NEW PHILADELPHIA ― We've all see the ads on television or social media in the last few weeks.
"If you or your family were stationed in Camp Lejeune between 1953 and 1987, you may have been exposed to drinking water that was heavily contaminated with toxins," one ad reads. "You may be able to qualify for significant compensation for your medical costs or lost loved ones."
Jason Thornton, veteran service officer at the Tuscarawas County Veterans Services Office, is urging veterans to call his office before talking to a lawyer.
"We've gotten a lot of phone calls concerning all these lawyers on TV," he said. "Some of them have already called, and now they're wondering if they should be calling.
"These commercials on TV are saying that if you were at Camp Lejeune, you're eligible and you can get money now. They need to be wary of what they're getting into, because there's attorney fees and they could end up actually losing money. I encourage them to do the research and find a reputable lawyer if they're going to go that route. Definitely, before they sign a retainer with an attorney, understand what they're signing into."
On Aug. 10, President Biden signed into law the Honoring Our PACT Act of 2022.
Personnel who lived or worked at Marine Corps Camp Lejeune, N.C., between Aug. 1, 1953, and Dec. 31, 1987, were potentially exposed to industrial solvents, benzene and other chemicals through the drinking water. The Department of Veterans Affairs has determined that there are eight presumptive diseases associated with the contaminated water ― adult leukemia, aplastic anemia and other myelodysplastic syndromes, bladder cancer, kidney cancer, liver cancer, multiple myeloma, Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and Parkinson's disease.
Veterans and family members who lived at the base during that time can receive reimbursement for medical expenses and/or enroll in Veterans Administration healthcare for a variety of diseases.
Reservist and National Guard members who served at Camp Lejeune for at least 30 days between 1953 and 1987 are also eligible.
One of the important measures in the PACT Act is that it gives veterans the ability to sue the federal government directly for civil damages caused by water contamination.
"The big reason for all the commercials and stuff like that is it gave the ability to sue the government," Thornton said.
Suing the government is a legal process, and it could take a long time for veterans and their families to see any money, he said. They would be required to prove they were at Camp Lejeune between 1953 and 1987, that they have one of the eight presumptive diseases and that drinking the water caused their ailment.
Thornton is a 20-year veteran of the Marines, retiring in 2013 with the rank of warrant officer 3. He spent his last eight years on active duty at Camp Lejeune, but long after the time when the water was contaminated.
He said veterans should call the veteran's service office if they have questions.
"We're all advocates for the veterans," Thornton said. "We're not actually the VA here. We actually an advocate for the veterans within this area. Before you would contact to a lawyer, I would suggest talking to us to get advice and get a better understanding of what the PACT Act and if they have a lawsuit that is available for them."
This article originally appeared on The Times-Reporter: Veterans should be wary of Camp Lejeune ads