Camp Lejeune’s contaminated water affected the lives of many, follow the story of how one man’s tragedy and persistance led to the Justice Act of 2022.
The Tragedy of Camp Lejeune, the Justice Act of 2022
Camp Lejeune is the largest Marine Corps Base on the East Coast. It is located near Jacksonville, North Carolina, measures approximately 153,439 acres, and holds roughly 137,526 Marines, Sailors, and civilians. It was also one of the worst dumping grounds for toxic chemicals such as vinyl chloride (VC) and the industrial degreaser trichloroethylene (TCE) in the US. These chemicals contaminated the drinking water on the base for 30 years from 1953 to 1987, with the government hiding it from public knowledge for decades. Anyone living at or around Camp Lejeune was likely exposed through using, ingesting, or bathing in the contaminated water.
Jerry Ensminger’s Tragic Loss at Camp Lejeune
Master Sergeant Jerome “Jerry” Ensminger, USMC, Ret. and his family were stationed at Camp Lejeune during the contamination. In July 1983, Ensminger’s daughter, Janey, was diagnosed with Leukemia at the age of six. She passed away on September 24, 1985, at the age of nine.
She was one of the many children treated at the medical center on base, Hadnot Point Building 15, and one of the many who perished at the base. Child deaths, including stillborns, were common at Camp Lejeune, so much so that land was carved out to lay them to rest. It is named “Baby Heaven.” Hundreds of infants are buried in the cemetery, some two or three to a grave.
It wasn’t until 1997 that Ensminger learned the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) released a report about the toxins discovered in the base drinking water and how they could cause childhood illnesses, including birth defects and Leukemia.
Ensminger, Partain & Bell’s Fight for Justice for Camp Lejeune Survivors
Ensminger testified before Capitol Hill on the effects Camp Lejeune’s contaminated water supply had on children in 2007, a decade after discovering the truth. He was soon contacted by Mike Partain, a man about to start chemotherapy for his male breast cancer. Partain was born January 30, 1968, at Camp Lejeune and had been searching for an answer to why he was diagnosed with such a rare condition after viewing Ensminger’s testimony on television.
The pair met up in December 2007 and have led the charge for justice ever since, contacting other victims who lost their children at the Marine Corps base or developed injuries themselves. However, to carry out the nationwide litigation properly for the estimated million people affected, they needed legal help. The one who helped join them in their fight was South Carolina native J. Edward Bell III, an accomplished attorney recognized for his work in product liability, medical malpractice and environmental law.
With Ed Bell’s aid, Ensminger and Partain were able to push for real change, culminating in the Camp Lejeune Justice Act, a bill initially introduced to Congress in 2014. The bill would open litigation efforts for military personnel and their families to file damages against the United States government. But, after the passing of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), empowering states to restrict pollution lawsuits, the Justice Act was stopped in its tracks.
Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022 Signed into Law
Ensminger, Partain and Ed Bell continued fighting for legislation and justice despite the ruling. August 10, 2022, eight years after the original bill failed, 15 years after Ensminger testified on Capitol Hill, and 70 years after the contamination began, the Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022 has finally been signed into law through the Honoring Our PACT Act. After decades of fighting, victims of one of the worst water contamination cases in US history can now achieve the justice they deserve.
Civilians, service members and their families who were harmed during the contamination period can file a claim for damages. There are a variety of injuries associated with exposure to toxic water at Camp Lejeune, but some of the most notable are:
- Bladder Cancer
- Breast Cancer
- Esophageal Cancer
- Kidney Cancer
- Liver Cancer
- Lung Cancer
- Multiple Myeloma
- Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
- Aplastic Anemia and other Myelodysplastic syndromes
- Cardiac Birth Defects
- Hepatic Steatosis (Fatty Liver Disease)
- Parkinson’s disease
- Renal Toxicity
Please note, these are a select few of the total number of illnesses that can be attributed to the toxic water of Camp Lejeune. There are still numerous injuries that may be traced back to the various toxins which once contaminated the water supply.
As stated, the Janey Ensminger Act enables the VA to provide disability benefits for eligible veterans and their families. That does not mean filing a claim against the government today will overwrite those benefits. The Camp Lejeune Justice Act was enacted as an independent tort and can coexist with the Janey Ensminger Act; even if you apply for and receive disability benefits from the VA, you can still pursue further action through the Justice Act without fear of losing those benefits.
If you were injured as a result of your stay at Camp Lejeune or are one of the millions who stayed at the Marine Corps Base for 30 days, you may qualify for damages. The Guardian Legal Network can connect you to experienced attorneys ready to fight on your behalf and hold the government accountable for their negligence.
Contact the Guardian Legal Network today to pursue the justice you deserve.
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