Camp Lejeune Water Contamination Law Delayed Once Again in U.S. Senate
New legislation that would provide veterans and family members with financial compensation for injuries caused by water contamination at Camp Lejeune Marine training base in North Carolina, as well as benefits associated with other toxic exposures during military service, has been temporarily blocked by a group of Republican Senators, including many who voted for the bill only a few weeks ago.
The U.S. Senate previously voted 84-14 in June to pass the “Honoring Our PACT” Act, which is an expansive piece of legislation that would expand eligibility for VA healthcare benefits to more than 3.5 million veterans exposed to toxic burn pits and other chemicals, and also includes the Camp Lejeune Justice Act.
On July 13, the U.S. House of Representatives passed an almost identical version of the Senate Camp Lejeune water contamination bill with overwhelming bipartisan support in a 342-88 vote, making only one change to remove a specific clause related to the tax treatment of certain income derived from contract buyouts of healthcare professionals as authorized by the act.
The amended legislation was expected to quickly pass the U.S. Senate again, and President Biden has pledged to swiftly sign the bill into law. However, a group of GOP Senators have blocked the bill, voting against the end of a filibuster, including more than two dozen law makers who previously passed the same bill only a few weeks ago.
On Wednesday, the only 55 U.S. Senators voted to end a filibuster on the Honoring Our PACT Act, falling short of required 60 votes.
Senators Delay Justice and Benefits for U.S. Military Service Members
The legislation has been a major part of President Biden’s agenda, and has received widespread support since it was introduced. However, the two law makers who originally sponsored the Camp Lejeune Justice Act late last year, Sen Thom Tillis (R-NC) and Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) voted against ending the filibuster this week.
One part of the bill would open a two year window for former military and family members to file water contamination lawsuits for injuries caused by toxic Camp Lejeune water between 1953 and 1987. Previously individuals exposed to the were barred from obtaining benefits or any settlements, since the statute of limitations and statute of repose in North Carolina prevented claims by the time the water contamination was confirmed.
More than one million Marines and their family members lived at Camp Lejeune between the early 1950s and late 1980s, and some estimates suggest that toxic chemicals in the 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, birth defects and other health complications.
Since there will only be a limited time to document and pursue claims once the law is enacted, lawyers have already started investigating potential Camp Lejeune water lawsuits in advance of the legislation’s final passage, and gathering information about individual injuries suffered, so that necessary experts can be retained.
Samples of the Camp Lejeune water supply have identified multiple different volatile organic compounds (VOC) that posed a risk to individuals living or working on the base, including trichlorethylene (TCE), tetrachloroethylene (PCE), vinyl chloride (VC) and benzene.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has previously established a list of certain conditions that are presumptively caused by the Camp Lejeune toxic water, including bladder cancer, kidney cancer, liver cancer, multiple myeloma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Parkinson’s disease, adult leukemia, aplastic anemia and other myelodysplastic syndrome. However, numerous additional injuries are believed to be related to the water and the VA has only covered claims for veterans, not their family members.
Once the bill is signed into law, the U.S. government will not be able to raise the North Carolina statute of limitations or statute of repose as a defense in the Camp Lejeune water lawsuits, or assert qualified immunity to the claims. However, each individual plaintiff will still need to establish a causal relationship between their claimed injury and the toxins in Camp Lejeune water, which will require expert testimony and supporting evidence.
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