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Camp Lejeune Water Contamination

Military personnel who served at Camp Lejeune from 1953 to 1987 were exposed to contaminated water, resulting in multiple deadly illnesses. An estimated five hundred thousand to one million veterans and family members have been affected through water from wells that were contaminated over a 60-year period.

U.S. veterans voluntarily served our country with the knowledge that their service may cost them their lives. However, the expectation was that this would occur during combat, not while residing with their families on their home bases.

The attorneys at Meirowitz & Wasserberg, LLP deeply appreciate the service and sacrifices of our brave men and women in the military. Since the inception of our law firm, we have represented military personnel and first responders. We are honored to now extend our hand to United States Marines and their loved ones in their time of need.

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What is Camp Lejeune?

Camp Lejeune is the short name for Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, which supports the various Marine Corps commands as well as a major Navy command and a Coast Guard command. It is known as the Home of Expeditionary Forces in Readiness and contains the largest concentration of marines and sailors in the world. 

Camp Lejeune is located in southeastern North Carolina, just east of Jacksonville. It was started in the 1940s and was chosen due to its ideal location. It occupies 153,439 acres and 14 miles of beach on the Atlantic Ocean. It serves as both a training ground and a residential home for marines, soldiers and their families.

Camp Lejeune Sign

What chemicals contaminated Camp Lejeune water?

The following chemicals have been identified in alarming quantities in Camp Lejeune water sources, which residents use for drinking, cooking and bathing:

  • Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
    • A group of chemical solvents and fuels that evaporate easily
    • Two types found:
      • Tetrachloroethylene, also known as perchloroethylene or PCE
      • Trichloroethylene or TCE
  • Benzene
    • A colorless liquid with a sweet odor
    • Evaporates quickly
    • Dissolves slightly
    • Used industrially to manufacture multiple products including plastics, rubber products, lubricants and pesticides
    • Occurs naturally in crude oil, gasoline and cigarette smoke
  • Vinyl Chloride
    • A colorless gas at room temperature
    • Becomes liquid when stored at high pressure or low temperatures
    • Dissolves slightly in water
    • Has a mild, sweet odor
    • Does not occur naturally
    • Formed when other substances break down
    • Used to manufacture PVC
  • Polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAs)
    • Also known as “forever chemicals” because of their inability to break down
    • Toxic, fluorinated chemicals
    • Do not occur naturally
    • Man-made chemicals
    • Widespread

Where did these chemicals come from?

The two water supply sources found to be contaminated were the Tarawa Terrace and Hadnot Point water treatment plants. Water from these wells served the following:

  • Family housing
  • Unmarried personnel barracks
  • Administrative offices
  • Schools
  • Recreational areas
  • The base hospital
  • An industrial area on the base

The Holcomb Boulevard water system supplied water to family housing units in certain family residential areas. These wells were not contaminated, but these areas were served with contaminated water from Hadnot Point intermittently during spring and summer from 1972 to 1985 and for one month from late January to February 1985.

Camp Lejeune water is believed to have been contaminated by the following sources:

  • ABC One-Hour Cleaners, a dry cleaning company opened in 1953 that used the chemical PCE, which was spilled and improperly disposed of
  • On-base spills at industrial sites
  • Leaks of TCE from underground storage tanks and drums at dumps and storage lots 
  • Aqueous Film-Forming Foam (AFFF), a product used for testing, training and other emergency responses, which contains large amounts of PFAs
    • Has been found in on-base groundwater 
    • May be present in nearby off-base drinking water wells

Who has been impacted?

Retired Marine veteran Jerry Ensminger watched his nine-year-old daughter Janey die of leukemia in September 1985 after a two-and-a-half-year battle with the disease. Janey had been born and raised at Camp Lejeune. Ensminger did not learn until 1997 that his daughter’s illness was precipitated by the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune.

As Ensminger quickly learned, he was not alone. As he started speaking out, untold numbers of veterans reached out with their own heartbreaking tales of similar tragedies. He also found that the military was aware of the exposure, but officials quietly closed down the water sources without alerting the public.

Health Effects of Camp Lejeune Contaminated Water

The following health conditions have been linked to exposure to volatile organic compounds, benzene and vinyl chloride:

  • Kidney cancer
  • Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
  • Cardiac defects
  • Bladder cancer
  • Leukemias
  • Liver cancer
  • Multiple myeloma
  • End-stage renal disease
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Scleroderma
  • Choanal atresia
  • Eye defects
  • Low birth weight
  • Fetal death
  • Significant birth defects
  • Miscarriage
  • Breast cancer
  • Cervical cancer
  • Esophageal cancer
  • Lung cancer
  • Hodgkin’s disease
  • Ovarian cancer
  • Prostate cancer
  • Rectal cancer
  • Impaired immune function
  • Neurological impairments
  • Neurobehavioral deficits
  • Severe skin hypersensitivity, an autoimmune disease
  • Aplastic anemia
  • Myelodysplastic syndromes
  • Brain cancer
  • Soft tissue cancer
  • Cirrhosis of the liver
  • Male breast cancer

Exposure to PFAs has been linked to the following:

  • Cancer
  • Immune suppression
  • Thyroid disorders
  • Sex hormone disorders
  • Decreased semen quality
  • Ulcerative colitis
  • Liver and kidney function issues
  • Metabolic effects

Benefits Available Through the Department of Veterans Affairs

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) provides benefits to eligible veterans, defined as veterans who served at least two years of active duty and were not dishonorably discharged. Injuries or illnesses that are caused or aggravated by military service are considered service-connected. Veterans with service-connected disabilities are eligible for enhanced benefits.

The Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012

Also known as the Janey Ensminger Act, this law provides benefits to eligible veterans who resided at Camp Lejeune for at least 30 days between August 1, 1953, and December  31, 1987.

VA Health Care

Any veteran who resided at Camp Lejeune during the prescribed dates is eligible for VA health care, even if they do not have a condition presumed to be caused by water contamination. A co-pay may be required.

Free VA Health Care

The following 15 conditions are presumed to be related to water contamination. Veterans who resided at Camp Lejeune during the prescribed dates can receive free VA medical treatment for these conditions without co-pays:

  • Esophageal cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Kidney cancer
  • Multiple myeloma
  • Renal toxicity
  • Female infertility
  • Scleroderma
  • Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
  • Lung cancer
  • Bladder cancer
  • Leukemia
  • Myelodysplastic syndromes
  • Hepatic steatosis
  • Miscarriage
  • Neurobehavioral effects

Disability Compensation

The VA offers a presumption of service connection for veterans, reservists and National Guard members who lived at Camp Lejeune during the prescribed period who are diagnosed with any of the following eight diseases:

  • Adult leukemia
  • Aplastic anemia and other myelodysplastic syndromes
  • Bladder cancer
  • Kidney cancer
  • Liver cancer
  • Multiple myeloma
  • Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
  • Parkinson’s disease

Disability compensation is tax-free monthly compensation paid in proportion to the veteran’s degree of disability. This is called a disability rating, which can be up to 100 percent. Higher disability ratings generally result in higher compensation. 

If you have a condition other than one of these, you can still apply for disability benefits, but you will not receive a presumption of service connection. This means you will be required to prove a connection between your illness and your service at Camp Lejeune.

This has proven to be an uphill battle for many veterans, as the claims system is backlogged, and the VA’s use of subject matter experts in processing claims has resulted in rampant denials of benefits despite medical verification of connection.

Family Benefits

Family members who resided at Camp Lejeune during the prescribed period are eligible for reimbursement of out-of-pocket medical expenses for treatment of any of the qualifying 15 conditions listed above.

Camp Lejeune water

Can I file a personal injury lawsuit?

Military personnel, civilian employees, and family members living at Camp Lejeune during the prescribed period were previously time-barred from filing a lawsuit because of the North Carolina 10-year statute of repose. Similar to a statute of limitations, a statute of repose begins tolling at the time of the last exposure rather than at the time the causation is discovered.

Since the majority of victims did not discover that the water contamination at Camp Lejeune was the cause of their illnesses until more than ten years after their exposure, they were prevented from claiming their well-deserved damages. This was upheld by the Supreme Court. Overcoming this obstacle required an act of Congress.

The Camp Lejeune Justice Act

The Camp Lejeune Justice Act, part of the Honoring our PACT Act, was signed into law on August 10, 2022. This law allows Camp Lejeune water contamination victims to work around the North Carolina statute of repose and file a civil lawsuit against the military for damages.

This is a victory for Camp Lejeune water contamination victims who have been denied justice for far too long. Meirowitz & Wasserberg, LLP supported this legislation because we support the rights of military personnel who pledged their lives to serve their country to receive justice and acknowledgment.  

While no amount of financial compensation can make up for the tragic losses and suffering our servicemembers and their families endured, it can promote a sense of justice, increase their access to the highest quality of care available, and ensure they experience financial security in the face of their injuries.

How can an attorney help with my Camp Lejeune water contamination case?

If you lived at Camp Lejeune while the water was contaminated and you have become ill, you need and deserve substantial compensation. The attorneys at Meirowitz and Wasserberg, LLP are committed to helping our brave men and women who served at Camp Lejeune receive every benefit to which they are entitled. 

We can help you file your VA disability claim and ensure your claim is as compelling as possible. If your claim has been denied, we can prepare your appeal and may be able to take it before a VA judge.

Why You Should Contact the Personal Injury Attorneys at Meirowitz & Wasserberg Today

Now that the Camp Lejeune Justice Act has become law, Camp Lejeune water contamination victims will finally receive long overdue justice. The attorneys at Meirowitz & Wasserberg, LLP have extensive experience helping veterans and others who have been exposed to toxic substances. 

Below are a few examples of results we have achieved for our deserving clients in toxic substance exposure cases:

  • A $32 million verdict in a case involving secondhand asbestos exposure
  • A $5.1 million mesothelioma settlement for a Navy machinist who was also a civilian maintenance mechanic 
  • A $1.2 million settlement for a merchant marine electrician with lung cancer due to asbestos exposure

The Camp Lejeune Justice Act provides hope for water contamination victims, but time is limited. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation.

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