Camp Lejeune is a U.S. Marine Corps base located in Jacksonville, North Carolina. In the 1980s, the U.S. Marine Corps learned that some members of the military, their families, and civilians were exposed to toxic chemicals in the base’s water supply from 1953 to 1987.
Multiple TV and radio ads from law firms across the country have been circulating, offering to help people who were exposed to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune get financial compensation. VERIFY viewer Bill asked on verifythis.com if people need a lawyer to file a claim.
Do people who were exposed to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune need a lawyer to file a claim?
- Honoring our PACT Act of 2022
- U.S. Marine Corps
- U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
- U.S. Navy Judge Advocate General’s Corps
- Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR)
- Lejeune Justice
- Thom Tillis, U.S. Senator for North Carolina
- Bell Legal Group
- Gary Jackson, attorney and partner at the Law Offices of James Scott Farrin in Durham, North Carolina
No, people who were exposed to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune do not need a lawyer to file a claim.
WHAT WE FOUND
The Marine Corps and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) have both acknowledged that some veterans, civilians, and their families could have developed certain health conditions after they were exposed to contaminated drinking water while stationed or working at Camp Lejeune between 1953 and 1987.
The drinking water was found to be contaminated with industrial solvents, such as trichloroethylene (TCE) and perchloroethylene (PCE), benzene, and other harmful chemicals, including vinyl chloride, according to the VA and the Office of U.S. Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC). These chemicals were identified in two on-base water wells at Camp Lejeune at levels ranging from 240 to 3,400 times the levels permitted by safety standards.
“Scientific and medical evidence has shown an association between exposure to these contaminants during military service and development of certain diseases later on,” the VA says on its website.
More from VERIFY: Yes, a passport study letter from the U.S. State Department is real
Veterans who were stationed at Camp Lejeune have been fighting for years to get health care benefits and compensation for illnesses they claim they developed after being exposed to contaminated water at the base. And on Aug. 10, 2022, the Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act was signed into law.
The law provides expanded access to health care and disability benefits for veterans harmed by certain toxic exposures. It also includes a provision known as the Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022 that allows people affected by the contaminated water to file a federal lawsuit to seek compensation for things like medical expenses, lost wages and pain and suffering.
The U.S. Navy Judge Advocate General’s Corps does not say eligible people need a lawyer to file a claim under the Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022. The law itself says a lawyer can file on behalf of eligible people, but that these people are also permitted to file individually. So people are not required to hire a lawyer to file a claim. In fact, the Navy has a process established for people filing on behalf of themselves.
“A lawyer's not required to file a claim,” Gary Jackson, attorney and partner at the Law Offices of James Scott Farrin in Durham, North Carolina, told VERIFY. “But there really are very sound, good reasons that a lawyer should be involved.”
More from VERIFY: Yes, the Facebook internet tracking settlement is real
Although an attorney is not required for the initial claim process, Bell Legal Group says that a lawyer would be required to pursue the case after the claims period has ended. People who file claims must prove their case in court, according to Lejeune Justice.
“People will need to seek legal counsel in order to properly pursue their case in the court system,” Bell Legal Group told VERIFY in an email.
A VA spokesperson told VERIFY that individuals seeking compensation under the PACT Act based upon exposure to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune will not have their VA benefits reduced because of any additional monetary compensation awarded by the court.
“If a veteran is already receiving VA benefits as a result of disability related to contaminated water exposure at Camp Lejeune, their court award will be reduced by the value of those benefits,” the spokesperson said.
How do you file a claim?
Any individual who believes they are eligible can file a claim with the Office of the Judge Advocate General of the Navy’s Tort Claims Unit (TCU) in Norfolk, Virginia. People have up to two years to file a claim after the law’s enaction on Aug. 10, 2022. Anyone who wants to file a claim may either:
Fill out the CLJA claims form and email the completed form to the Office of the Judge Advocate General of the Navy’s Tort Claims Unit (TCU) at CLclaims@us.navy.mil. Be sure to save the form as “LAST NAME FIRST NAME MM.DD.YYYY” (date is submission date).
Submit a completed CLJA claims form via U.S. Mail or another carrier to the following address:
Department of the Navy
Office of the Judge Advocate General
Tort Claims Unit Norfolk
Attention – Camp Lejeune Claims
9620 Maryland Avenue, Suite 205
Norfolk, VA 23511-2949
For additional information on completing the CLJA claims form, you can access the Directions and Procedures document on the U.S. Navy Judge Advocate General’s Corps website. If you have questions about the claims process or need assistance with filing your claim, you can contact the TCU at (757) 341-4583. The U.S. Navy Judge Advocate General’s Corps says the TCU is not able to provide updates on the status of individual claims at this time.
“The Department of the Navy is committed to resolving all claims related to this matter in a fair and timely manner. All claims will be processed as quickly as possible; however, due to the large amount of claims anticipated to be received, we cannot forecast an expected processing time. Submitting your claim via email will assist in expediting your claim,” the U.S. Navy Judge Advocate General’s Corps says.
The Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) encourages any veteran who has a disability they believe is due to their military service to file a claim for VA disability benefits. VBA will assist with obtaining medical evidence and may request an examination, if necessary, in accordance with existing law. For more information regarding VA claims, please visit publichealth.va.gov or call toll-free (877) 222-8387.