Government Denied Prior Camp Lejeune Disability Claims “Prematurely”, VA Inspector General Says

The report estimates veterans with Camp Lejeune disability claims were underpaid by nearly $14 million prior to the passage of the Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022

Prior to the passage of the Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022, which has opened the door for veterans and family members diagnosed with injuries caused by contaminated water on the military base to pursue lawsuits against the U.S. government, an inspector general report suggests that the Department of Veterans Affairs improperly delayed or outright denied Camp Lejeune disability claims brought by more than a third of those who pursued benefits.

Camp Lejeune is a Marine base in North Carolina, which was plagued by problems with widespread water contamination from the 1950s through late 1980s, exposing veterans, family members and others working on the base to toxic chemicals that are known to increase the risk of cancer, Parkinson’s disease, birth defects and other health problems.

By the time the water contamination problems at Camp Lejeune were discovered, most potential claims were barred by the North Carolina statute of limitations and qualified immunity protections for the U.S. government, which left individuals left with long-term injuries without any recourse or ability to obtain Camp Lejeune disability settlements. However, that changed last month, when President Biden signed a new law that allows those claims to be brought in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina over the next two years.

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Water contamination at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina between 1953 and 1987 caused cancers, birth defects, miscarriages and other side effects for U.S. Marines and their family members.

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Estimates suggest that toxic chemicals from Camp Lejeune water may be responsible for more than 50,000 cases of breast cancer, 28,000 cases of bladder cancer, and 24,000 cases of renal cancer, as well as thousands of cases involve Parkinson’s disease and other health complications among individuals exposed between 1953 and 1987. It is also believed that Camp Lejeune water caused birth defects and wrongful death for thousands of unborn children exposed in utero.

For years prior to the passage of the new legislation, it appears that veterans were not only deprived of their ability to pursue damages in court, but that many Camp Lejeune disability claims were mishandled by the VA.

Camp Lejeune Claims Denied “Prematurely” and Delayed For Years

Late last month, the Veterans’ Affairs Office of Inspector General (VA OIG) released a report (PDF) calling attention to deficiencies in how the VA mishandled Camp Lejeune disability claims over the last five years, before the new law went into effect.

Tens of thousands of injury and disability claims were presented for injuries from Camp Lejeune water. However, according to the OIG report, many were wrongly rejected or delayed.

The report indicates that in March 2017 the VA established a “presumption of service connection” for illnesses known to affect veterans who were exposed to contaminated Camp Lejeune water. It had the same parameters as the new law, but was limited to active duty, reserve, and National Guard members. That decision was supposed to allow benefits for any service members who later developed “adult leukemia, aplastic anemia and other myelodysplastic syndromes, bladder cancer, kidney cancer, liver cancer, multiple myeloma, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and Parkinson’s disease”; all of which have been linked to Camp Lejeune contaminated water exposure.

Veterans with these conditions who served on the base during the specified times were supposed to be able to file for disability claims without having to prove their conditions were caused by exposure to the contaminated water. However, the VA mishandled the veterans’ claims for years.

“The OIG estimated that VA regional office staff incorrectly processed approximately 21,000 of 57,500 Camp Lejeune-related claims (37 percent),” the report determined. “Of these, 21,000 incorrectly processed claims, VA regional office staff prematurely denied 17,200 claims and assigned incorrect effective dates of benefits entitlement (the date a veteran is eligible for the benefits) to 2,300 claims.”

Another 1,500 were incorrectly processed due to technical and other procedural errors, the report found.

Many of the claims appear to have been denied prematurely because the claims-processing staff failed to send the required letters to veterans requesting evidence needed to prove they were exposed to Camp Lejeune water, so when no evidence was submitted, those claims were denied. This appears to account for as many of 17,200 of the total 41,000 denied disability claims, according to the report.

The report estimates that this, along with more than 2,000 cases where veterans were assigned incorrect effective dates for their benefits to begin, resulted in veterans being underpaid at least $13.8 million in benefits they should have received.

September 2022 Camp Lejeune Disability Lawsuit Update

Over the past two months since the new Camp Lejeune law went into effect, thousands of individuals have already provided notice of intent to pursue a Camp Lejeune water contamination injury claim against the U.S. government. However, these claims represent only the tip of an iceberg, which is expected to become the largest mass tort litigation in U.S. history, and Congressional Budget Office estimates already project that the total costs of Camp Lejeune Justice Act lawsuit payouts and settlements will exceed $6 billion.

Prior to bringing a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, each claimant must now provide notice of their claim to the U.S. Navy JAG office, including an administrative claim form that documents when each individual was exposed to water at the Marine base, the nature of their injury and a stated dollar amount that would be accepted as a Camp Lejeune Justice Act settlement. However, if the claim is denied or a final disposition is not reached in six months, then a Camp Lejeune disability lawsuit can be filed.

It is ultimately expected that the court will establish a coordinated discovery and litigation process, where the parties can examine claims and engage in settlement discussions regarding specific injuries linked to the Camp Lejeune water.

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Follow the latest Camp Lejeune Lawsuit Updates

Learn more about injuries caused by Camp Lejeune water and the status of disability claims now being pursued under the Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022.

2022 Camp Lejeune Lawsuit Update

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