The Russo Firm attorneys are evaluating claims for veterans that suffered significant health injuries from exposure to tap water poisoned with toxic chemicals at Camp Lejeune. If you are a veteran who suffered such injuries, you may be entitled to compensation under the Camp Lejeune Justice Act.

To learn more about this tragedy, please read the Washington Examiner article. https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/restoring-america/fairness-justice/veterans-poisoned-by-camp-lejeune-water-may-finally-see-justice.

See the full article reprinted below.

The Russo Firm will be updating our clients on this ongoing claim as the litigation progresses.

Veterans poisoned by Camp Lejeune water may finally see justice

In 1964, U.S. Marine Peter Optekar, stationed at Camp Lejeune military base in North Carolina, met the woman of his dreams.

“I said to the Marine lieutenant sitting next to me, ‘See that beautiful girl whirling on the dance floor? I'm going to marry her!’” Optekar said. “The chase was on. We were married at the Camp Lejeune Chapel and soon had a baby boy on the way. Love was in the air, and excitement was high.”

Both Peter and his wife Grace were in excellent health. He was a recent military academy graduate and accomplished athlete. Grace had two healthy young children from a previous marriage. Their idyllic world crashed the following year when their baby was born at 1.3 pounds and lived only a few hours.

mediadc.brightspotcdn.com
Grace and Peter Optekar's 1965 wedding
Courtesy Peter Optekar

Now, 57 years later, both have had multiple cancers leaving debilitating injuries: Grace resulting in a double mastectomy and partial lung removal and Peter losing his prostate and partial kidney function.

All because they drank tap water poisoned with toxic chemicals at Camp Lejeune. Grace had been a waitress on base before meeting Peter, who would be stationed there on and off throughout his career.

Like innumerable others, Peter was not treated by the Department of Veterans Affairs , and the couple bore the medical costs.

VETERANS AFFAIRS EARMARKS JUST 1% OF THE $300 BILLION BUDGET FOR HOSPITAL REPAIR

But help could come soon through the Camp Lejeune Justice Act, bipartisan legislation pending in the Senate. The bill allows veterans and their families to file reimbursement claims in federal court.

“They appear to be waiting for people who are injured to basically die off,” Optekar said of the department. He added that veterans believe the agency’s mantra is, “Deny until they die.”

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Grace and Peter Optekar.
(Photo courtesy of Peter Optekar)

“Marines and their families were asked to make great sacrifices for our country,” Optekar said. “You are asking us to hit the beach. We were betrayed by the Marine Corps.”

Four senators introduced the bill on Nov. 4 and placed it with the larger Honoring our PACT Act of 2021, which provides benefits to veterans exposed to a wide variety of toxins, including burn pits from the Vietnam War and the Middle East.

President Joe Biden also promised in his State of the Union address this year to aid any veteran exposed to burn pits.

Senators are currently working on the language of the bills in committee.

A sticking point could be the true cost, which may be hundreds of billions of dollars, of treating such an expansive group. The companion House bill passed in a 256-174 vote with just 34 Republicans on board.

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Cars enter the main gate at Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, North Carolina on Friday, Dec. 2, 2005.
GERRY BROOME/ASSOCIATED PRESS

“They will more than likely do a separate burn pit bill,” said Rep. Greg Murphy (R-NC), who co-sponsored the House version with Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-PA). “The PACT Act was outrageous, and they went too far. The ability to seek compensation was too broad, the standard was very low. But the Senate understands it’s a priority, and I’m very optimistic we will get something done.”

He added, “The people who are exposed and trying to seek justice for years will now see light at the end of the tunnel. It may be over a million people exposed.”

Cartwright and the Democrats want to see the Camp Lejeune Act make it over the finish line, so concessions will need to be made. Initially, Biden had hoped to sign the legislation before Memorial Day, congressional sources have said.

“Marines pride themselves on being the first to fight and experts at combat, that they will be putting themselves at harm’s way when they sign up for the Marines,” Cartwright said. “But you don’t sign up to be poisoned by the drinking water here on American soil. It’s not one of the risks you knowingly undertake.”
The water was unbelievably polluted, Cartwright added.

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This May 9, 2007, file photo shows some of the older Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, Marine base housing in the Midway Park neighborhood. In an about-face on Tuesday, April 28, 2009, the U.S. government disavowed a 12-year-old federal report that found little or no cancer risk for adults who lived on the base where drinking water was contaminated for three decades.
Gerry Broome/ASSOCIATED PRESS

“It was up to 3,400 times the safe level of these toxins,” he said. “They were drinking it in the mess halls, bathing, and showering in their houses. Filling their canteens with it out on exercises.”

In 1997, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry concluded that the water was polluted between 1953 and 1987, creating diseases such as myeloma, kidney cancer, and birth defects. This was due to a dry cleaning business and leaking gasoline into the groundwater, Optekar said.

The VA started processing Camp Lejuene claims in 2010, and in 2017, this was expanded to include family members. The agency has posted a notice on its website that veterans “may be able to get disability benefits” along with healthcare for themselves and family members.

However, over the years, thousands of veterans and families have been denied care by the VA and were precluded from filing lawsuits in North Carolina because the state has a statute of limitations. The new legislation fixes this.

Despite the pledge to help veterans, untold numbers are still being denied care.

This includes Darlene Brooks, whose husband James worked on base from 1970 to 1971 and died of breast cancer in 2011, less than two years after it was diagnosed.

“We went to the VA, and they’re telling us they aren’t paying out, there’s nothing they could do,” Brooks said. “They said there wasn’t anything to pay. You have to prove that this comes from that [poisoned water]. They said it might have come from his job or somewhere else.”

As a result, the family drained their life savings to pay for medical treatment. Now, Brooks is suing in a class-action suit that also includes Optekar.

“I’m 70 years old and still working because I have to put a roof over my head,” Brooks said. “I used his retirement to pay those med bills, cashed in life insurance, and was left to fend for myself.”

Brooks recalled her husband talking about the water.

“Every Marine he came in contact with talked about how horrible the water tasted at Lejuene,” she said. “It’s sad to know your government, who would want to have these guys in their army, is going to poison them.”

The VA did not address the denial problem when contacted by the Washington Examiner but issued this statement:

“Environmental exposures are a primary focus for VA, which is why Secretary McDonough added new presumptive conditions and fundamentally changed how we address Veterans’ unique health and benefits needs. President Biden is the first president to proactively address particulate exposure for Veterans who fought our wars the past 30 years, and we welcome Congress taking action with meaningful legislation.”

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