Officials from the Navy and Department of Justice on Wednesday announced plans for new fast-track financial settlements for veterans and family members poisoned by toxic water at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune that could benefit tens of thousands of individuals already awaiting compensation for their illnesses.
The new process will grant between $100,000 and $550,000 to victims, but will only cover specific conditions such as kidney cancer, Parkinson’s disease and leukemia. Individuals who do not qualify for the program or who wish to seek additional damages can still use civil claims against the government for possible relief.
The changes are part of the Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (better known as the PACT Act) signed into law in August 2022. The legislation included provisions for lawsuits and compensation for individuals who lived or worked at the base between 1953 and 1987.
Drinking water contamination at the installation may have affected as many as one million individuals over that timeframe. At least 93,000 claims have been filed with the Navy seeking compensation for a range of injuries, and more than 1,000 federal lawsuits have been filed against the Navy.
The new process does not replace the current claims system being used by the Navy and Justice Department, but is being touted by officials as offering quicker options for settlement of the cases.
It provides standard payouts based on individuals’ illness and time at the base. For example, a veteran who shows they lived at Camp Lejeune for three years during the time the water was contaminated and later developed bladder cancer would be eligible for $300,000 in compensation.
An individual who suffers from kidney disease and lived on base for six months during the relevant time period would be eligible for $100,00 under the plan. Justice officials have detailed the payout plans on their website.
Officials said claims awarded under the new process would not impact any Veterans Affairs benefits. Leaders at VA have warned that future civil lawsuit payouts may be offset by reductions in disability payouts from their department, depending on how the legal process plays out.
“We are linked with Veterans Affairs and other federal agencies to support a fair and streamlined process,” Under Secretary of the Navy Erik Raven said in a statement. “We are committed to ensuring that every valid Camp Lejeune claim is resolved fairly and as expeditiously as possible.”
Navy officials promised the new process would be speedier than the existing, open-ended procedures but did not offer any specifics on how quickly money may reach veterans or family members. When a settlement is offered, individuals will have 60 days to accept or reject the money.
Individuals must first submit an administrative claim to the Navy to be able to use the new program.
Already about 18,000 individuals have begun using the new settlement process, service officials said. The Navy is also planning to hire additional staff to handle the new claims processing workload.
More information on how to file claims is available at the Navy’s Camp Lejeune Justice Act website.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.