By now, veterans are well aware that the drinking water at Camp Lejeune, in Jacksonville, North Carolina, was contaminated with volatile organic compounds for nearly 35 years during the last century. While they should have easy access to Veterans Affairs (V.A.) benefits such as disability compensation for the awful health problems they developed, the reality is very different. Currently, the V.A. claim approval rate for Camp Lejeune veterans is only 17%, which prevents numerous eligible veterans from receiving the money they are entitled to.
Perhaps the main reason why so many veterans cannot receive compensation is that since 2012, the V.A. has been employing “subject matter experts” to review claims. Most of them are, in fact, general and preventive medicine doctors who lack the necessary experience and knowledge to assess the complex diseases veterans struggle with.
Still, the V.A. claims their doctors have “appropriate credentials” and received four hours of training on the issues concerning Camp Lejeune’s toxic water and claim evaluation, which is far from enough. As a consequence, the claims of over 21,000 veterans were unjustly delayed or denied, as the V.A. mishandled nearly 40% of the claims. Of the 57,500 claims filed since 2017 for diagnoses related to water contamination at Camp Lejeune, the V.A. outright denied 17,200 instead of asking for additional information. Moreover, the claims filed by another 2,300 veterans were assigned incorrect dates, denying them approximately $14 million in retroactive payments.
It is estimated that half a million veterans who were stationed at Camp Lejeune now suffer from a disease stemming from drinking toxic water at the military base. For many, the disability compensation they should receive from the V.A. monthly would be of tremendous help, as cancer treatment is very expensive, and many veterans have malignant diseases.
There are roughly 642,000 veterans in North Carolina, many of whom spent time at Camp Lejeune while the drinking water was contaminated with industrial solvents. A sliver of hope for these veterans is the recently enacted Camp Lejeune Justice Act, by virtue of which they can now file a claim with the U.S. government to receive compensation. Introduced by Congressman Matt Cartwright of Pennsylvania in the spring of 2022, the bill was signed into law on Aug. 11, 2022.
“The servicemembers who signed up to defend their country and the people who supported them at Camp Lejeune were let down in a big way by their government,” Cartwright said in a statement. “This tragedy was a major failure on the part of the Department of Defense, and all those who suffered for it deserve justice.”
To make sure all veterans have access to the compensation they deserve, the Camp Lejeune Justice Act prohibits the government from asserting immunity against these lawsuits. The new law, which is part of the Honoring Our PACT Act, also states that the district court for the Eastern District of North Carolina will have exclusive jurisdiction over any claim filed by toxic exposure victims.
So far, nearly 20,000 administrative claims have been filed by Camp Lejeune victims, but none has been fully adjudicated. Furthermore, over 100 lawsuits have been brought to North Carolina federal court.
Nevertheless, in addition to obtaining compensation from the government, Camp Lejeune veterans should also be able to receive V.A. disability compensation. To ensure their claims will not be rejected, veterans should work with a claims agent, specialized attorney, or Veterans Service Officer. Because these professionals are trained and certified in the V.A. claims and appeals processes, veterans will have a significantly greater chance of having their claims approved if they collaborate with them.