RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — From 1953 to 1987, military personnel and their families were exposed to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune. That includes Mike Partain who was born on base.
“This has been a dogfight from the very beginning. My involvement stretches back 16 years after I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 39,” said Partain.
Last August President Biden signed the bi-partisan Camp Lejeune Justice Act into law. It provides compensation for health problems related to the contaminated water on base like Mike’s breast cancer. But tens of thousands of claims have seen no action.
“So, these veterans have done their thing. They and their family members have done their jobs and now it’s the court’s job and especially the Department of Justice and the Navy’s job,” said attorney Thomas Hensen Jr., who represents Camp Lejeune Justice Act claimants.
The delay is enough for both of North Carolina’s senators, Thom Tillis (R) and Ted Budd (R), to ask the Secretary of the Navy and the US Attorney General why it’s taking so long. The letter was also signed by NC House members Greg Hughs (R), Chuck Edwards (R), Richard Hudson (R), Valerie Foushee (D), Dan Bishop (R) and Don Davis (D).
Henson said following a simple claim and settlement process would help solve many of the delays.
“I think Congress, I would assume, knew or at or at least they assumed that the Navy would have the mechanism in place to get these cases resolved at the administrative level, rather than having to go through a formal litigation process,” said Henson.
“There’s really no reason all these claims have to go to court, but that seems to be the policy that the Department of the Navy is taking would not make any offers. So legally, we’re kind of stuck,” said Partain.
The letter to Secretary Del Toro and the AG Garland also raises the concern that many of those filing claims are elderly and a growing number have died without seeing a resolution to their case.
“I’m on medications and I have to take every day, and this is going to be the fact of my life till I die. And you know these settlements and, you know, adjudicating justice is more than just numbers, it’s about people’s lives,” said Partain.
“The severity of these diseases and these medical conditions means that time is not on our client’s side. They are fighting time just like they’re fighting to get their day in court and to get fair compensation for what they’ve been through. And that’s what this is all about,” said Henson.
Senator Budd’s office said as of Thursday afternoon the Navy and DOJ have confirmed receipt of the letter but other than that there is no response yet.
In late April Rep. Don Davis asked the Secretary of the Navy during a House Armed Services Committee meeting how it plans to streamline the claims process.
Sec. Carlos Del Toro said, “I have to look at doing that. But, you know, each case has to be investigated. Each case has to be looked at carefully. It’s a matter of law.”