Updated March 22, 2023
Camp Lejeune is a large military base in North Carolina where hundreds of thousands of people have trained, lived, and worked for over 80 years. Now some scientists say the base is the site of the worst drinking-water contamination in U.S. history.
The federal government estimates that as many as one million people may have been exposed to contaminated drinking water at Camp Lejeune. You might be eligible for compensation (payment) and Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits if you:
Camp Lejeune (luh-jern) is a military base near Jacksonville, North Carolina. Established in 1942, Camp Lejeune covers about 233 square miles, including 14 miles of coastline. Camp Lejeune supports Marine Corps, Navy, and Coast Guard commands. Camp Lejeune's mission is to keep combat units ready for deployment.
Over the years, Camp Lejeune has been home to hundreds of thousands of retired and active service members, civilian employees, and their families.
Military officials began regularly testing the drinking water at Camp Lejeune around 1980 and discovered that two water-supply systems on the base —Tarawa Terrace (TT) and Hadnot Point (HP)— were contaminated with chemicals. The contaminated water-distribution plants supplied the majority of family housing units at Camp Lejeune.
Water from TT was contaminated by an off-base dry cleaning business. Water from HP was contaminated by multiple on-base sources, including underground storage tanks, industrial area spills, and waste disposal sites.
TT began operations in 1952 and was shut down in 1987. HP began operations in 1942. The most contaminated HP wells were shut down in February 1985.
Learn more about the water contamination situation at Camp Lejeune.
Government researchers with the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) have identified four chemicals as the main contaminants at Camp Lejeune.
Trichloroethylene (TCE) is a chemical primarily used to clean metal machine parts. Most human exposure to TCE is airborne, but TCE can persist in groundwater. TCE was the main contaminant found at Hadnot Point (HP). The maximum TCE level detected in Camp Lejeune drinking water was 1,400 parts per billion (ppb) in May 1982. The current limit for TCE in drinking water is 5 ppb.
Perchloroethylene (PCE) is a chemical widely used in dry cleaning. PCE is toxic to humans at very low concentrations. PCE was the main contaminant found at Tarawa Terrace (TT). The maximum PCE level detected in Camp Lejeune drinking water was 215 ppb in February 1985. The current limit for PCE in drinking water is 5 ppb.
Benzene is widely used in the United States to make chemicals that are found in plastics, resins, and nylon and synthetic fibers. Benzene was detected during the sampling of TT and HP drinking water in 1985.
Vinyl chloride is used to make polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pipes, wire and cable coatings, and packaging material. Vinyl chloride was detected in TT and HP water.
Learn more about chemicals at Camp Lejeune.
Not everyone exposed to TCE, PCE, benzene, or vinyl chloride will develop health problems. Your risk of developing a disease after a toxic exposure often depends on the age when you were exposed, how long you were exposed, and your personal traits and habits.
But the ATSDR has found a causal link between chemicals detected in the drinking water at Camp Lejeune and the development of certain diseases, including:
According to the ATSDR, other health effects that are at least as likely as not to be caused by chemicals detected in the drinking water at Camp Lejeune include:
At least one study has shown an elevated risk of developing many other conditions after exposure to TCE and PCE, including fetal death, oral cleft defect, and breast cancer. Click here for a complete list and details on ATSDR's research.
The VA has established its own lists of illnesses and conditions linked to contaminants in the water at Camp Lejeune. (See below for more on those lists and information on how to apply for disability and health care benefits through the VA.)
On August 10, 2022, President Biden signed the Camp Lejeune Justice Act (CLJA) into law. The law, which is part of the PACT Act, allows victims exposed to toxic water at Camp Lejeune the right to sue the U.S. government for money damages for their injuries.
Here's what we know about the CLJA so far.
You can file a lawsuit against the U.S. government if you:
You will need to be able to show that you meet the time-on-base and date requirements with evidence like military records, pay stubs, or Social Security records.
Exposure to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune isn't enough to get a settlement or court award. You'll also have to show that your exposure to the water:
In most toxic tort cases, proving a causal link between exposure to a substance (like Roundup) and a particular illness can be difficult. The person suing (called the "plaintiff") typically has to hire expensive expert witnesses to prove the connection.
Camp Lejeune victims and their lawyers will likely rely on ATSDR health studies and VA rules to help meet this requirement.
You can only file a Camp Lejeune lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina.
In a personal injury lawsuit against another person or business, you can typically go straight to court. But if you want to sue the federal government, you must first file an administrative claim with the federal agency that caused you harm. (28 U.S.C. § 2675.) For Camp Lejeune case, you'll file your administrative claim with the Office of the Judge Advocate General (JAG) of the Navy's Tort Claims Unit (TCU).
The TCU will have six months to respond to your claim. The TCU might agree that your claim is valid and offer to pay you some or all of the money damages you requested. This seems like a realistic possibility in some Camp Lejeune cases because the sole purpose of the CLJA is to compensate people harmed at Camp Lejeune. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that $6.1 billion will be placed into a fund that will cover settlements and awards to Camp Lejeune victims.
If your administrative claim is denied, you have six months from the date on which the decision is mailed to you to file your Camp Lejeune lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina.
If you've previously filed a Camp Lejeune-related claim, you'll have to refile your claim under the new act. The first few CLJA lawsuits that were filed in August 2022 were dismissed without prejudice in December 2022. The court ruled that the CLJA created a new federal cause of action and a new administrative exhaustion requirement for all Camp Lejeune claims.
As of January 2023, the U.S. Navy has already received notice of at least 14,000 Camp Lejeune-related claims.
You will not be able to file a lawsuit after August 10, 2024 (two years after the CLJA went into effect), or six months after your administrative claim is denied, whichever is later.
The statute of limitations only applies to claims arising before August 10, 2022. Figuring out the statute of limitations can be complicated in any personal injury case, but it's especially tricky when you are suing the government. Talk to a lawyer about the timeline for filing a Camp Lejeune administrative claim and how the CLJA's statutes of limitation apply to your case.
Suing the government is never easy, even with the help of a law like the CLJA. A lawyer can help you figure out if you have a legitimate case and make sure you get your lawsuit filed in the right place within the right amount of time.
As of August 2022, no CLJA settlements or verdicts are publicly available, so it's hard to put an exact dollar amount on these cases. But here are the common types of compensation (damages) Camp Lejeune victims might expect to get:
Survivors of Camp Lejeune victims who die from their illnesses will be able to bring wrongful death lawsuits to receive compensation for damages like funeral or burial costs, the deceased person's pre-death pain and suffering, and medical treatment costs prior to death.
The Camp Lejeune Act of 2012 provides funding for disability and health care benefits for some veterans and families who lived at Camp Lejeune for at least 30 days total from August 1, 1953, through December 31, 1987.
Veterans can receive disability payments and health care benefits if they meet the time-on-base (30 days) and service date (1953-1987) requirements and didn't receive a dishonorable discharge when they separated from the military.
Veterans typically have to prove that their medical condition is related to their service to qualify for disability compensation. But the VA has established a presumptive service connection for veterans who were exposed to the water at Camp Lejeune and develop one of eight diseases, including:
Veterans who served at Camp Lejeune and develop an illness that isn't on the presumptive conditions list may still be eligible for disability and health care benefits, but they will have to show a medical link between their condition and their toxic water exposure on the base. The VA reviews and decides disability claims on a case-by-case basis.
If you've previously applied for Camp Lejeune-related disability benefits and been denied, talk to a lawyer about your options. On August 25, 2022, the Veterans Affairs Office of the Inspector General (OIG) released a report admitting that the VA mishandled 21,000 Camp Lejeune claims. Over 17,000 claims were prematurely denied. In another 2,300 cases, the VA miscalculated effective dates for benefit eligibility. The OIG estimates that veterans were unpaid by at least $13.8 million as a result of the miscalculation.
The VA offers health care benefits for veterans—and their family members—who were exposed to toxic water at Camp Lejeune and develop any of these 15 conditions:
Benefits include health care for their covered health condition at no cost. Veterans and family members may also be eligible for reimbursement of out-of-pocket medical expenses related to their conditions for up to two years prior to the date of application for benefits.
You have to file a claim for disability compensation and health care benefits and provide supporting documents, including:
Family members will also need to submit a document proving their relationship to the veteran, like a marriage license, birth certificate, or adoption papers.
To find out more about getting veterans' disability compensation, see Nolo's articles on Service-Connected Disability Compensation for Veterans. You can also learn more about Camp Lejeune water contamination health issues and file a claim online.
The VA has set up a Camp Lejeune Family Member Program with information about the health benefits program and application forms.
If you want advice or help with applying for VA disability and health benefits, talk to a lawyer. A lawyer can answer your questions and help you gather the records you need to get benefits. If your claim is denied, a lawyer can help you file an appeal and potentially represent you at a Board of Veterans Appeals hearing.
If you believe you were sickened by toxic water at Camp Lejeune, talk to a lawyer right away. You may be eligible for VA benefits and a settlement or court award.
You don't have to navigate the complex VA and court systems alone. A lawyer can help you understand the scientific and medical evidence connecting water contamination and certain diseases. A lawyer can also help you gather records and comply with complex procedural requirements so that you can get the best outcome possible in your case.
Learn more about hiring a personal injury lawyer. You can also connect with a lawyer interested in representing Camp Lejeune victims directly from this page for free.