Wednesday morning President Joe Biden signed into law the Honoring our PACT Act, which includes the Camp Lejeune Justice Act, marking the culmination of a 25-year fight for justice.
With this law, those adversely impacted by living and working at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, from 1953 to 1987 can exercise their constitutional right to legal action against the United States government for toxic water exposure on base.
For too long, those who served, and their families, have waited for this day.
For nearly three decades, enlisted servicemen and women, their families and on-base staff drank, bathed and cooked with water containing known carcinogens, up to 280 times the standard safety limits.
This exposure occurred in direct violation of the Department of Navy’s established water supply standards, which were woefully ignored at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
A long list of health complications are linked to ongoing exposure to Lejeune’s toxic water, both for those who lived and worked on base, as well as their offspring. Until now, the government has skirted responsibility for this egregious oversight and violation of basic human rights.
My story is only one of more than one million.
I served in the Marine Corps for nearly 25 years, training thousands of new recruits. I lived for almost 12 years at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, where my daughter Janey was conceived and her mother unknowingly consumed water contaminated with known carcinogens — such as trichloroethylene, or TCE, and perchloroethylene, or PCE — during her pregnancy.
Janey, the only one of my four children conceived at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, died of leukemia at age 9. Her suffering resulted directly from exposure to Camp Lejeune’s toxic water; we have no history of cancer in either family.
Because of an obscure North Carolina law, Janey’s loss, along with hundreds of deceased babies and countless others suffering debilitating health complications, has never been acknowledged by the military or the U.S. government. With the Camp Lejeune Justice Act, that all changes.
Now, those who resided or worked at Camp Lejeune for 30 days or more over the three decade period can file a civil claim against the U.S. government to provide compensation for the damage caused by exposure to the base’s contaminated water.
We finally have won our right to pursue due process in the court system. A family may file on behalf of the deceased and for past expenses, loss of quality of life and can sue for pain, suffering and illness due to a loved one’s exposure.
Victims of Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, water contamination have two years from the statute’s date of enactment to file suit. Even those who received health benefits from the Veterans Administration are still eligible for reparation for medical coverage — past, present and future — as well as a loss of quality of life and pain and suffering.
It has been a long, arduous road to reach this point. But all those we’ve lost, and all who continue to suffer deserve this justice, wrongfully denied for so long.
As we embark on the next step in this journey for justice, it’s imperative that we raise awareness of the Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, toxic water exposure problem. The Department of Defense is our nation’s largest polluter — and ultimately polluted the water supply on its own military base.
All victims of this exposure deserve their day in court for compensation and to fight to ensure that this never happens again to any other military community.
Retired Marine Corps Master Sgt. J.M. Ensminger is a resident of North Carolina.
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