Mike Partain was born at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. He lived on the military base for the first five months of his life.
At age 39, Mike, an otherwise healthy and active individual with no genetic markers, was diagnosed with male breast cancer.
After receiving his diagnosis, Mike met with about 125 other men with this rare form of cancer. All of the men had one thing in common: Camp Lejeune.
What is Camp Lejeune?
Camp Lejeune is a military training ground located in Onslow County, North Carolina. The facility encompasses 244-square miles, including 11 miles of beach.
Constructed in 1941 to prepare for America’s entry into World War II, Camp Lejeune remains, according to the United States Marine Corps, “a warfighting platform from which Marines and Sailors train, operate, launch, and recover while providing facilities, services, and support that meet the needs of warfighters and their families.”
Water contamination at Camp Lejeune
From 1957 to 1987, United States Marines and their families drank and bathed in water that investigators determined was contaminated with dry-cleaning fluid, benzene, and other cancer-causing chemicals.
One of the primary sources of the contamination was the waste disposal practices of an off-base dry cleaning firm. Other sources of contamination included leaky underground storage tanks and waste disposal sites.
Reports indicate that Camp Lejeune officials knew about the contaminated water by 1982 at the latest but failed to immediately notify those living at Camp Lejeune or take any steps to remedy the problem until years later.
Approximately one million military and civilian staff and their families may have been exposed to the contaminated drinking water at Camp Lejeune.
According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), a federal public health agency within the United States Department of Health and Human Services, exposure to contaminated drinking water at Camp Lejeune likely increases the risk of:
- Bladder cancer
- Cervical cancer
- Esophageal cancer
- Kidney cancer
- Liver cancer
- Lung cancer
- Ovarian cancer
- Stomach cancer
- Multiple myeloma and other myelodysplastic syndromes
The effect of exposure to any of the chemicals found in Camp Lejeune’s drinking water depends on:
- When you were exposed (during pregnancy, in infancy, as an adult, etc.);
- How much you were exposed to;
- How long you were exposed;
- How you were exposed (breathing, drinking, bathing, etc.); and
- Your personal traits and habits.
Accordingly, not everyone who was exposed will develop health problems.
Chemical exposure is included in personal injury law as a toxic tort.
A tort is a wrongful act that leads to civil liability. A toxic tort is a case when the plaintiff is injured from exposure to a chemical or toxin.
Is Camp Lejeune water still contaminated?
Most of the contaminated wells on Camp Lejeune were shut down in 1985.
According to the United States Marine Corps Division of Public Affairs, the water at Camp Lejeune is safe to drink today and has been safe since at least March 1987.
Camp Lejeune is in compliance with the federal and state laws and regulations established to ensure safe drinking water. What’s more, drinking water at Camp Lejeune is checked for volatile organic compounds quarterly (more frequently than required by law).
You can see the most recent water quality reports here.
What is the Camp Lejeune Justice Act?
Veterans and their families began seeking compensation in the decades after the public became aware of Camp Lejeune’s water contamination issues. However, they faced a couple of significant legal hurdles:
- The Feres Doctrine. Under federal law, an individual cannot file a tort claim against the federal government based on injuries that are incident to their military service.
- Statute of repose. North Carolina has a statute of repose that prevents individuals from filing tort claims more than 10 years after the incident giving rise to the injury (i.e., the exposure to contaminated water).
In recent years, attempts have been made to compensate the Camp Lejeune victims with healthcare benefits and other payments:
- In 2012, President Obama signed into law the Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012. The Act granted benefits to some service members who were exposed to toxic water at the base.
- In 2017, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced a list of presumptive diseases and conditions related to Camp Lejeune water contamination. If an individual met the criteria (served at Camp Lejeune for at least 30 days between August 1, 1953, and December 31, 1987) and developed a disease or condition on the list, the individual could receive benefits.
Unfortunately, many people who became sick as a result of the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune did not qualify for the above programs.
On August 8, 2022, President Biden signed the Camp Lejeune Justice Act into law. The Camp Lejeune Justice Act is intended to compensate all affected individuals by establishing a new federal cause of action.
The original release states:
"The legislation proposes to correct unfair legal barriers unique to Marine families stationed at Camp Lejeune due to an anomaly in the application of North Carolina law in the federal court system by establishing a new federal cause of action for individuals exposed to CLCW. This enables individuals affected by toxic exposure at Camp Lejeune to bring suit before the district court for the Eastern District of North Carolina to present evidence for injuries caused by exposure to CLCW."
To put it simply, those exposed to contaminated drinking water at Camp Lejeune can now file a lawsuit in the district court for the Eastern District of North Carolina.
Who’s entitled to compensation under the Camp Lejeune Justice Act?
To be eligible for compensation, you must meet the following criteria:
- You must have lived or worked or otherwise been exposed (including in utero exposure) at Camp Lejeune for 30 days between 1953 and 1987; and
- Have developed some condition that is known to be caused by the toxins.
What if I’m already receiving disability payments for my illness or injury?
Awards under the Camp Lejeune Justice Act will be offset by the amount of any disability award, payment, or benefit you may have received from any program administered by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, the Medicare program, or the Medicaid program in connection with contaminated water at Camp Lejeune.
How do I file a claim under the Camp Lejeune Justice Act?
If you believe you're entitled to compensation under the Camp Lejeune Justice Act, you must file a CLJA Claim Form with the Office of the Judge Advocate General of the Navy’s Tort Claims Unit (TCU) in Norfolk, Virginia.
Once you’ve filed the appropriate claim, the TCU has 180 days to investigate and make a determination about your claim.
If no action is taken within 180 days or your claim is denied, you can file a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of North Carolina.
Notably, you will need to prove that exposure to Camp Lejeune’s contaminated water caused your injury or illness in order to receive compensation. In most cases, this will require testimony from at least one medical expert. Although you must prove causation, you do not need to prove negligence (i.e., that someone was at fault for contaminating the water).
How do I choose a lawyer to handle my Camp Lejeune claim?
As is the case with any new law, there is a lot of confusion about who qualifies for compensation and how much compensation the individual can receive.
An experienced North Carolina attorney can help you navigate the legal process and ensure that you receive all of the compensation you deserve.
When choosing an attorney, it’s important to find someone who has experience litigating complex claims in federal court.