the better settlement offer. Can I do that?
- Although you may replace one law firm with another, if you are dissatisfied with their work, you should not allow two law firms to work on your case at the same time. There is a possibility for all firms you have hired to file an “Attorney’s lien” on your settlement which could enforce the attorney’s percentage for each of your signed contracts to be paid through your settlement. For example, if you signed a contract with two different law firms at 40% attorney fees (plus expenses), and you allowed both law firms to work on your case, and a good faith effort was made by both firms, then you could potentially owe 80% attorney fees (plus double the expenses) from your settlement if an attorney’s lien is filed.
- It is best to select one law firm early in the process and inform all other firms you have hired to cease work on your claim immediately and the reason why.
- The Department of the Navy’s claims process will catch all claimants with multiple representation and those files will be flagged to ensure only one settlement offer is presented per claimant.
We are thankful for the opportunity to assist you through this process, and we look forward to hearing from you if you have any questions or concerns.
Junell & Associates, PLLC