The Justice Department and the Department of the Navy announced a streamlined application process on Wednesday for qualifying veterans who were exposed to toxic water at the Marine Corps base Camp Lejeune to receive financial settlements from the government.
The new process is an effort to speed up the crawling pace of resolving the more than 93,000 civil claims by Marines, their families and civilian employees against the Navy. The water they drank and bathed in at the base was contaminated for years by an off-base dry cleaner, leaky storage tanks and chemical dumping.
The claims are allowed under the PACT Act, a law signed by President Joe Biden last year allowing veterans and surviving family members exposed to toxic substances to file lawsuits against the government.
The new option for victims “is a critical step in bringing relief to qualifying claimants impacted by the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune, who will now have an avenue for receiving quick and early resolution of claims under the Camp Lejeune Justice Act,” Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta said in a statement.
CNN previously reported that the water was so contaminated with trichloroethylene (TCE) and other contaminants that it would later be linked to 15 cancers and conditions, including bladder cancer, breast cancer, female infertility, miscarriage, kidney cancer, leukemia and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
The chemicals may also cause neurobehavioral effects including Parkinson’s disease – a condition Lejeune veterans are 70% more likely to have than veterans who served at different posts across the country.
The new option provides an alternative to both litigation and the normal claims process so that victims can receive a timelier settlement after criticism from veterans and advocates about the slow pace of processing claims.
In the voluntary process, the Navy will narrow the scope of its review to key aspects of the claim, including the type of diagnoses and the amount of time an individual was at Camp Lejeune, the Justice Department said.
A senior Navy official said processing has been initiated for about 18,000 of the more than 93,000 claims already submitted and that the Navy is in the process hiring more than 100 new employees tasked with processing claims.
The Justice Department also vowed to review lawsuits already filed against the Navy and in qualifying cases will extend settlements like those promised under the new option. That review process has already begun, a senior Justice Department official said Wednesday.
It is not yet clear how many of the 93,000 are in favor of the new option, the Justice Department official said.
This story has been updated with additional details.