Camp Lejeune: Legislative Victory Turns into Frustration

Water is fundamental to life, but this life-giving element threatened to extinguish the lives of Camp Lejeune’s residents. From 1953 to 1987, nearly one million people (both veterans and civilians) consumed water contaminated with Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs).

Three wells supplying water to different residential areas of North Carolina’s Camp Lejeune had 400x the safe levels of contaminants. Those stationed or born at the Base were diagnosed with diseases like cancer, dementia, Parkinson’s disease, etc.

The Obama administration only made free healthcare accessible to the victims in 2012. It was President Biden’s 2022 Camp Lejeune Justice Act (CLJA) that raised hopes of receiving compensation. It’s been a whole year since the official signing and not one settlement is yet on the horizon.

In this article, we will discuss how the current legal scenario has turned the former legislative victory into frustration.

 

No Positive Response from the Navy’s End

The Federal Tort Claims Act of 1946 prohibits people from direct lawsuit filing against the government. Administrative claims must be filed to the relevant regulatory body (in this case the Navy Judge Advocate General). The claimant may file a lawsuit if their claim is unresolved by the said period. 

As per the latest updates, over 93,000 claims are awaiting resolution with the Navy JAG. The best lawyers for the Camp Lejeune lawsuit across the country are working toward justice on behalf of the victims. But neither has the Navy resolved any claims nor has it set up the promised portal to expedite the process. This is a serious cause for concern that demanded a personal statement from the Navy’s office.

Jennifer Tennile Karnes, the Navy attorney, blamed staffing shortages, stating that her team was already working overtime. This may be a reasonable excuse as the review process is long-drawn, involving back-and-forth to records dating back four decades.

As for the online portal, she clarified that Congress “forgot” to allocate the required funds. This prevented the compensation program from going forward in full force. The Navy’s overall statement seemed to be stagnant (with slight changes).

It has recently claimed to develop a framework that would give claimants a voluntary option to resolve claims more efficiently. This framework is supposed to be an alternative to the conventional administrative claims process, offering “quick relief.”

The Navy acknowledged receiving over 80,000 claims and stated that at least 17,000 were being processed. Such grandiose statements almost profess that the new framework would somehow make up for lost time.

 

Claimants’ Hope Dips as Numbers Pile

A year of no resolution has made victims loosen their grip on the thread of hope. This is a natural response since most claimants are well advanced in age. Plus, their declining health could lead to premature and unexpected death.

Some claimants are prepared for trial whereas others simply want their compensation to cover medical costs. However, lawyers are losing clients as many succumbed to their injuries in the past year. One unfortunate case was that of Terry McClure, who lived in Camp Lejeune from 1976 to 1979. 

In the past few years, Terry was diagnosed with multiple conditions associated with the Camp’s toxic waters. These included dementia, cancers of the prostate and skin, possible lung cancer, and Parkinson’s disease. All he wanted was to purchase a larger home that could easily accommodate his wheelchair use. However, he died in March 2023 at the age of 65 before receiving any compensation.

Even as hope dips on one hand, claim numbers continue to rise on the other. It is expected that an avalanche of claims would wait at the Navy’s doorstep by the statute of limitations (August 2024).

 

Money Grab vs. Delay Tactics

Ridiculous as it may seem, Camp Lejeune critics believe that claimants are infuriated over a lost opportunity at money grabbing. Mark Partain, a survivor of male breast cancer, replied somberly that he would never accept any amount of money to go through what he did.

Most Camp Lejeune victims suffered from horrific health conditions, and some have already passed from their injuries. According to TorHoerman Law, compensation will be made for not just physical damages but also emotional pain, loss of employment, etc. 

Given the magnitude of injuries sustained by some claimants, one could argue that no sum of money could possibly compensate. Partain considers the photograph of his mother holding him with the feeding bottle at the bed-stand to be “haunting.” That picture is a constant reminder of the toxic water he was fed for years.

In turn, another set of critics is certain that delays are the government’s tactic to cross the statute of limitations. Could it be that the government is secretly wishing early death upon the victims? After all, it has stalled justice for nearly four decades since the tragedy.

 

The Bottom Line

Camp Lejeune’s catastrophe goes into history as the worst-ever public water crisis in the US. Single-handedly, this disaster affected generations as innocent people continue to pay the price for the government’s undoing.

Claimants and lawyers anticipate promised settlements within this year or the lawsuit may go to trial in 2024. Once individual settlements are made, it will be time to scrutinize how fair they are in light of the victim’s damages.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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