It has been just two months since the historic Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act of 2022 (PACT Act) was signed into law by President Joe Biden on August 10, 2022. Based on a ubiquitous television ad, we all know now that the PACT Act encompasses the Camp Lejeune Justice Act 2022 (Justice Act). The Justice Act allows certain individuals who were exposed to contaminated water at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune to sue the United States to financially recover their injuries. Specifically, the Justice Act states that individuals who were at Camp Lejeune between August 1, 1953 and December 31, 1987 for 30 days or more (consecutive and non-consecutive days) are eligible to sue. This includes veterans, family members, non-military workers (civilian contractors), and anyone else (in utero) who was exposed to contaminated water between the dates listed.
What is not so obvious – and what we hope to clarify here – is whether and how filing a complaint under the Justice Act may impact the continued receipt of other government benefits. .
The relevant provision of the Justice Act reads as follows:
(2) Health and disability benefits related to water exposure – Any compensation awarded to an individual or a legal representative of an individual under this section shall be offset by the amount of any compensation for disability, payment or benefit granted to the individual, or legal representative–
(i) any program under the laws administered by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs;
(ii) the Medicare program under Title XVIII of the Social Security Act (42 USC 1395 et seq.); Where
(iii) the Medicaid program under Title XIX of the Social Security Act (42 USC 1396 et seq.); and
(B) under medical care or disability related to water exposure at Camp Lejeune.
PACT Act § 804(e)(2).
Let’s unbox this. At its core, the provision is designed to prevent double-dipping, that is, allowing a person to recover twice for the same injury. Thus, when involved, the provision will serve to reduce or offset any possible monetary reward by the sum of government benefits already received for related health or disability conditions. What it does not do is prohibit or prevent any Exposed Person (or their legal representative) from taking legal action in the first instance. It also does not compromise the continued receipt of related government benefits. In fact, several things must be true for the disposition to be triggered. First, this provision only applies if a person has previously received government benefits in connection with health care or disability related to exposure to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune. Second, the provision only applies to health and disability benefits received under Medicaid or Medicare programs or other programs administered by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Finally, this provision only applies when an award is rendered. This assumes that a Justice Act lawsuit has been filed and successful.
So, for example, if you are a veteran and are currently receiving VA benefits for tinnitus resulting from repeated exposure to battle sounds, such as gunfire, machinery, armored vehicles and planes, the compensation will probably not apply to you. However, if you have developed bladder cancer as a result of your exposure to contaminated Camp Lejeune water during the relevant period and you are already receiving VA benefits for this condition, any recovery under the Justice Act would be reduced by compensation, payments or benefits related to bladder cancer, but not those related to tinnitus.
What’s the bottom line?
Even if you receive government benefits for a medical condition or disability that is regarding contaminated water at Camp Lejeune, you can still file a claim under the Justice Act. If you ultimately get damages as a result of your claim under the Justice Act, the award will simply be reduced or offset by the amount of benefits you have already received.
Because the Justice Act is so new and no monetary rewards have yet been issued, the precise mechanics of how compensation works remains to be seen. However, rest assured that you are still eligible to file a claim.
If you or a family member were exposed to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune during the affected period and would like to explore your legal options, please consider Ward and Smith. We are a deeply rooted law firm in Eastern North Carolina with offices in every location of a staffed federal courthouse in the mandated jurisdiction and venue of all actions brought under the law of justice: the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina. We offer free consultations or, for the tech-savvy, you can use our no-obligation chatbot to instantly see if you’re eligible for representation.
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This article is not intended to give, and should not be relied upon for, legal advice in any particular circumstance or factual situation. No action should be taken on the basis of the information contained in this article without obtaining the advice of an attorney.
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