WKYT Investigates UPDATE | Camp Lejeune Justice Act introduced in U.S. Senate
The bill would allow victims exposed to toxic water at the military base to seek relief in court.
WASHINGTON, D.C. (WKYT) - A bipartisan group of lawmakers has introduced a bill to allow for “long overdue” judicial relief for veterans and family members exposed to toxic water on a U.S. military base.
The Camp Lejeune Justice Act was introduced Thursday by U.S. Senators Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Gary Peters (D-Mich.), according to a news release.
The bill, S.3176, would allow claims from victims exposed to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune to be heard in court, enabling them to present evidence for harm caused by exposure.
“This bill vindicates victims of Camp Lejeune’s contaminated water,” Senator Blumenthal said in the release.
[FULL TEXT: The Camp Lejeune Justice Act]
U.S. government officials have admitted that water at Camp Lejeune was contaminated with toxins from leaking storage tanks on the base and a dry cleaner off the base. The Department of Veterans Affairs acknowledges those exposed as veterans who served on the base at least 30 days total between August 1, 1953 and December 31, 1987.
The Marine Corps base is in North Carolina, but thousands of Kentuckians are believed to have gone through there while the water was toxic. More than 4,400 people in Kentucky are registered through the military for notifications on the issue, although that number is not necessarily limited only to those exposed.
The Camp Lejeune Justice Act seeks to correct what the bill sponsors call an “anomaly in the application of” existing North Carolina law that prevented lawsuits from being filed in the federal court system where the base is located.
“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,” Senator Tillis said in the release. “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.”
[CATCH UP: WKYT Investigates | Toxic water at Camp Lejeune]
A House version of the bill was introduced in March and referred to the Judiciary Committee. Last month it was referred to the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. In September the bill was introduced as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act but was withdrawn due to a lack of funding, according to The Daily News in Jacksonville, N.C. where the base is located.
Nearly five dozen congressmembers have signed on to cosponsor another piece of related legislation aimed at helping exposure victims.
The Toxic Exposure in the American Military Act, or “TEAM” Act, would expand access to V.A. care and benefits for veterans exposed to toxic substances during their service, develop a consistent process to determine presumptions of service connection for illnesses, establish an independent scientific commission and authorize further research to study whether conditions are linked to toxic exposure.
A law passed in 2012 provides health care coverage for 15 conditions for veterans and family members who lived on the base. Veterans are also eligible for disability compensation for eight conditions presumed to be related to the contamination. Veterans hope further studying the effects of the toxins would eventually expand coverage to more conditions.
As many as one million military and civilian staff and their families might have been exposed to the contaminated drinking water at Camp Lejeune, according to estimates from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.
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