Justice, Navy departments announce standard settlement offers for some Camp Lejeune water victims to speed payments
Stars and Stripes September 6, 2023
The Navy will offer a preset payment option to claimants with certain diagnosed illnesses related to their exposure to toxic water at Camp Lejeune, N.C., as it seeks to speed the processing of tens of thousands of claims, it was announced Wednesday.
Officials of the Navy and Justice Department described the new path to paying claims as a voluntary elective option, meant to provide a simple settlement solution outside of a court. The elective option would pay victims between $100,000 and $450,000 depending on their illnesses and the amount of time they spent at Camp Lejeune.
The Navy has received more than 93,000 claims under the 2022 Camp Lejeune Justice Act, which provided veterans and others exposed to the Marine bases’ toxic water between Aug. 1, 1953, and Dec. 21, 1987, an avenue to sue for damages. While the Navy has faced criticism for its slow handling of claims, senior Navy officials said Wednesday the service is working to significantly increase the size of its legal team working on the issue. The service has started processing about 18,000 of the claims, one of the officials said, although none of the cases have yet been settled.
“The Elective Option is a critical step in bringing relief to qualifying claimants impacted by the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune, who will now have an avenue for receiving quick and early resolution of claims under the Camp Lejeune Justice Act,” said Associate Attorney General Vanita Guta. “We are grateful for the continued partnership of the Department of the Navy and federal agencies in developing and administering this framework.”
Erik Raven, the Navy’s under secretary, described the new option as a “streamlined process to resolve” the backlogged claims.
“We recognize this takes a whole-of-government response, and along with DOD and DOJ, we are linked with Veterans Affairs and other federal agencies to support a fair and streamlined process,” Raven said. “We are committed to ensuring that every valid Camp Lejeune claim is resolved fairly and as expeditiously as possible.”
Those eligible for the elective option must have been diagnosed with specific diseases identified by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry as linked to Camp Lejeune’s toxic water before Aug. 10, 2022, according to the Justice Department. Those specific diseases fall in two payment tiers. The first-tier diseases are kidney cancer, liver cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, leukemia and bladder cancer. The second-tier illnesses are multiple myeloma, Parkinson’s disease, kidney disease (end stage renal disease) and systemic sclerosis/systemic scleroderma.
Tier 1 diagnoses would pay individuals exposed to Camp Lejuene’s toxic water by working or living on the post for more than five years $450,000. It would pay those exposed for one to five years $300,000, and it would pay those exposed for 30 days to 364 days $150,000, according to DOJ documents.
Tier 2 diagnoses would pay $400,000, $250,000, or $100,000 to those exposed for more than five years, those exposed one to five years and those exposed 30 to 364 days, respectively, according to the documents. Claims involving a death would pay an additional $100,000, DOJ said.
Individuals who already have filed claims will be notified by the Navy if they are eligible for the new elective option, a senior Navy official said Wednesday. Those who have not yet filed a claim, which must be submitted by Aug. 10, 2024, must still file a claim via the Navy’s claim portal at www.navy.mil/clja to be eligible for the new option, the official said. Senior officials from the Navy and Justice Department spoke to reporters Wednesday on the condition of anonymity, per their ground rules.
Those who choose to accept the elective option will forfeit that right to sue the government over the Camp Lejeune water issue, a senior DOJ official said. However, accepting the elective option will have no impact on an individual’s VA benefits.
The elective option will also provide claimants with a lower burden of proof to settle with the government, the DOJ official said.
“For many claimants, they'll find that the elective option is actually more advantageous for them than litigating their claims,” the DOJ official said. “They simply have to show that they have one of these [Tier 1 or 2] diseases, where in litigation, they would have to show that they have the disease and also that it was as likely … caused by the Camp Lejeune water as opposed to some other fact like smoking or some other health risks. So, it is much easier for them to recover [money] under the elective option.”
The officials said it was not yet clear how many of the 93,000 claimants will be eligible for the elective option or how much money the government will ultimately pay out to claimants. The officials said they expect more claims to be filed by the deadline next summer.