There’s much ado about some huge compensation fund available to military families that spent time at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. We wanted to know the details so we could separate fact from fiction; we spent some time fact-checking these claims and thought it helpful to share with our members. We’re not legal experts nor can we provide legal advice. However, we can demystify some of these claims and provide some clarity to those considering making a claim either on their own or with the help of a law firm.
Let’s start with a quick overview of the new bill that was signed into law in August. After a decade of trying to get the federal government to rectify a toxic water exposure issue occurring at Camp Lejeune, the Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act was signed into law to help compensate military service members and their families affected by toxic substances while on duty or on base. The PACT Act includes a variety of injuries, including Camp Lejeune toxic water exposure, burn pit toxic chemical exposure, Agent Orange injuries, etc.
What Is Covered?
The PACT Act removes the need for veterans and family members, including survivors, to provide documentation for a service-connected injury if they meet one of 23 additional specific conditions. These conditions are associated with volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, in drinking water and include:
- 11 respiratory-related conditions
- Blood cancers like leukemia and lymphoma
- Organ cancers like kidney, pancreatic and liver cancer
- Brain, heart, liver or kidney disease
- Infertility or birth injuries
- Parkinson's disease
- Other neurological conditions
The legislation gives eligible veterans and family members access to health care and compensation for the out-of-pocket money they paid for medical care. It's important to note that these funds come from federal law and are separate from your Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits or disability.
Who Is Eligible?
The drinking water on Camp Lejeune was contaminated by toxic chemicals from Aug. 1, 1953, to Dec. 31, 1987. Anyone assigned to or who lived or worked in the area for at least 30 consecutive days is eligible for financial coverage of injuries or health complications. This includes both military and civilian contractors, as well as their family members. Survivors can also request compensation for those affected by the contaminated water.
What Is Your Next Step?
If you feel you are eligible for this compensation and health care, it's time to file a claim. You can do that through the VA website; however, there are some benefits to having a law firm do it for you. The paperwork can get complicated quickly, so having someone else help with finding the documents and submitting them correctly and quickly is helpful. There are a lot of claims that are denied, even when they are submitted correctly, at which point you may wish to file a formal complaint through an attorney.
Things to Look for in a Law Firm
You'll want to do some research if you use a law firm to file your claim. There are a lot of firms and services that pop up when you search for a lawyer and Camp Lejeune water contamination. Consider looking for experience with veterans and knowledge of how the VA works. Cost is another factor. You will be responsible for the legal fees if you receive compensation, so you shouldn't have to pay anything upfront. The federal government may set attorney fees in the future.