WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S Senators Thom Tillis (R-NC), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Richard Burr (R-NC), and Gary Peters (D-MI) introduced the Camp Lejeune Justice Act, bipartisan legislation that will provide veterans and their families who are suffering due to water contamination at Camp Lejeune, NClong-overdue judicial relief.
The legislation proposes to correct unfair legal barriers unique to Marine families stationed at Camp Lejeune due to an anomaly in the application of North Carolina law in the federal court system by establishing a new federal cause of action for individuals exposed to CLCW. This enables individuals affected by toxic exposure at Camp Lejeune to bring suit before the district court for the Eastern District of North Carolina to present evidence for injuries caused by exposure to CLCW.
Senator Tillis has been a leading advocate for servicemembers and veterans exposed to toxicants at Camp Lejeune since being sworn-in in 2015. In 2019, he co-introduced The Janey Ensminger Act to ensure individuals with diseases scientifically linked to toxic chemical exposure at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina receive proper medical care from the VA.
“Currently, veterans and their families affected by water contamination issues at Camp Lejeune are running into roadblocks with the application of North Carolina law, keeping them from getting their day in court for often-crippling and deadly medical conditions they have suffered,” said Senator Tillis, member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs and Judiciary Committees. “Since coming to office, I have worked alongside veterans stationed at Camp Lejeune and exposed to toxicants for years to finally give them the health care and benefits they deserve. I am proud to introduce this legislation with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to bring justice for our veterans and their families and provide a fix so these victims have access to courts and the judicial system like they would in other states and territories.”
“This bill vindicates victims of Camp Lejeune’s contaminated water,” said Senator Blumenthal, member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs and Judiciary Committees. “Far too many veterans, their family members, and others have suffered from debilitating, deadly diseases resulting from their exposure on base. Granting victims their overdue day in court is a step toward justice and accountability.”
“For too long, veterans and their families have lived with devastating illnesses caused by exposure to toxic chemicals at Camp Lejeune,” said Senator Burr, Ranking Member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. “Many of these illnesses take years to develop and current law prevents these veterans from taking legal action in North Carolina. This legislation does right by those who served by removing current legal barriers. I’m proud to work with my colleagues on this bipartisan, commonsense legislation and I urge the Senate’s swift passage.”
“It’s unacceptable that veterans and their families suffering from the harmful effects of water contamination and exposure to toxic substances are unable to receive due process,” said Senator Peters, Chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. “I’m proud to join this bipartisan bill that would eliminate legal barriers currently blocking these families at Camp Lejeune from accessing the justice system.”
Between 1953 and 1987, thousands of Marines, their families, civilian workers and personnel living or working at U.S. Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, were exposed to drinking water contaminated with industrial solvents, benzene, and other harmful chemicals. These chemicals were identified in water throughout the military installation at levels ranging from 240 to 3,400 times the levels permitted by safety standards. In 1997, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) concluded that the water had been contaminated for nearly three decades. Tragically, Camp Lejeune Contaminated Water (CLCW) significantly increased the risk of cancers, adverse birth outcomes, and other negative health conditions among the individuals exposed to it.
Under federal court procedures, federal courts are guided, in many instances, by state laws. When there is confusion as to controlling law or a need for clarification of state law, federal procedure allows for a certification process between the federal system and the highest court within a state’s system to determine the controlling state law. In water contamination cases from Camp Lejeune, the state of North Carolina did not have this procedure. Therefore, federal courts have been required to apply the North Carolina legal anomaly and to accept a position asserted by federal lawyers -- even though under Senator Tillis’ leadership as Speaker of the House, North Carolina has since taken necessary corrective action to show that North Carolina law is contrary to what the federal attorneys asserted.
Read the bill here.