The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Honoring our PACT Act of 2022
WASHINGTON, D.C. – On March 4, 2022, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Honoring our PACT Act of 2022, a bill that will permit injured military service members and their families to pursue legal justice for a variety of injuries caused by toxic conditions. Within that bill, the water contamination at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina receives special, detailed mention. An earlier bill, the Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022, advanced within the broader Honoring our PACT Act of 2022, which passed with bipartisan support.
The U.S. House of Representatives passed the bill in a 256-174 vote. 222 Democrats and 34 Republicans voted in favor of the bill. If the bill receives Senate approval, and President Biden signs the bill into law, the Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022 will allow people who suffered harm from on-base groundwater contamination to pursue civil lawsuits to recover compensation for their illnesses. The Act permits those who were exposed (even while in-utero) to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune for at least 30 days between August 1, 1953 and December 31, 1987 to file their claim in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Northern Carolina.
This is a critical change. Victims of the Camp Lejeune water contamination have been barred from bringing suit by a federal policy known as the Feres Doctrine, which bars claims under the Federal Tort Claims Act for injuries to servicemen where the injuries arise out of or are in the course of activity incident to service. If this bill passes the Senate, the Feres doctrine will be put aside for certain Camp Lejeune claims.
North Carolina’s “statute of repose,” which strictly limits time from incident to filing to 10 years from the date of the defendant’s negligent action, has also been a barrier. Most Camp Lejeune victims only realized that they had suffered harm several years after the water contamination at Camp Lejeune was discovered. The federal legislation would essentially override the North Carolina law and re-open the filing window for two years from the passage of the bill.
According to the bill, claimants who lived on Camp Lejeune for a minimum of 30 cumulative days between August 1, 1953 and December 31, 1987, would face some specific requirements to bring a claim under the Federal Tort Claims Act:
- Prove a relationship between their illnesses and the contaminated water
- File the claim within two years of the bill’s enactment into law.
- Offset any monetary award by disability payments received from the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Medicaid, and Medicare.
Should it pass the Senate and receive the President’s signature, the broader Honoring our PACT Act would also provide care and justice for millions of veterans beyond Camp Lejeune:
- Prioritize Group 6 medical treatment to more than 3.5 million toxic-exposed veterans
- Extend combat eligibility for medical care from 5 to 10 years and provide a one-year open enrollment period to veterans who missed their enrollment window.
- Streamline the VA’s review procedures for establishing toxic exposure presumptions.
- Admit exposure to airborne dangers/burn pits based on dates of service and location of service.
- Require medical opinions/exams for veterans who may have service-connect toxic exposure disability claims.
- Add Monoclonal Gammopathy of Undetermined Significance and hypertension to the list of medical presumptions for Agent Orange exposure.
- Create a medical presumption of service connection for 23 respiratory cancers and illnesses associated with burn pits/airborne hazards exposure.
- Establish a presumption of exposure to radiation for any veterans who partook in the cleanup in Enewetak Atoll, and Palomares, Spain.
- Extend agent orange exposure to veterans who served in Laos, Thailand, and Cambodia.
- Enhance data collection between the Department of Defense and VA.
- Initiate studies associated with incidents of cancer among military veterans, health trends of post 911 veterans, and feasibility of delivering medical care to dependents of veterans.
- Mandate the VA to improve toxic exposure disability claims adjudications and deliver improved standardized training.
- Instruct the VA to provide resources to toxic exposed veterans.
- Require the VA to conduct outreach to toxic exposed veterans.
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