RALEIGH N.C. (WNCN) — Decades after exposure to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune, families claiming serious adverse health effects, even death, had their first day in federal court Wednesday.
A federal judge spoke to a packed courtroom filled with attorneys, urging them and the government to work together to come up with a settlement structure.
“All of us got a good talking to and deserved it, that we need to put our marines and families first,” Attorney Mikal Watts said. “The DOJ needs to get it’s house in order and the plaintiffs and the plaintiffs bar needs to get it’s house in order and if we don’t, there’s going to be orders coming out in the next 30 days because marines and their families are not going to wait.”
Among the claimants in the courtroom was Jerry Ensminger, who’s been a leader in advocating for those exposed to toxic water on base between 1953 and 1987.
“It was almost unbelievable walking into that courtroom today,” Ensminger said.
Ensminger lost his daughter to leukemia at nine years old in 1985.
“Hopefully, maybe some years down the road, ill be able to heal,” Ensminger said.
Mike Partain was born on Camp Lejeune. Later on in life, he developed male breast cancer.
“This, in the end, is an accountability for the government, and especially department of defense, and how they treat their service members and their families,” Partain said.
Partain said collaboration is necessary to find resolution for those impacted.
“This community is aging and we don’t have time to sit around and wait while the courts and while the Department of Justice and the plaintiffs attorneys figure out how to settle,” Partain said.
Annie Johnson spent her adolescence and young adult years at Camp Lejeune. Her daughter, Jacquetta, died seven weeks after being born in 1985 on the base from serious medical conditions. Johnson said her mother had chronic illness and she now has chronic conditions as well.
“My mother also had chronic health issues, as you can see now I have chronic health illnesses, and I firmly believe it was the water,” Johnson said. “I firmly believe that because the things that we’ve been experiencing and Jacquetta experienced have never been seen before on either side of the family.”
Since President Joe Biden signed the PACT Act into law last year, tens of thousands of people have filed claims against the government; there have been hundreds of lawsuits introduced as well.
So far, no claims have been settled. The judge said Wednesday that individually taking every possible case to court could last 1,900 years, or, longer than the Roman Empire lasted.
“It was a lot of discussion and it was really the judge putting pressure and saying that he was disappointed that this many claims have been filed and zero have been resolved,” Ava Law Group attorney Kasodie West said.