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Camp Lejeune ads misleading, veterans warn

The executive directors of Mahoning and Trumbull counties’ veterans services commissions say they’ve been inundated with telephone inquiries ever since commercials advertising lawsuits about contaminated water at Camp Lejeune began airing.

Nearly all of the callers are not entitled to sue the federal government for damages, but the phones continue to ring, they said.

“The TV ads are harmful to veterans and leading them down the path of misinformation,” Herm Breuer, the Trumbull County Veterans Service Commission’s executive director, said. “Some of the ads are deceiving. We’re seeing a broad brush with people on TV. Attorneys can be predatory on TV. They said, ‘If you were in Camp Lejeune, you’re eligible and you can get money now.’ We’ve received hundreds of calls since the commercials started.”

It’s not just television. The commercials are on the radio, on the internet and through direct mail with some overselling what veterans can receive, Breuer said. The first several links when doing an online search for “Camp Lejeune lawsuit” are paid ads for law firms.

“With the ads, we’re getting hundreds of calls from relatives of those who were at Camp Lejeune asking if they’re eligible to sue,” Susan Krawchyk, the Mahoning County Veterans Service Commission’s executive director, said. “I’d hate to see someone go to an attorney because they’ll lose money. If there’s a valid claim, we can help them. But we’re getting a lot of invalid claims.”

About 5 percent of the calls received at the Mahoning commission’s office are legitimate claims, she said.

Breuer warned “veterans who sign a retainer can have that attorney turn (the claim) over to another law firm and veterans could be on the hook to the first attorney and the other.”

Because of attorney fees, veterans could end up losing money, he said.

Breuer and Krawchyk said veterans need to do research to find reputable lawyers.

“I’m seeing a commercial, and I say, ‘That’s not true,'” Breuer said. “Do your due diligence and don’t pick up the phone because you saw an ad on TV. A veteran shouldn’t sign a retainer with an attorney unless they understand what they’re signing.”

A NEW ACT

President Joe Biden on Aug. 10 signed the Sgt. 1st Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act.

The act expands Department of Veterans Affairs health care and benefits to veterans exposed to burn pits and other toxic substances. Burn pits were used in Iraq and Afghanistan to dispose of chemicals, cans, tires, plastics, medical equipment and human waste. Before the law was signed, about 70 percent of disability claims involving exposure to the pits had been denied by the VA.

The law directs VA officials to assume that certain respiratory illnesses and cancers were related to exposure to burn pits and help veterans get disability payments without having to prove the illness was the result of their service.

Part of that bill adds hypertension to the list of ailments for Vietnam War veterans likely caused by exposure to Agent Orange as well as to those who served in other countries during that war.

Also in the bill is a provision allowing veterans — and their dependents — stationed at Camp Lejeune, a Marine base in Jacksonville, N.C., or the Marine Corps Air Station New River between Aug. 1, 1953, and Dec. 31, 1987, the rare ability to sue the federal government directly for civil damages caused by contaminated water at the base. The water was contaminated by trichloroethylene (a degreaser), perchloroethylene (a dry cleaning solvent) and benzene (used to make numerous other chemicals).

More than 1 million people could be covered by the provision.

“We’re not getting many calls on burn pit victims,” Krawchyk said. “It’s almost all about Camp Lejeune, and most aren’t valid claims. Just because you had a cousin there doesn’t make you an eligible claimant.”

CONDITIONS

For the past few years,veterans and family members who lived at Camp Lejeune were permitted to receive health care funding assistance only for specific health conditions.

According to the VA, those conditions are adult leukemia, aplastic anemia and other myelodysplastic syndromes, bladder cancer, breast cancer, esophageal cancer, female infertility, hepatic steatosis, kidney cancer, leukemia, liver cancer, lung cancer, miscarriage, multiple myeloma, neurobehavioral effects, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Parkinson’s disease, renal toxicity and scleroderma.

Because those veterans now can sue the federal government for medical conditions caused by contaminated water at Camp Lejeune as part of the PACT Act, we’re seeing numerous commercials about potential lawsuits, Breuer said.

“Veterans can already obtain VA disability for conditions related to contaminated water,” he said. “This would allow those same veterans to obtain possible damages for those same conditions. They should seek the help of someone skilled in personal injury law and not necessarily one they saw on a TV commercial.”

Krawchyk said: “The commercials are kind of misleading. It’s all about verbiage — ‘you might be eligible.’ People think they’ll write me a check, and that’s not the case. The commercials put it in a way that make it seem getting money will be easy.”

Also, in order to prove your case, she said, people need evidence.

“A married couple there with a miscarriage would need a medical receipt,” Krawchyk said. “Who has that documentation from 50 years ago?”

dskolnick@vindy.com

dskolnick@tribtoday.com

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