Fast-tracked elective payout for Camp Lejeune claims insufficient
More than 93,000 people have filed claims with the Department of the Navy seeking help for severe, life-threatening health problems caused by contaminated water at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune. As you (our clients and co-counsel) know, a staggering number of victims have been waiting for years – decades even – for this crisis to be acknowledged, let alone addressed. The victims, who are Marines, family members and civilian workers who worked or lived on the base, are desperate for the answers and resources they need to move forward with their lives. Until recently, their pleas for action have largely been ignored.
We can certainly all agree a solution to this crisis must come swiftly – but not at the expense of what’s right. We, as a nation, would be doing victims a great disservice if the help they have long been waiting for ultimately falls short of what they realistically need to cover the out-of-pocket costs they have already spent on their health and will likely continue to spend for the rest of their lives. Not to mention the tragic level of pain and suffering they endured from the cancers caused by the toxic water at Camp Lejeune.
Seeking fair relief for veterans
The Camp Lejeune Justice Act (CLJA), passed by Congress in 2022, required the Navy to set up a claims administration process to compensate the victims and allows victims to go to court if they do not get adequate relief from the Navy process. One year later, the Navy has not compensated a single victim and more than 1,000 cases have been filed in court.
At the request of the U.S. government, the federal court overseeing this matter appointed a Resolution Committee to help keep the victims and their concerns front and center in this multipronged effort that spans multiple agencies and branches of government. I am a proud member of this Committee along with five others who intend to work with the Justice Department and Navy to establish a fair and reasonable alternative to trials.
There is no question that all who are tasked with sorting this thing out have the victims and their needs in mind. I am concerned, however, that some proposals drafted without collaboration with this Committee don’t go far enough to provide the lasting support tens-of-thousands of victims need.
Elective Option to resolve Camp Lejeune cases
The Justice Department and Navy recently announced a voluntary Elective Option (EO) to “quickly resolve” Camp Lejeune cases through expedited payouts. A fast track has its appeal, but at the end of the day anything short of fair and reasonable compensation will inevitably be a disappointment to the victims who have waited for more than 20 years to address the inexcusable toxic exposure they received while at Camp Lejeune.
Examining our options
We recognize the Elective Option for what it is, a greatly reduced value in exchange for a “quick payment” and waiver of some but not all government liens. There could also be private insurance coverage liens and potential Medicare Advantage Organizations, State Medicaid and Medicare Part C plan liens.
Additionally, the claim requirement for certified medical documentation that goes back 60 years presents major obstacles. Uncertainty also exists about the “quick payment” from the Navy, considering no payments have been made in the past 12 months.
This elective offer does not use any of the traditional measurements of loss or damages a jury would be asked to consider including pain, suffering, out of pocket medical care, lost earnings and earning capacity, and children or dependents, among others. There is an extra death benefit if the victim’s death was related to the water caused injury, but is $100,000 even a real recognition of the Value of Lost Life? This “option” fails to account for the severity of the injuries sustained by the victims, and it ignores the fundamental concept of damages our court system and law provide.
In my view, the current proposal can be seen as a starting place, but it is wholly inadequate in multiple ways to address the existing 93,000 claims plus thousands more victims who are in process of filing claims.
I am sure there will be victims who elect to accept this low but promised quick payment for many reasons. The Court in North Carolina recognized early on that some quick pay option should be made available and now we have it. The values are disappointing, and, in my view, the process will not be as successful as we had hoped when the idea of a quick pay option was first proposed, or as successful as it could have been with some significant but reasonable adjustments. Time will tell, but the litigation will go forward.
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