1 million people, veterans and their family members, were poisoned at Camp LeJeune, North Carolina, while 3.5 million veterans were exposed to the burn pits of America’s Southwest Asia wars.
I was born at Camp LeJeune in 1969 and had 19 months of exposure to the toxins at the base in utero and as an infant as my father trained for his Vietnam duties. My dad served in Vietnam from 1970-1971 and was exposed to Agent Orange, also known as “orange crush.”
Agent Orange became a part of American culture, with R.E.M. writing a song about the damage and the Vietnam War. It is hard to think about Vietnam now without thinking of Agent Orange and the effects both on the American veterans and Vietnamese children even decades after the war ended.
Congress passed laws to provide relief to people injured by the government, but federal courts have been applying irrational excuses not to allow those injured the relief. For instance, in 2012, Congress passed a law that those who “resided” at Camp LeJeune could have health coverage for the effects of their poisoning. I was denied because my parents had an off-base residence while my father served at Camp LeJeune. My 19 months of exposure and being born on top of that EPA Superfund Site toxic waste dump of a base was not enough for the judges.
So, because of these federal judges (paid by the same government that poisoned me), I had no health coverage for my disabilities, listed in the Act regulations. 38 C.F.R. § 17.400(b)(xiv). As if that was not enough, my mother died of another listed condition: breast cancer. 38 C.F.R. § 17.400(b)(iii). The U.S. Supreme Court has said that such remedial laws are to be construed broadly. Tcherepnin v. Knight, 389 U.S. 332, 336 (1967). The Board of Veterans Appeals and the Federal Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals denied me the health coverage for the poisoning where I was born and my 7 years of litigating the issue resulted in a big, fat NO. Straw v. Wilkie, 843 F. App’x 263 (Fed. Cir. 1/15/2021); Straw v. Wilkie, 32 Vet. App. 374, 375 (2020).
The victims of Agent Orange have tried to sue the chemical companies for relief, but just like with Camp LeJeune poisoning victims during the same time period, federal courts have found ways to block the victims.
Federal lawsuits combined in a Multi-District-Litigation (MDL-2218) were dismissed so that no civilian Camp LeJeune victim could be compensated and the U.S. Supreme Court allowed this dismissal even when it had a precedent from 2015 allowing the time limit of the Federal Tort Claims Act to be expanded. After all, the U.S. Marine Corps lied about the poisons, refused to notify those poisoned, and downplayed the effect of being poisoned. The failure to notify in itself likely made my mother’s cancer a fatal diagnosis because it was caught too late. It also would have helped me to know I was poisoned and that this poisoning caused my mental illness, bipolar disorder.
Earlier diagnosis makes these illnesses easier to treat. Instead, the government was rewarded for its duplicity by dismissing the lawsuits of the victims, who had no control over his information. The federal courts were wholly unsympathetic, blaming the victims for not knowing information withheld by the government. Even a disability exception in the North Carolina law was denied to me even though I clearly am eligible for it. Andrew U. D. Straw v. USA, et. al., 16-17573 (11th Cir. 5/22/2019)(cert. denied 6/1/2020); In Re Camp Lejeune, NC Water Contamination Lit., 263 F.Supp.3d 1318 (N.D. Ga. 12/5/2016).
It became clear that the North Carolina statute of limitations (time limit) was being used against the victims in federal court. But the federal courts would not allow me to sue North Carolina for the ADA disability discrimination violation inherent in that state law. Straw v. North Carolina, 20-1295 (4th Cir. 2020); Straw v. State of North Carolina, 7:18-cv-0074-M, 2020 WL 1042141 (E.D.N.C. Mar. 3, 2020). The district court expressed sympathy but would not allow me to sue the State of North Carolina. Every avenue has been rejected by federal judges.
Congress watched from the sidelines. The clamor for justice only grew as these courts, unelected by anyone, denied relief. In 2020, a bill was introduced to compensate the victims. A similar bill was introduced in 2021 called the Camp LeJeune Justice Act. H.R. 2192. The Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, made a speech in 2021 explaining the injustice foisted on the children of veterans and their spouses, not to mention the veterans themselves. I worked hard asking House members to support this law and many I contacted did so. H.R. 2192 has over 150 sponsors in the House, about 1/3 of them Republicans.
A much larger bill was pending in 2021 called the PACT Act, which was originally to address burn pit poisoning in Southwest Asia over the past 20+ years, including veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq. This bill, H.R. 3967, was voted out of the Veterans Affairs Committee and while it was pending before the Rules Committee in February 2022, Camp LeJeune Justice Act was added as Section 706 in Title VII. The full text of the Act with amendments can be found on the H.R. 3967 page.
Republicans opposed placing the Camp LeJeune Justice Act into the larger law, with Rep. Mike Bost (R-IL) pretending to represent the views of veterans when the Rules Committee Chair, Rep. McGovern, responded that every major veteran group supports Camp LeJeune Justice Act as well as the larger PACT Act of which it became a part. The argument Bost made was that Camp LeJeune Justice was “air-dropped” into the larger bill, but about 50 Republicans were already supporting H.R. 2192.
Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Takano spoke in favor of the PACT Act on the floor of the House. President Biden mentioned burn pits in his first State of the Union address and the White House issued a strong statement of support of the House bill, H.R. 3967. Biden believes burn pit poisons caused his son’s brain cancer and death. Speaker Pelosi rose and spoke in favor of H.R. 3967 while mentioning Camp LeJeune poisoning. Thankfully, it passed by a vote of 256-174, with over 30 Republicans voting yes while not a single Democrat voted no.
Republicans complained about the cost at about $300 billion over 10 years, but this is a tiny fraction of the overall defense budget and Rep. Steny Hoyer said that veterans costs are part of the cost of war and realistically do belong as part of the Defense Budget, which routinely is expanded and passed by Congress with more money than the president even asks. This year, for instance, the Defense Budget was passed with $25 billion beyond the request, resulting in a one-year total of $768 billion.
256 votes out of 430 cast is 59.53%. Rounding up, this is 60% of the House. If 60 U.S. senators support this bill and pass it, it will pass in the same form. President Biden has given his assurance that he supports this bill and he will sign it.
What does this mean? It means that families like mine with such tragedies, blasted into pieces with lives lost and ruined, will be paid for what the United States Marine Corps did to us. The only thing that concerns me is that a federal judge needs to be involved after all of the resistance up to now from the federal judicial branch and its unsympathetic judges. The 9 people affected in my family will hire an attorney or attorneys. The lawyer who wrote the Camp LeJeune Justice Act is Ed Bell. He is my choice.
After the wrongful death of my mom, the poisoning of me and my brother and my daughter, not to mention the poisoning of my father, a Vietnam War veteran, I expect my family to be completely and totally compensated for what was done to us by the United States government without our consent. I plan to make my part of the world here in the Philippines even more of a paradise for myself and my neighbors.
1 million people, veterans and their family members, were poisoned at Camp LeJeune, while 3.5 million veterans were exposed to the burn pits in Southwest Asia. These matters belong together.