Some veterans and family members sickened during the decades of contaminated drinking water at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, will be able to choose to take a standard payout from the government if they want their claims resolved faster, the Navy and Justice Department announced Wednesday.
Under the so-called "elective option" unveiled Wednesday, claimants can get between $100,000 and $550,000, depending on their diagnosis and how long they were exposed to the toxic water.
Officials said they hope the new option will speed up processing for the tens of thousands of claims that have been filed since last year and more quickly give closure to veterans and others.
"The elective option is a critical step in bringing relief to qualifying claimants impacted by the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune, who will now have an avenue for receiving quick and early resolution of claims under the Camp Lejeune Justice Act," Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta said in a news release Wednesday.
The Camp Lejeune Justice Act, which was passed last year as part of the sweeping PACT Act, created a pathway for former Marines, sailors and families poisoned by contaminated drinking water at the military base to sue and recover damages. Those harmed by the water can file an administrative claim with the Navy, and if the service denies the claim or takes longer than six months to respond, they can then sue in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina.
More than 93,000 administrative claims have been filed since the law was enacted, a number that is expected to grow until the Aug. 10, 2024, deadline to file a claim, officials said Wednesday. Another 1,100 lawsuits have already been filed.
To qualify for the new elective option, claimants must have specific illnesses that have been previously linked to the chemicals at Camp Lejeune and been exposed to the water for a specific amount of time.
Those diagnosed with kidney cancer, liver cancer, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, leukemia and bladder cancer could receive settlements of $450,000 if they were exposed for more than five years; $300,000 if they were exposed between one year and five years; or $150,000 if they were exposed between 30 and 364 days.
Those suffering from multiple myeloma, Parkinson's disease, kidney disease (end stage renal disease) or systemic sclerosis/systemic scleroderma would get settlement offers of $400,000 for exposures of more than than five years; $250,000 for between one years and five years of exposure; or $100,000 for exposures between 30 and 364 days.
Claims involving death would get another $100,000, according to the news release.
Officials will reach out to anyone who has already filed a claim who is eligible, the release adds. Once a settlement is offered, claimants have 60 days to accept or deny it, and if they accept it, they can expect to get paid within 60 days, according to Navy guidance. Claimants who deny the offer can still pursue their administrative claim or file a lawsuit, according to the guidance.
Those who don't qualify for the elective option can still file an administrative claim or sue, it adds.
More information on filing a Camp Lejeune water claim and the elective option is available at www.navy.mil/clja/.
-- Rebecca Kheel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @reporterkheel.