Veterans, family members still suffering from toxic Camp Lejeune water as unresolved illness claims grow
Marine Peter Romano of Sayreville, New Jersey, recalled his time at Camp Lejeune when he first went there for boot camp – particularly the amount of water he ingested daily.
"When you're done with the run, you're not lining up at the vending machine to buy the bottled water because there wasn't bottled water back then the way it is now," he recalled in an interview with Fox News. "So, it was either the hose or the water fountain. That's pretty much how you cooled off after the runs. Used to fill your canteen up, go to the gym. That's the water you use. That's the water you drank."
Romano did not know it at the time, but the water supply to the North Carolina military base was tainted with volatile organic compounds. It was a year after he completed his service in 1988 that illness fell upon him: first, testicular cancer and then Hepatitis C.
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"What went through my mind at the time was, ‘How did this happen?’ I was really healthy at the time. Where is this coming from? What didn't run in the family? Nobody ever did. I mean, not even cancer ran in the family. I just attributed it to God's will, to be honest with you."
It was not until decades later that Romano started wondering if the toxic water supply at Camp Lejeune was the cause of his misfortune.
"I don't think anyone was aware of the situation from Camp Lejeune," he says, alleging that the operators of the base knew the water was tainted when he arrived for boot camp.
"They knew about it in 1982. I didn't sign up for the Marine Corps until 1984. They could have solved the problem and saved a lot of people," Romano said, "but they chose not to say anything until 1987."
"That, to me, is complete — it's not even ignorance. I keep going back to abomination. That's pretty much what I keep hearing in my head. You intentionally knew this, and you did nothing."
Romano is just one of the tens of thousands of servicemembers who believe that their time at Camp Lejeune led to severe illness, including cancer, leukemia, miscarriages and birth defects. It is estimated that up to 500,000 people were exposed to the toxic water supply on base for 30 years, from the late 1950s through the late 1980s.
In 2022, the Camp Lejeune Justice Act was added as a section to the SFC Heath Robinson Honoring our PACT Act, which was drafted to establish assistance to service members who were made sick from their exposure to burn pits while serving in the Middle East. The Justice Act aims to provide monetary relief to those made sick by their exposure to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune.
According to the Navy Judge Advocate General’s Corps (JAG), approximately 20,000 claims have been filed under the Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022 since its passage.
Andrew Van Arsdale is a San Diego attorney who is a part of the legal team handling a multitude of class action lawsuits on behalf of claimants. Van Arsdale said that they are currently representing some 8,000 people who were exposed to the toxic water at Camp Lejeune and that they estimate that there were over 1 million people exposed.
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"Pretty much any member of the Marine that lived east of the Mississippi [River] went through Camp Lejeune," Van Arsdale told Fox News. "The water was toxic as early as 1953 and continued to be so up through 1987. And so, you literally have hundreds of thousands of Marines and their families going through that base during this time, all exposed to this toxic water."
He added that while many of his clients have filed claims with the Navy as part of the Justice Act, many of them have not received any word on whether they will be compensated.
"The system hasn't been great for our veterans. I mean, let's just be honest," he says. "The VA has had a lot of issues over the years. Our service members have not been treated as well as they should have been, given what they've sacrificed and put on the line for this country. The Camp Lejeune Justice Act [CLJA] provides a great process, a way to resolve issues with the federal government, to seek accountability, to seek redress, and to seek monetary damages for what happened. But we're back to where we've always been."
"The inability of our federal government to actually execute on its promises to take care of these men and women is alive and well today," Van Arsdale added.
In a statement provided to Fox News, officials for the Navy JAG say that they are committed to resolving all 20,000 claims they have received thus far and will do so fairly, thoroughly and as quickly as possible.
"We are onboarding the received claims, acknowledging receipt, and conducting initial reviews," the statement read. "We are simultaneously starting the process of making initial contact with those who have filed, or their representatives, to give them an opportunity to provide support for their claims."
"At this time, however, no CLJA claims have been fully adjudicated."
It is not just servicemembers who were made sick from the water at Camp Lejeune. Their loved ones were as well.
It was 1970 when Patricia Regent went with her husband, a Marine corporal at the time, to Camp Lejeune. She recalls no indication that there was an issue, but she does know how much she relied on the water she while living on the base during the Vietnam War.
"At that time, my husband made $80 a month and I made $100 in an allotment. So, we had $180 a month to live on. So, the gals and I that I made friends with, we used to have this iced tea party, and all we did all day long was drink iced teas," Patricia told Fox News. "And the water came right from the spigots. Back then, you didn't have bottled water. It came right from your spigot."
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Regent spent a total of 10 months at Camp Lejeune, opting to return to her native Pittsburgh when she became pregnant, but that was all it took to be stricken decades later with bouts of kidney and bladder cancer. Her husband also suffered from bladder cancer. Both have no family history of cancer. She does not doubt that it was due to the water supply at the military base.
"Where else would it come from?" she says. "Doctors always say it must come from somewhere. It’s not genetic because no one in my family has the gene for cancer, has had cancer, or died from cancer."
While Regent survived her multiple bouts with cancer, her now 51-year-old daughter, Jodi Gdovic, received a more grim prognosis recently when she was diagnosed with metastatic carcinoma.
"You become overwhelmed with guilt," Regent said. "Why is this happening to my daughter? Let it happen to me and not happen to her."
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Gdovic, who has blamed her cancer on being conceived at Camp Lejeune while her mother was ingesting its toxic water, said she did not want her mother to feel guilty.
"I don't want her to feel guilty. It's not their fault," Gdovic said. "That's where my dad was stationed. It's the [military’s] fault. They knew that they were poisoning us. They knew that water was contaminated. And they did nothing."