In May of 1941 construction began on an unassuming 11,000-acre plot of land in eastern North Carolina. The sweat of thousands of Marines training for battle would soon christen this plot. The combination of eleven miles of beach for amphibious training and secluded pine forests for tactical training made this location an ideal military camp. Over the years the camp grew in size, increasing to 156,000 acres, and scope, training countless men and women.
This camp would win the Commander-in-chief’s Award for Installation Excellence five times and even be featured on the hit show One Tree Hill. This plot of land that was cultivated for greatness years ago is called Camp Lejeune. Despite considerable growth and notable awards and accolades Camp Lejeune would be stained with a black mark of negligence.
During the early 1980s the EPA rolled out new regulations for testing water for trihalomethanes. Camp Lejeune followed suit and tested its wells for contaminants. Soon after, the Army Environmental Hygiene Agency started to find suspicious levels of halogenated hydrocarbons hiding in the camp’s water. One report, filed and sent to Marine Corps officials in March of 1981, said, “Water is highly contaminated with other chlorinated hydrocarbons (solvents)!” Despite these alarming reports, no action was taken.
Two years later Grainger Laboratories, a private company, was hired by the base to further test the water. Once the tests were finished Mike Hargett, a Grainger Laboratories representative, along with the base chemist repeatedly informed high ranking base officials about the contaminates in the water. No action was taken.
Later that year a senior chemist at Grainger Laboratories wrote a letter describing the toxic water to Marine Major General D.J. Fulham, the base commander. No action was taken.
It was suspected the cause of the contamination was, an off-base dry cleaning store, leaks from underground fuel storage tanks, and chemicals used to clean military equipment.
Grainger Laboratories continued to send warnings to Camp Lejeune from 1982-1983 but base officials continued to ignore these warnings. Lejeune officials claimed there was no problem with the camp’s water in a report filed with the EPA during the spring of 1983. Later that same year the state of North Carolina requested the results of the test conducted by Grainger Laboratories. Base officials denied this request. Subsequently, camp officials decreased the number of tests conducted by Grainger in December of 1983.
The EPA reviewed the water tests in July 1984, and found high levels of benzene, PCE and TCE. In November, only one of the contaminated wells was shut down and the other wells were closed at the start of 1985.
While base officials notified the state of North Carolina of the dangerous water in December 1984, they failed to reveal that benzene was found in the water. A 1997 study conducted by the Agency of Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) determined that personnel exposed to the water at Camp Lejeune were unlikely to contract cancer due to the contaminated water. However, a later federal investigation stated ATSDR officials improperly assessed benzene levels when making their report.
ATSDR admitted they had made a mistake with their 1997 report and overturned their original judgment in April of 2009. Officials believed the contamination was caused by 800,000 gallons of fuel leaking from an underground fuel storage unit.
This leak happened by one of the primary wells, which served Hadnot Point. Both enlisted men and officers were located in Hadnot Point, as well as a hospital.
The Department of Justice and the EPA investigated the Marine Corps and concluded the USMC should not be charged with any criminal acts for the handling of the Camp Lejeune water contamination scandal. Nevertheless, one investigator told Congress in 2007 that he felt obstruction of justice charges should have been filed, but that the DOJ prosecutors rejected this idea.
Also in 2007, documents were found that detailed a radioactive waste site, located inside the camp close to a shooting range. The waste that was dumped here contained an isotope called strontium-90, which has proved to cause several types of cancer, including leukemia.
These documents, which were found by a former Lejeune Marine whose 9-year-old daughter died of cancer, prompted Congress to require the USMC to notify past Camp Lejeune residents of the problem. This notification process began in 2008.
The first lawsuit came in the summer of 2009, filed by Laura Jones. She had lived on base with her husband and now was diagnosed with lymphoma. The Navy tried to claim the statute of limitations prevented such a suit from moving forward, but the judge sided with Jones.
Several other lawsuits were filed between 2009 and 2011 and were eventually consolidated in the US District Court in the Northern District of Georgia.
The Janey Ensminger Act was passed in July 2012. This act provides care for service personnel and their family members who lived at Camp Lejeune during 1957 to 1987. The scope of the act applies to 750,000 people.
There are 15 conditions covered by the act.
To be eligible for benefits there are a few qualifications you must meet.
Currently, the VA does not recognize a presumptive service-connection for Camp Lejeune illnesses. This means veterans will have to prove to the VA that their illness is connected to their time in service.
If you or your family was stationed at Camp Lejeune during the years in question and have been diagnosed with one of the 15 conditions, you should apply for Camp Lejeune benefits. Navigating through the application process can be difficult at times so working with an attorney who is skilled and experienced in Camp Lejeune benefits will be a great help. Jan Dils Attorneys at Law has been working with veterans in need of help for many years. These attorneys know what it takes to get their clients approved for Camp Lejeune benefits.