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U.S. Senate passes Camp Lejeune Justice Act

The U.S. Senate voted 84-14 on Thursday, June 16, 2022 to pass the Camp Lejeune Justice Act. H.R. 3967 was launched by the 117th Congress as part of the Honoring our Pact Act created to addresses health care, presumption of service-connection, research, resources, and other matters concerning veterans who were exposed to toxic substances during their military service.

The Honoring Our PACT Act of 2022 requires the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to broaden coverage for toxic exposure related to burn pits. The vote brings the bill one step closer to law after years of support from veterans’ advocacy groups and health care organizations that have argued a range of health problems from emphysema to glioblastoma.

Related: Camp Lejeune Justice Act H.R. 6482

The bill must now be signed by President Joe Biden to become law. The cancer that killed Biden’s son Beau can be linked to toxic waste pits that burned for years at various overseas military areas; so his signing the Act appears likely.

The Camp Lejeune Justice Act, part of the Honoring our PACT Act, made it through the Senate unchanged from its House version.

The Honoring our PACT Act makes veterans eligible for VA medical care, including mental health services and counseling, if they:

(1) participated in a toxic exposure risk activity (a qualifying activity that requires a corresponding entry in an exposure tracking record system),

(2) served in specified locations on specified dates, or

(3) deployed in support of a specified contingency operation.

The Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022

The Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022 is a proposed bill to allow military families to seek justice for injuries and damages suffered from Camp Lejeune water contamination. The U.S. House of Representatives introduced the Act, recently passed it, then sent it to the Senate.

The Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022 seeks to carve out an exception to the Feres doctrine. The Act is unique because the federal government is typically immune from lawsuits filed by U.S. service members. The Feres doctrine came from a U.S. Supreme Court opinion in  Feres v. United States, 340 U.S. 135 case (1950). The bar to recovery does not rely on the military status of the tortfeasor. Instead, it prohibits all claims on behalf of servicemembers against the federal government based upon service-related conditions and injuries.

H.R. 3967:

  • establishes the Formal Advisory Committee on Toxic Exposure to assist with the various procedures in establishing or removing presumptions of service-connection.
  • modifies or establishes the presumption of service-connection for certain conditions or purposes for various groups of veterans.

Among other requirements, the VA must

– provide a veteran with a medical examination regarding the nexus between a disability and toxic exposure risk activity if a veteran submits a disability compensation claim for a service-connected disability with insufficient evidence,
– incorporate a clinical questionnaire to help determine potential toxic exposures as part of the initial screening conducted for veterans with a VA primary care provider, and
– establish a registry for current or past members of the Armed Forces who may have been exposed to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances due to the environmental release of aqueous film-forming foam at a DOD location.

Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.), who sponsored the bill, said in a statement that the House will vote again on the measure, which it passed in March 2022. Biden has pushed for recognition of burn pit health risks since campaigning.

The Camp Lejeune Justice Act presumes coverage for certain illnesses and injuries linked to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune. It acknowledges that those who served or lived at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune or Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) New River in North Carolina between 1953 and 1987 likely contacted contaminants in the camp’s drinking water.

Scientific and medical evidence has shown a significant link between exposure to cancer-causing contaminants during military service and the later development of certain diseases. Routine water testing found drinking water sources at Camp Lejeune contaminated with toxic chemicals known to harm humans. Those contaminants include:

– Benzene
– Trichloroethylene (TCE)
– Tetrachloroethylene
– Perchloroethylene (PCE)
– Vinyl Chloride (VC)

Injuries, Illnesses Linked to Contaminated Water at Camp Lejeune

Exposure to Camp Lejeune’s contaminated drinking water has been scientifically and medically linked to the following injuries and illnesses:

– Aplastic Anemia
– Bladder Cancer
– Cardiac Defects
– Kidney Cancer
– Leukemia
– Liver Cancer
– Multiple Myeloma
– Myelodysplastic Syndrome
– Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
– Parkinson’s Disease
– Systemic Sclerosis/Scleroderma

Camp Lejeune drinking water exposure has also been linked with many injuries and illnesses that include:

– Breast Cancer
– Esophageal Cancer
– Female Infertility
– Hepatic Steatosis
– Lung Cancer
– Miscarriage
– Neurobehavioral Effects
– Renal Toxicity Scleroderma

Camp Lejeune Justice Act could become law soon

The Honoring our Pact Act and Camp Lejeune Justice Act could be law as soon as next week. Many U.S. veterans injured by Camp Lejeune’s contaminated water have waited decades for acknowledgement of their Camp Lejeune service injuries.

Camp Lejeune Justice Act – H.R. 3967

“In General.—An individual, including a veteran (as defined in section 101 of title 38, United States Code), or the legal representative of such an individual, who resided, worked, or was otherwise exposed (including in utero exposure) for not less than 30 days during the period beginning on August 1, 1953, and ending on December 31, 1987, to water at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, that was supplied by, or on behalf of, the United States may bring an action in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina to obtain appropriate relief for harm that was caused by exposure to the water at Camp Lejeune.”

(. . . )

(b) Burdens And Standard Of Proof.—

(1) IN GENERAL.—The burden of proof shall be on the party filing the action to show one or more relationships between the water at Camp Lejeune and the harm.

(2) STANDARDS.—To meet the burden of proof described in paragraph (1), a party shall produce evidence showing that the relationship between exposure to the water at Camp Lejeune and the harm is—

(A) sufficient to conclude that a causal relationship exists; or

(B) sufficient to conclude that a causal relationship is at least as likely as not.

(c) Exclusive Jurisdiction And Venue.—The United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina shall have exclusive jurisdiction over any action filed under subsection (a), and shall be the exclusive venue for such an action. Nothing in this subsection shall impair the right of any party to a trial by jury.”

Camp Lejeune History

The Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune opened in 1942. It is home to II Marine Expeditionary Force, 2nd Marine Division, 2nd Marine Logistics Group, and a naval hospital. Roughly 150,000 people currently live on the base or in the surrounding community. One million people have lived or passed through Camp Lejeune between August 1953 and December 1987. Hundreds of thousands of veterans, their families, and workers who lived off base at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina were exposed to the toxic chemicals that have been scientifically linked to serious health concerns.

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