Now law, Honoring our PACT Act expands resources for victims of military toxic exposure
Today, President Biden signed into law the Honoring our PACT Act. This impactful piece of legislation is aptly named, signifying the promise we as a nation make (but so often fail to live up to) to support the members of our armed forces who selflessly put their lives on the line to protect us and our freedoms.
Far too often, the people who answer the call to serve end up facing what we at Motley Rice believe are preventable harms, including avoidable toxic exposure. A well-known example – many of the men and women who tended to or resided near toxic open-air burn pits while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan walked away with lifelong respiratory ailments and cancers. Many lost their lives.
What we’ve come to recognize as seemingly preventable military toxic exposure is surprisingly expansive in scope. This issue isn’t limited to overseas service. It isn’t even limited to the specific people who serve, at times hurting and sickening their loved ones and even their unborn children. Perhaps even more frustrating, many of the people who are nursing diseases that are linked to their or their parents’ military service or civilian Department of Defense jobs are struggling to afford the medical care they’ll need for the rest of their lives.
This is an egregious wrong that the PACT Act takes a major step toward correcting by expanding available resources for people who need them.
Water contamination at Camp Lejeune
While the PACT Act increases the number of burn pit victims who are eligible for needed services, it also notably addresses another growing area of concern – water contamination at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune.
Under the PACT Act, service members, their families, contract workers and other civilians who were exposed to toxic water at Camp Lejeune for at least 30 days between Aug. 1, 1953 and Dec. 31, 1987 can now sue for compensation for health effects the VA and the Department of the Navy previously declined to cover by denying claims.
Allegations of toxic exposure at the North Carolina base have persisted for years and are largely linked to the improper dumping of chemicals by a dry-cleaning operation and to multiple underground fuel storage tanks that are believed to have leaked at least a million gallons of fuel and contaminated water wells all over the base.
According to the VA, wells at the base that were closed in 1985 contained toxins including:
- Perchloroethylene (PCE)
- Trichloroethylene (TCE)
- Vinyl chloride
- Other compounds
Unsafe levels of these toxins have been linked to numerous diseases and health problems including:
- Aplastic Anemia
- Birth Defects
- Cancers such as: Bladder, Male and Female Breast, Cervical, Esophageal, Kidney, Leukemia, Liver, Lung, Multiple Myeloma, Myelodysplastic Syndromes, Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, Prostate and Ovarian
- Cardiac Effects
- Female Infertility, Miscarriages and Still Births
- Hepatic Steatosis (liver disease)
- Hodgkin’s Disease
- Impaired Immune Function and Blood Disorders
- Low Birth Weights leading to developmental problems
- Neurobehavioral Effects
- Parkinson’s Disease
- Renal Toxicity (kidney injury or disease)
While it’s clear the PACT Act provides an overdue path to justice for victims, it’s understandable if you’re unsure of what your next step should be if you believe you or a loved one may have been hurt by toxic water at Camp Lejeune. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs provides helpful information about Camp Lejeune water contamination and its services here on its website. You may also read information related to specific health impacts at the Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry (ATSDR) website. Some impacted people and families may benefit from reaching out to a knowledgeable attorney for guidance on whether it would be in their best interest to file a legal claim related to their toxic exposure.
As of today, I have spent time with hundreds of victims, listening to their stories and the impact to their families. Many continue to suffer from their exposures at Camp Lejeune. Think, for example, about a young wife who was subjected to 21 miscarriages, 3 stillbirths and the death of an 18-month-old from birth defects, all while supporting her husband while he served his country. And about a father who was diagnosed with prostate cancer at 45, who is now 70 and his three daughters, all born at the base, are also suffering from cancers. These are horrible stories, and the world will sadly hear more like them.
I am very proud that our legislators worked together, across party lines, to make this important bill a law. Additionally, we would not be at this important stage with this new law and rights if it were not for the persistence and dedication to the cause by my good friend Ed Bell, who led the fight for the lawyers.
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