Unlocking Benefits for Sick Veterans of Contaminated Camp | South Portland, ME

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Unlocking Benefits for Sick Veterans of Contaminated Camp Lejeune

Atty. Kristian Terison: [00:00:00] I know you’ve, talked a bit about the process today, but for a veteran with a disabling condition they, believe is related to their service at Camp Lejeune. What should be their first steps if they don’t know how to proceed?

Atty. Francis Jackson: Well, there are several ways to go about this, obviously, but the thing to do is to get a claim started and the VA for many years would accept pretty much anything in writing from you saying you wanted to start a claim, but now you have to use a specific form. So what you have to do is get the form, you can get it online, you can physically go to a VA office and get it.

You can fill it out online, submit it that way, you can get a printed form and fill it out. You can get it online, print it out, and fill it out. But you have to have their form and you have to get that back to the VA, either electronically or by hand delivery or by mail or however you want to get it there fax it to them, but you have to get it to them. ​

[00:01:00] welcome to Victory Over VA, your guide to unlocking your VA disability benefits. So who are we? I’m Francis Jackson. This is Kristian Terison, and we’re from Jackson & MacNichol, a law firm that specializes in getting justice for veterans on their VA disability claims. So what’s this about?

Well, [00:02:00] today we’re going to talk about Camp Lejeune, the Marine base in North Carolina that has become famous for problems with its water supply. And who is the show for? Well, obviously because we’re talking about veterans benefits, it’s for veterans, but more than that, it’s for people who care about veterans.

We’re talking about community support folks, families, friends, anyone who wants to support our military veterans. And today we’re going to focus in on Camp Lejeune.

Atty. Kristian Terison: Okay. So I guess to start at the beginning, can you just give a, brief overview about, you know, the history and significance of the issues at Camp Lejeune?

Atty. Francis Jackson: Again, Camp Lejeune is a large military base in North Carolina. It was a huge marine training base in World War II and has been added to and has grown since that [00:03:00] time. There are some other related military installations that are now part of that base in addition to the marine training base, what happened is in the rush to construct that base in the heat of World War II or to expand that base actually in the heat of World War II they took some construction shortcuts and the result was that the water supply was not particularly well protected.

So what happened is that starting in the 1950s, 53 to be exact, a dry cleaning service near where the water supply is it was located started to have dry cleaning chemicals leach into the water at the base and it that’s the first piece. But in addition, there became other chemicals and toxicants that were leaching into the water. So from the [00:04:00] period from 1953 up until 1987, there are various chemical contaminants in the water in Camp Lejeune.

You may have seen folks on television. There have been a couple of shows where news folks talked to survivors and they would talk about how the water would sometimes be brown and smell bad. They would wanna let it run for a while before they actually used it.

But the bottom line is that the water supply was contaminated. And so what happened is that folks who lived on the base or worked on the base, and that’s both military and military-related folks such as military families in housing and civilians who worked on the base were all exposed to the contaminated water.

And that’s where this all starts.

Atty. Kristian Terison: Okay. So what are the primary health [00:05:00] conditions that the VA has recognized as being related to these exposures at Camp Lejeune?

Atty. Francis Jackson: Well, obviously there are a whole bunch, but and it’s really too long a list to just reel off. But the primary ones that are particularly bad, I guess is the way to put it, are cancers, there are a whole series of cancers. There are other things. There are neurological conditions. You know, there an entire laundry list of conditions. But the Camp Lejeune issues actually go beyond the scope of our VA related practice, what is going on with Camp Lejeune now. There’s a special law that was passed. It’s part of the PACT Act, and it does a couple things.

First off, for those who were in the military and were stationed there in the relevant period from 53 on for more than 30 , days, the law creates a presumption. That [00:06:00] certain medical conditions were caused by the exposure to the contaminated water, so that if you were there for more than 30 days, normally for service-connected disability benefits, you have to show an event or occurrence or illness in the service.

You have to show current disability and you have to have a medical opinion connecting the one to the other and explaining that it’s at least as likely as not that the current condition is related back to something that happened in service. What the presumptions do is to leap over that middle piece and assume or presume that if you were there and you now have this particular condition, it was caused by your exposure to the contaminated waters.

You don’t have to get a doctor to write an opinion proving that connection. And in this situation with Camp Lejeune, [00:07:00] there are three real groups. First, veterans who were exposed can get veterans disability benefits. Second, anyone who is exposed, veteran or not can make a civil claim, meaning they can file a lawsuit.

They don’t have to actually file it in court to begin with. They have to file a claim with the Navy Marines are under the Navy in terms of how that’s all organized. So that’s why it’s the Navy. So they have to file a claim with the Navy on the special form outlining the nature of the claim and what damages they’re seeking and for what conditions.

And one thing that everyone should be aware of is that there’s a time limit. The time limit to file these claims expires in August of 2025. So there’s less than a year sorry August of [00:08:00] 2024. There’s, so, there’s less than a year left to file these claims. Now, the other groups in addition to veterans any person who was exposed, veteran, civilian, military dependent who was living on the base, anybody exposed to the water can file one of those lawsuits. If they have a condition that falls within the presumptions or if they have a condition that they think they can prove was caused by the chemicals, regardless of whether it falls within the presumptions.

And then third, people who lost. Parents or other relatives who died as a result of that exposure can also file those claims. So if you are the child of a veteran or the spouse of a veteran who was living on the base died from one of these cancers or other conditions, you can make a claim on their behalf.

Now, the mechanics of those claims. As I mentioned, you have to file with the Navy. [00:09:00] The Navy has a period of six months to look at the claim, make a decision. At the end of six months you have the right to file a lawsuit, has to be filed in a specific United States Federal District Court in North Carolina, the Eastern District of North Carolina specifically.

And you can file that. The only limitation on the lawsuit is that it can only be for the conditions that you specified when you contacted the Navy made your claim and it can only be for the amount that you specified when you contacted the Navy A major claim, and it doesn’t matter whether you are a veteran that’s suffering from these conditions or whether you are a civilian or a military dependent, anybody can make the claim.

The wrinkle, if you will, for those who are veterans, is that if you are receiving disability compensation benefits for one of those conditions, and you make a claim [00:10:00] and you get either a settlement or you go and have a jury trial and you win whatever the pot of money that you get from that claim, the VA will from that point forward withhold any veteran’s benefits that are being paid for that same claim.

So if you make a claim for a neurological condition and the VA grants it, they start paying you benefits and you also make one of these Camp Lejeune claims with the Navy, and either you settle it or you win at trial, whichever and you got a pot of money, call it. To make easy numbers, say it’s $500,000. No, that doesn’t necessarily bear any relation to anything. It’s just an easy number. Let’s say you get $500,000, and before that, you were found to have a neurological condition that was so bad that you were getting total disability based on individual unemployability.

The Navy was paying you, or the VA, sorry, was paying you $3,000 a month. [00:11:00] The VA will stop paying you $3,000 a month until you’ve used up that entire $500,000. If you are being paid by the VA for other claims, that’s different. But for that claim, that neurological claim, there’s going to be an offset for as long as the amount of the settlement or jury trial award exceeds what’s been paid by the VA until those two match up. You don’t get any more payments from the VA, but you have a big lump sum to start with.

So, for many people that will be an amount that lasts longer than the VA benefits would’ve been if you have a relatively modest claim, and it’s settled for a relatively modest amount. You might get to the point where the VA offset is used up and they start paying you again. But for most people who have, get a big settlement or verdict, that won’t happen.

Atty. Kristian Terison: Okay. [00:12:00] And I know a lot of our, the claims we work on hinge on documentation documentary evidence.

How critical is documentation for Camp Lejeune claims, especially as it relates to you know, proving service or, you know, approving presence at Camp Lejeune for the required time period?

Atty. Francis Jackson: Well, the documentation is critical. It is a little, okay. The way this all goes together is ordinarily the military records, the military service records will show where a person was stationed and when. So, documentation ordinarily documentation is necessary, but it won’t typically be a problem. Most everyone’s service records show when they served, where they served, where they were stationed and will reflect that they were stationed at Camp Lejeune in the relevant period. The tricky ones become folks who were on temporary duty or temporary [00:13:00] assignment. Those aren’t always as carefully documented by the service.

So sometimes there will be an issue about whether the person served at the base for the necessary period of time. In the right window of time. But it’s often possible to get secondary sources of records within the military that will establish that there will always be a few where you can’t, you just simply can’t show it. But for 99% of people who are eligible to make a claim, it’ll be possible to document it. Okay.

Atty. Kristian Terison: Can you share a specific case from, you know, all the veterans you’ve worked with you know, related to Camp Lejeune?

Atty. Francis Jackson: You know, I haven’t personally done any of the Camp Lejeune cases, but we’ve had cases in the office where folks served there in the relevant period, were exposed and have suffered from various conditions.

The presumptive [00:14:00] ones we don’t see a lot. And the reason for that is that our practice is not usually involved in filing an initial claim. Typically, we are handling appeals and in presumptive cases most of those cases are granted, so they never get as far as an appeal and they don’t get to us.

But we’ve had some where there were various kinds of issues about proof, and they have made it to us. And the other ones that get to us are the ones that are not presumptive. That is to say someone was exposed to the chemicals in the water, but for whatever reason, the particular condition that they have is not a condition that is presumed to be caused by the water.

And the most common reason for that is that people have something relatively rare. It’s helpful to understand how these presumptions come about. What happens is that presumptions are kind of at the [00:15:00] end of a trail. It starts with exposure, then it starts with people developing symptoms and getting sick.

And then when enough people develop symptoms and start getting sick, then the medical folks start to suspect that there’s some kind of underlying cause. And in this case it’s chemical exposure at Camp Lejeune. So you have to have a big enough volume of the same kind of case before there’s enough medical evidence for the scientists to say, wait a minute, you know?

There are so many more people getting sick from this than get sick in the normal population that there’s something special going on here. And then they can look back and say, well, wait a minute. One of the contaminants in the water there, or combination of contaminants for some conditions is this, and it could cause this condition.

And so you eventually get enough [00:16:00] evidence built up that Congress can say, okay, we’re going to presume that this is connected, but that’s just a long way long-winded way of saying that for people with relatively rare conditions, there won’t be a presumption because there isn’t a big enough body of medical evidence.

So for those folks, you have to go back to the basics and you have to show, okay, they were exposed to the contaminants, they now have this condition, and you have to get a medical expert opinion showing how those two are connected, that this condition is as likely as not caused. By this exposure and here’s why.

Okay.

Atty. Kristian Terison: And in, I guess, with our large veteran population we work with day to day what are some of the myths or misconceptions that you’ve encountered regarding Camp Lejeune claims?

Atty. Francis Jackson: There are two that are really common. One is that I was only there 30 days, 60 days, 90 days, [00:17:00] and that’s not enough exposure that I should have gotten sick. And so whatever I’ve got is unrelated. That’s a misconception that’s out there. And Congress has looked at that issue and said. Well, we understand that if you were only there one day, it probably didn’t make you sick. If you were there six months, there’s a pretty good likelihood that if you were going to get a condition from the water, that was enough exposure to get it.

But we’re gonna try to strike a balance here, and they’ve struck the balance at 30 days. So, If you were there 30 days or more, doesn’t matter if you think that was long enough to make you sick. If you have one of the relevant conditions, it’ll be presumptive regardless. The other end is sort of an odd piece that I’m not sure how it’s gotten out there, but I think it’s because of all the television advertising about Camp Lejeune. There are some folks who say, I was at Camp Lejeune for 30 days, I should be paid. [00:18:00] Well, it’s not quite that simple. You should only be paid if you got sick from being at Camp Lejeune.

You can’t kind of skip over the medical condition part. And we’ve had some folks who thought I was at Camp Lejeune for one 30 days. I was exposed to these contaminants in the water. Where’s my money? Well, it doesn’t work like that. If you’re one of the lucky folks who served at Camp Lejeune for 30 days or more and you didn’t get sick, then there isn’t any claim.

There’s no reason the government should pay you for not getting sick. So, that’s the other end of the spectrum in terms of odd misconceptions about these cases. Okay.

Atty. Kristian Terison: And I know you’ve talked a bit about the process today, but for a veteran with a disabling condition they believe is related to their service at Camp Lejeune you know, what should be their first steps if they don’t know how to proceed?

Atty. Francis Jackson: Well, there are several ways to go about this, [00:19:00] obviously, but the thing to do is to get a claim started and the VA for many years would accept pretty much anything in writing from you saying you wanted to start a claim, but now you have to use a specific form. So what you have to do is get the form, you can get it online, you can physically go to a VA office and get it.

You can fill it out online, submit it that way you can, get a printed form and fill it out. You can get it online, print it out, and fill it out. But you have to have their form and you have to get that back to the VA, either electronically or by hand delivery or by mail or however you want to get it there fax it to them, but you have to get it to them. If you are concerned that you think you need more information about. What claims you could make and how to make them and so on. There’s a very simple VA form called an Intent to File form. Intent to File that’s the [00:20:00] name of the form. And all that says is, here’s my personal information saying who I am and where I am and how to reach me, and I intend to file a claim with the VA in the next year.

If you file that claim, what that does is to start the time. From which the VA can pay you if they grant the claim and you have up to a year to file the actual claim, if that’s the case. So, what I always encourage people to do is start a claim. The worst thing that will happen is that the VA will come back in a few months and tell you that they’re denying the claim and they’ll tell you why.

And you can then figure out whether you need to file a different claim whether you need to appeal this claim, but start because this isn’t like social security disability, where if you file a claim today and it’s ultimately approved, they can actually pay you benefits back to period before [00:21:00] you file the claim up to a year.

With VA, typically you can only be paid. From the date you filed the claim, specifically from the first full day of the first month after you filed the claim. So if you filed the claim in the middle of the month technically the earliest time that you could get your benefits paid, if the claim is granted, would be the beginning of the next month.

But the point is, the longer you wait the more months of possible bastio benefits you miss out on.

Atty. Kristian Terison: And I know the PACT Act represented a major change in how the VA is handling you know, Camp Lejeune claims with your experience and seeing how the PACT Act has impacted things, do you foresee any future changes in how the VA is handling these claims?

Or do you think the PACT Act regime will stick around for a while?

Atty. Francis Jackson: Well, as I mentioned earlier for [00:22:00] Non-VA disability claims for claims for civilians or for the loss of loved ones. There’s a limited window in time from August of last year to August of next year to make these claims. If you don’t get within that window, you’re out. But for those in the VA I think the PACT Act is probably going to be the definitive way of handling these claims for the foreseeable future. And I would just mention that the PACT Act is such a major expansion of what the government will compensate veterans for, that the VA is currently on a huge hiring spree just to hire enough people to process these claims.

So I don’t anticipate. That there’s going to be any significant change in the future with the exception that I think the sheer [00:23:00] volume of these claims as we go forward is going to diminish because right now you’ve opened up this whole window and a lot of people are busily filing. There’s a lot of information being put out. Disseminated by the VA, disseminated online, disseminated by television. There’s a lot of attempts to get the word out, so lots of claims are being filed.

The latest statistics I saw from the VA suggest there a lot more potential filers than there have been claims made, but it’s like anything else. Lots of those folks have died. You know, folks who were there in 1952. They typically had to be at least 18 by then and they would be pretty elderly by now. As you can appreciate if you do the math. So it’s a situation where not everybody who was potentially exposed is.

Ever gonna make a claim or have a claim made on their [00:24:00] behalf? And more important, the folks who were exposed don’t necessarily represent everyone who had an illness or a condition occur. So, if you look at the exposure, that’s always gonna be bigger than the number of people who actually have disabling conditions that they could claim for.

Okay.

Atty. Kristian Terison: And we’re just about outta time for today. But just to end on, what advice would you give to veterans who are facing challenges denials in camp Lejeune-related claims?

Atty. Francis Jackson: Well, if they’re facing denials they should appeal. That’s the easy answer. The way the VA handles these cases is sort of the same way that insurance companies handle insurance claims. They grant some, they deny some, depends on the, facts and the information they have. But if you have a claim that you consider to be a valid claim.

For an illness [00:25:00] arising out of exposure to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune, you should make the claim. You should make either a VA claim or a civil claim, or both, depending on your circumstances, but you should make the claim in terms of other circumstances. For folks who can’t figure out how to go about making a claim, you should get help.

Okay. There are a number of veteran service organizations that will provide free help and filing a claim. They’ll help you sort out what kind of claims you might be eligible to make. There are a number of VA attorney firms around the country like ours where folks will be happy to look at your claim and see if they can help.

And for folks who. I just are struggling with how to put it all together and figure it out. the best advice I think is to go to somebody who who knows whether it’s a veteran service organization or an attorney, or an accredited agent, but go to somebody who has experience in [00:26:00] these things and sit down and take a few minutes to figure out, here are the circumstances.

What kind of claim is it that I’m potentially eligible, if any, eligible for if any, and get something filed. Even if it’s just an intent to file, get things moving. You can always improve upon it over time, but have to start.

Atty. Kristian Terison: Alright, well, that’s it for Victory over the VA today. Thank you for tuning in and please subscribe and check back next week.

Atty. Francis Jackson: We’ll look forward to seeing you next week.

[00:27:00]

Welcome back to another episode of Victory Over VA! In this episode, we are diving deep into the history and significance of the water contamination issues at Camp Lejeune, the Marine base in North Carolina. Join me as we explore the primary health conditions recognized by the VA, the special law that provides presumptions for medical conditions caused by contaminated water, and debunk common myths and misconceptions surrounding Camp Lejeune claims. If you or someone you know served at Camp Lejeune and are experiencing health issues, this episode is a must-listen.

Camp Lejeune holds a significant place in the hearts of many veterans. However, what many people don’t know is that for decades, the water supply at this base was contaminated with toxic chemicals, leading to serious health issues for those who served there. In this episode, we shed light on the primary health conditions recognized by the VA as being related to these exposures.

The VA has recognized several conditions, including various types of cancer, neurological disorders, and reproductive issues, as being linked to the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune. We discuss the specific conditions and how veterans can navigate the VA claims process to unlock the benefits they deserve.

One crucial aspect we explore is the PACT Act, a special law that provides presumptions for certain medical conditions caused by contaminated water. We explain how this law can significantly ease the burden of proof for veterans seeking benefits related to their service at Camp Lejeune. Understanding the PACT Act is essential for veterans who want to maximize their chances of a successful claim.

Throughout the episode, we debunk common myths and misconceptions surrounding Camp Lejeune claims. We address concerns such as the timeframe for eligibility, the need for medical evidence, and the impact of denials. By dispelling these myths, we aim to empower veterans with accurate information and ensure they are well-prepared to navigate the claims process.

If you or someone you know served at Camp Lejeune and are experiencing health issues, this episode is a valuable resource. By listening to Victory Over VA’s latest episode, you’ll gain a comprehensive understanding of the water contamination issues at Camp Lejeune, the recognized health conditions, and the legal provisions that can help you unlock the benefits you deserve.

Don’t miss out on this opportunity to arm yourself with knowledge and take control of your VA claim. Tune in to our podcast and discover how you can navigate the complexities of Camp Lejeune claims with confidence. Remember, your health matters, and we’re here to support you every step of the way.

Listen to the full episode now and embark on your journey towards victory over the VA! 

AND MORE TOPICS COVERED IN THE FULL INTERVIEW!!! You can check that out and subscribe to YouTube.

If you want to know more about Attorneys Francis Jackson and Kristian Terison, you may reach out to them at:

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