The U.S. House of Representatives last week passed a bipartisan measure that would treat toxic exposure as a cost of war, including judicial relief for victims of drinking water contamination at Camp Lejeune.
The Camp Lejeune Justice Act was attached to House Resolution 3967, the Honoring our PACT Act of 2021, which passed the House 256-174 on March 3. The bill had the support of all 222 Democrats and 34 Republicans and would improve access to health care and benefits for over 3.5 million toxic-exposed veterans.
That’s according to a statement issued by North Carolina 3rd District Congressman Greg Murphy, who introduced the Camp Lejeune Justice Act and provided one of the Republican yes votes. The provisions are “long-overdue,” he said.
“When we send our men and women overseas, we make a promise to care for them when they come home,” said Murphy. “We failed our veterans when they were exposed to toxic drinking water at Camp Lejeune, and it is up to us to make it right. My bipartisan bill, the Camp Lejeune Justice Act eliminates burdensome red tape to ensure that those exposed to toxic chemicals, including servicemembers, Marine dependents, civil servants, and contractors, can receive their day in court. As the proud representative of more than 89,000 veterans, I am honored to lead the effort to make sure our Camp Lejeune community gets the care and benefits they’ve earned. I am relieved to see bipartisan support for the Camp Lejeune Justice Act today, and I look forward to bringing this much-needed bill across the finish line for families in Eastern North Carolina.”
According to the Veterans Administration, those who served at Camp Lejeune or Marine Corps Air Station New River for at least 30 cumulative days from August 1953 through December 1987 — and their family members — are eligible for health care benefits. The VA will reimburse out-of-pocket health care costs that were related to various illnesses associated with the contamination, including cancers and infertility or miscarriages. The bill would go further.
“PACT” in the bill’s title refers to “Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics.” The Honoring our PACT Act was introduced last year by Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., the chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.
The measure would create new procedures for the VA to follow when establishing new presumptions for toxic exposure and improve data collection by VA. It would include those exposed to airborne hazards, burn pits, radiation and Agent Orange. The bill also authorizes the VA to conduct additional research studies and develop an outreach program and standardized training on toxic exposure.
“For too long, Congress and VA have been slow to act on toxic exposure — but today, the House took a bipartisan vote to change that and finally make good on our promise to toxic-exposed veterans by passing my Honoring our PACT Act,” said Takano. “After years of diligent input from toxic-exposed veterans, my colleagues, our staff, VA, and VSOs, we passed the most comprehensive legislation to date to treat toxic exposure as a cost of war and ensure that all toxic-exposed veterans can access the care and benefits they’ve earned. This fight is not over, but I will not rest until our veterans have a guarantee in statute that their government will take care of them when they come home— no matter the cost.”