By: Jeffrey VanZuiden

Monday, August 22, 2022

While much of the hubbub around the recently passed PACT Act has centered upon Burn Pits, this is far from the only major change brought about by this legislation. In-fact, a precedential addition allowing Veteran’s and their affected family members to sue the Federal Government for damages related toxic exposure at Camp Lejeune, is arguably the most important portion of this new law due to its groundbreaking nature. 

As with all things new and shiny, many people have jumped on the bandwagon of suing the government for damages at the notorious USMC base. Throwing caution to the wind, Veterans have been clamoring to sign-up with law firms pursing these class-action suits. The motives of these attorney’s aside, what else do Veteran’s and their families need to be cautious of? 

First, many sources interpreting the law have zeroed in on the provision that allows the VA to be reimbursed by the Veteran, dollar for dollar. What his means is, if and when you receive a payout for one of these suits and you are already in receipt of VA benefits, you will likely be forced to pay back the VA. In many cases, this could mean that you would simply be signing your check over to the VA (or likely, never see the money to begin with). Meanwhile, money-hungry attorneys will reap thousands… if not more.  

Second, many sources are cautioning about a potential loss or reduction in benefits if you join one of these lawsuits. While I could not find direct reference to this in the new law, the structure for the VA to do such a thing is certainly there, as the PACT Act gives the VA great leeway to interpret the law as they see fit. What could this mean? As a worse-case scenario, some analysts have posited that winning such a suit could allow the VA to sever all monthly compensation you receive for disabilities related to Camp Lejeune. This, combined with the probability of paying back the VA dollar for dollar, could result in a massive net loss for many Veterans. For a best-case scenario, the VA might do nothing at all to penalize claimants, but the legal precedent with relatable issues would suggest otherwise. 

So, who benefits from this? At the moment, all we know for sure is that dozens of attorneys across the US will likely make hundreds of thousand, if not millions of dollars over this. As for Veterans, it’s too early to tell. Most likely, for Veterans currently receiving ongoing monthly payments for Camp Lejeune related disabilities through the VA or safest to wait out the initial storm and revisit this when the first suits are settled. This would also apply to anyone who plans to file for on-going compensation in the future. For those who have never filed for VA compensation related to this exposure, and who never plan to, it might be worth your time. Word to the wise; investigate the law firm you choose closely and avoid any who charge you to join a suit. At the end of the day, be careful; some things are just too good to be true. 

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