Camp Lejeune, a United States Marine Corps base located in Jacksonville, North Carolina, has become synonymous with a tragic chapter in the history of military environmental health hazards. The base’s water supply, contaminated with toxic chemicals, has caused a multitude of health issues for those who served and lived on the base between 1953 and 1987. The repercussions of this water contamination issue are far-reaching, as recent developments have shown an alarming increase in wrongful death claims due to the slow progress of Camp Lejeune lawsuits.
A Silent Threat Unveiled
Over the course of several decades, millions of veterans and their loved ones who lived and worked at Camp Lejeune were unknowingly exposed to toxic chemicals in the base’s contaminated water supply. The presence of trichloroethylene (TCE) and other hazardous substances in the drinking water has since been linked to a wide range of cancers and adverse health conditions, including bladder cancer, breast cancer, female infertility, miscarriage, kidney cancer, leukemia, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and even Parkinson’s disease.
Although the Marine Corps internally confirmed the presence of dangerous chemicals as early as the 1980s, affected individuals were not alerted until 1999, leaving many without the opportunity to take necessary precautions or seek timely medical intervention. Eddie Peterson, a former assistant district attorney and a Camp Lejeune veteran diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2001, recalls receiving a questionnaire from the Marine Corps long after the expiration of North Carolina’s statute of limitations for filing claims. This left him and countless others without a legal path forward until the recent passage of the PACT Act.
The PACT Act: A Beacon of Hope
Signed into law by President Joe Biden in August 2022, the Honoring Our PACT Act has provided a glimmer of hope for victims of the Camp Lejeune water contamination crisis. This legislation not only extends benefits to post-9/11 veterans and their surviving family members exposed to burn pits but also grants Camp Lejeune water victims the ability to file lawsuits against the federal government. For individuals like Eddie Peterson, this marks a turning point in their pursuit of justice.
However, despite the passage of the PACT Act, the progress of lawsuits brought by Camp Lejeune victims has been frustratingly slow, with an increasing number of claims transitioning into wrongful death claims. The Eastern District of North Carolina, which oversees all Camp Lejeune-related civil claims, recently named a leadership team of seven lawyers to represent plaintiffs. This team aims to bring certain bellwether claims to trial and propose settlement levels for specific medical conditions associated with toxic exposure at Camp Lejeune.
The Toll of Delayed Justice
According to Bell Legal Group, which is heading the leadership team, approximately 20% of the Camp Lejeune claims they have taken on since the enactment of the PACT Act are wrongful death claims. These claims include both those initially filed as such and those that became wrongful death suits when a claimant passed away. The emotional toll on the families involved is immeasurable, as they navigate a complex legal landscape while witnessing their loved ones succumb to diseases linked to the contaminated water.
The stories of those lost to Camp Lejeune-associated diseases are both heartbreaking and alarming. Cpl. Daniel Thomas Clark, who served in the Marine Corps for eight years before dying from kidney and lung cancer, and Shelby Jean Sholar Hunter, a former civilian employee at Camp Lejeune who served as a base housing clerk and librarian, are just two examples of the devastating toll this contamination has taken.
The obituary of 78-year-old Cpl. Alfred Eugene Benson highlights his distinguished service and contributions, including his involvement in the first Apollo moon landing and his role in setting up “top secret communications” for foreign presidential trips. Pfc. Danny Lee Williams and James Arthur Thomasson are also among those whose lives were tragically cut short due to the effects of the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune.
The Cost of the Ongoing Litigation
Seeking justice for Camp Lejeune victims comes at a considerable cost. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the PACT Act, including Camp Lejeune water contamination claims, could cost the federal government over $163 billion over the next decade. While the Department of the Navy remains committed to addressing the claims of affected individuals, the slow progress of the legal process and the military’s track record of negligence raise doubts about the likelihood of learning from past failures.
Recent incidents, such as the contamination of drinking water at the military base in Honolulu and the poisoning of Marines aboard the USS Boxer, further underscore the need for accountability. The Navy’s initial resistance to halting operations at the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility in Honolulu and its failure to acknowledge water contamination aboard the USS Boxer until it was exposed by reporters in a five-year investigation, demonstrate a pattern of behavior that demands redress.
Fighting for Camp Lejeune Victims
For advocates and plaintiffs like Eddie Peterson, having their day in court is essential. Peterson passionately asserts that those responsible for the contamination must be held accountable for their misdeeds. While justice cannot fully restore what has been lost, it provides a sense of closure and the opportunity to prevent similar incidents in the future.
As the Camp Lejeune lawsuits proceed, it is crucial to acknowledge the significance of the research studies that have linked the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune to serious and potentially life-threatening health problems. The evidence supporting the claims of those affected is extensive, reinforcing the urgency for resolution and compensation.
The journey toward justice for Camp Lejeune water contamination victims has been arduous and protracted. The PACT Act has opened a window of opportunity, enabling victims to pursue legal action against the government. However, the slow progress of the lawsuits and the increasing number of wrongful death claims serve as a stark reminder of the long-lasting impact of this environmental hazard. The hope for justice remains strong, fueled by the determination of those affected and the unwavering support of their families.