In this two-part series, personal injury attorney Jackie Houser will cover the Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act which is where the Camp Lejeune Justice Act was born. Part 1 includes the impact of the PACT Act of 2022 that resulted in the largest VA benefits and health care expansion ever. Part 2 includes information regarding necessary steps to file a claim or join an existing class action suit before the statute of limitations expires.
Have you heard about the Camp Lejeune Justice Act? Do you know the water at or near Camp Lejeune was contaminated? If you can read a newspaper ad or billboard, listen to radio, or watch television, then your answer is probably a loud (and exasperated) yes! Undoubtedly you have seen or heard the multitude of commercials, news reports, and social media musings about these potential claims. But, how did we get here? As it all seemed to culminate overnight, but this legislative victory has been long overdue for the affected military members and families as well as the civilians who live and work in or near Camp Lejeune.
Before diving into the specifics of the Camp Lejeune Justice Act, let’s first take note of the incredible undertaking that was involved for the families fighting for this legislation and highlight how pivotal this is in our nation’s history. The Camp Lejeune Justice Act is part of the larger “Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act” (also known as the PACT Act of 2022). Passed in August 2022, this bipartisan legislation is the largest expansion in U. S. history for VA benefits and health care. Of the funds allotted to the PACT Act of 2022, $6.7 billion has been allocated to the Camp Lejeune Justice Act.
There are many people to thank for getting this legislation passed, but I’d like to focus on the American hero whose name is attached to the PACT Act of 2022: Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson, who voluntarily enlisted in the Ohio Army National Guard and served multiple tours of duty. During at least one of his deployments, he was exposed to burn pits in Iraq and that exposure shortened his life.
Ten years after his deployment—while in his 30s--Robinson found himself battling a rare form of lung cancer. With a life expectancy of a few weeks, Robinson fought for every day and was able to stretch those precious weeks into three years. Through it all, the Robinsons fought for medical coverage through the VA and were denied again and again. When he passed away at 39 years of age, he left behind a wife, a six-year-old daughter, and a dying wish that one day veterans exposed to burn pits would receive the necessary health care coverage from the VA.
But that was not the end of his story. His family, friends, and fellow veterans continued the fight, leading a crusade all the way to Washington, DC. They challenged the U. S. government to accept responsibility for its role in contributing to his cancer diagnosis and death, as well as those of many other military servicemembers suffering similar fates. Their relentless efforts are what made government officials take notice and eventually pass the Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act (PACT Act of 2022).
The PACT Act of 2022 brought about two significant paradigm shifts. One, is the paradigm shift in the area of presumption. The other is sovereign immunity.
Presumption is a rule of law which requires the assumption of a fact from another fact or set of established facts. With regard to the PACT Act of 2022, the U. S. government was presented with enough facts to assume the presumption that servicemembers deployed to the Middle East were subjected to burn pits that compromised their health; and therefore, the U. S. government is responsible in providing the appropriate level of care for those servicemembers and veterans. This was a milestone in the battle fought by these servicemembers, veterans, and families because the proof had been made available for years, but the government had to accept the presumption.
Sovereign immunity (or crown immunity in Great Britain from where it originated) is a legal doctrine whereby the government (crown) cannot commit a legal wrong and therefore is immune to civil suit or criminal prosecution in its own courts. Even though it’s an ancient concept, it continues today at every level of government. Sovereign immunity is usually voluntarily waived when a government entity chooses to do so. The governmental agency will then purchase insurance or a bond to limit its exposure to civil judgments. In the PACT Act of 2022, the U. S. government waived its sovereign immunity, consenting to lawsuits regarding these matters.
For these two reasons, the PACT Act of 2022 is a massive win for veterans as it disrupts the status quo that the U. S. government was not responsible for subjecting veterans to toxins, and it forces the U. S. government to acknowledge and improve upon the health care available to servicemembers and veterans for these specific circumstances. Finally, this legislation is also significant for the precedent it sets for future veteran issues. It will be exciting to see the positive impact that this legislation will have on future veterans’ issues.
These history-making, never-give-up changes to the traditional red-tape bureaucracy of the U. S. government were made possible because servicemembers, veterans, grieving widows, and families were persistent and deliberate in their fight. They contacted their representatives, they raised their voices, they shared their stories on social media, and they made their cause newsworthy as they fought for the necessary changes in the law.
More information will follow in Part 2 where we will focus on the Camp Lejeune Justice Act portion of the PACT Act of 2022 and how to file a claim.
To learn more information on the PACT Act of 2022, please see the attached links below.
The PACT Act and your VA Benefits
PACT Act FAQ’s
Emma Dill - Dec 4, 2023
Staff Reports - Dec 4, 2023
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