Sens. Ted Budd, Thom Tillis and seven other lawmakers demanded answers Wednesday on why their constituents continue to die from Camp Lejeune’s toxic waters while the Department of Justice and the Navy refuses to settle their claims.
On Wednesday, the lawmakers sent a letter to Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro and Attorney General Merrick Garland voicing concerns about delays in settling claims and lawsuits filed by veterans, military personnel and their families affected by toxic waters on the base in Jacksonville, North Carolina.
“It is imperative that the Navy Judge Advocate General and Department of Justice act expeditiously to ensure these individuals receive the justice they deserve without undue delay,” the lawmakers wrote.
Between Aug. 1, 1953, and Dec. 31, 1987, toxic chemicals seeped through the ground into two of eight water treatment plants on the Marine Corps base from underground fuel storage tanks, an off-base dry cleaning facility, industrial area spills and waste disposal sites. The chemicals included trichloroethylene, perchloroethylene, benzene and vinyl chloride and are known to cause miscarriages, birth defects, cancers and childhood leukemia.
Last August, Congress passed into law the Camp Lejeune Justice Act, which allowed an estimated more than 1 million people exposed to the water to file a claim with the Navy. If the Navy didn’t respond within six months, the legislation then gave those people the right to sue.
After initially opposing it, Budd voted for the legislation, which was part of a broader bill on toxic exposure for veterans. Tillis, who helped create the bill, ended up voting against it due to concerns that the Department of Veterans Affairs would not be able to properly implement it, causing increased wait times, delays in receiving cares and a backlog in claims. Tillis tried to get the bill amended to work on those issues, to no avail.
The lawmakers’ letter Wednesday said an estimated 45,000 claims have been filed, none have been answered and that has resulted in at least 900 lawsuits in the Eastern District of North Carolina.
Last month, Judge James Dever told involved parties that at the rate people are filing lawsuits in the case, it would take him and two others 1,900 years to hear all the cases. He’s looking for a way to expedite the process.
The lawmakers are looking to help Dever with that cause. They include U.S. Reps. Richard Hudson, a Republican from Southern Pines, Dan Bishop, a Republican from Charlotte, Greg Murphy, a Republican from Greenville, Don Davis, a Democrat from Snow Hill, Valerie Foushee, a Democrat from Hillsborough, and Matt Cartwright, a Republican from Pennsylvania, and U.S. Sen. Mike Braun, a Republican from Indiana.
All of them said they’ve heard from their constituents who voiced concerns about the Navy and the Department of Justice’s delays in responding to the claims and settling the lawsuits.
In response, the lawmakers are asking the two agencies to respond to a series of questions by June 9 related to the number of claims and lawsuits and their status, and plans to process and resolve them.
Among the questions asked in the letter: “How many individuals with pending Camp Lejeune claims have died while waiting for a resolution to their case?”
Lawmakers reminded the DOJ and the Navy of the sacrifice the service members and their families made and said that they owe it to them to respond in a timely manner.
“Further delay is unacceptable, and it is critically important that JAG and DOJ move quickly to adjudicate or settle these cases in a transparent, efficient manner,” the lawmakers stated. “Anything less is injustice.”
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