SOUTHEASTERN N.C. — North Carolina senators are urging the U.S. government to act swiftly in settling lawsuits for the nearly 3.5 million people impacted by contaminated water at Camp Lejeune.
The U.S. legislators wrote it is “imperative” for the Navy to ensure individuals receive justice.
READ MORE: Camp Lejeune vets can sue for exposure to toxic water under newly signed Honoring the PACT Act
The Jacksonville-based Marine Corps base, 60 miles north of Wilmington, admitted dangerous chemicals were found in its drinking water in 1982. The contamination began in 1953 and continued to expose base workers, service members and their families until 1987, according to the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.
While most contaminated wells were removed from service in February 1985, thousands of people were impacted during the 30-year span.
In August 2022, President Joe Biden signed into law the Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act, which addresses issues that affect veterans who were exposed to toxic materials during service. Within it, the Camp Lejeune Justice Act was enacted. As a result, those with adverse health effects from drinking the water can seek compensation and recover damages.
On Wednesday, Sens. Ted Budd (R-NC), Thom Tillis (R-NC) and Mike Braun (R-IN), along with several U.S. House members sent a letter to Carlos Del Toro, Secretary of the Navy, and Gen. Merrick B. Garland, the U.S. Department of Justice Attorney General, about concerns in settlement delays.
According to prior Port City Daily reporting, only 25% of the 5,792 toxicity claims filed between January 2011 and June 2019 were approved by the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. The administration is now supposed to accept all eligible candidates without requiring a “burden of proof” indicating they had suffered from exposure.
Many veterans have been refused medical coverage and sent letters of denial stating they could not prove their health issues were linked to toxic exposure during service.
According to recent reports, more than 45,000 claims have been filed since enactment, yet the Navy has “taken no action to resolve a single claim,” the senators’ correspondence states. More than 900 lawsuits — allowed if the Navy fails to respond to a submitted claim within 180 days — have been filed in the Eastern District of North Carolina,.
Many people who have filed are elderly or experiencing adverse health effects; many have died without a resolution, according to the letter.
It goes on to state:
“Further delay is unacceptable, and it is critically important that JAG and DOJ move quickly to adjudicate or settle these cases in a transparent, efficient manner. Anything less is an injustice.”
The senators also claim many constituents have reached out to them with concerns about the delays and are asking for transparency in the process. The letter requests an answer to the following:
- How many Camp Lejeune claims has the Navy Judge Advocate General received? Please provide a detailed status of each including current disposition.
- How many Camp Lejeune lawsuits have been filed in federal court since 2022? Please provide a detailed status of each including current procedural posture.
- How many individuals with pending Camp Lejeune claims have died while waiting for a resolution to their case?
- What are the Department of the Navy and the Department of Justice’s plans to process these claims in a timely manner?
- What are DOJ’s guidelines for resolving these cases?
- Will cases brought in federal court be litigated by lawyers from DOJ headquarters or by lawyers in the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina?
It asks for a response by June 9, and was also signed by Reps. Matt Cartwright (R-PA), Richard Hudson (R-NC), Dan Bishop (R-NC), Greg Murphy (R-NC), Chuck Edwards (R-NC), Don Davis (D-NC), and Valerie Foushee (D-NC).
“Our nation’s service members and their families have made incredible sacrifices in service to the United States,” the letter states. “We owe it to them to provide efficient and timely processing of their claims resulting from government negligence.”
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