According to some estimates, the number of people affected by the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune may be up to one million people. Are you one of those million people affected by the toxic water? Are you already getting VA benefits from the symptoms associated with exposure to contaminated water?
If you are in this position, you may wonder if you can be involved with the Camp Lejeune lawsuit and how that will affect your VA benefits. Can you be a part of the Camp Lejeune lawsuits without compromising your VA benefits? Maybe.
Investigating whether you qualify for benefits and how you can participate in the lawsuits can be extremely draining and time-consuming. You may not want to work through this process on your own — and you don’t have to. The experienced South Carolina Camp Lejeune claims attorneys at HawkLaw, P.A. can work on your behalf. A seasoned law firm can explain your rights, negotiate for you, and litigate as necessary.
What Is the Purpose of VA Disability Benefits?
VA benefits provide a wide range of benefits for veterans. They are administered by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. VA disability benefits compensate veterans who have been disabled due to active military service. These benefits apply to disabilities, diseases, or injuries directly related to their service.
VA disability benefits are monthly payments directly to veterans. The veteran’s family (surviving spouse, dependent children, and dependent parents) can also receive benefits if the veteran is killed during military service or due to a service-connected injury or disability.
Also, a few “additional” benefits might be available under special circumstances, such as when someone needs more help. In some cases, assistance with hospitalization, clothing allowance, automobile allowance, and more might be available. VA benefits also generally provide reimbursement or free and reduced health care costs as well.
VA Benefits and Your Disability Rating
The value of VA benefits is based on your specific medical condition and your disability rating. Your disability rating varies by the severity of your condition. Disability ratings increase the more severe the disabling condition.
Working with VA Benefits
Unlike other forms of compensation (like Social Security Disability benefits), VA benefits are not based on whether you can work. Instead, there are no restrictions on working while receiving VA benefits. This is true even if you have a 100% disability rating. The only exception to this general rule is if you receive benefits through the Total Disability plan that is based on Individual Unemployability (TDIU).
Does the Camp Lejeune Lawsuit Affect VA Disability?
President Biden signed the Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act of 2022 (PACT Act) on August 10, 2022, following approval of the law from Congress. The PACT Act also includes the Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022 (Justice Act). The Justice Act allows those exposed to the contaminated water at the Camp Lejeune Marine Corps Base to file a lawsuit against the United States to recover for the injuries caused by toxic water.
The Justice Act and the PACT Act will not affect any person with VA disability benefits. However, the payments might offset the total amount of compensation that those veterans receive from their Camp Lejeune lawsuit. In fact, any benefits you receive might affect compensation, including those payments from
- VA disability
Ultimately, the U.S. government wants to be sure victims do not get double recovery. Compensation from a Camp Lejeune lawsuit should not result in two benefit payments for vets. Each benefit source may be considered when determining the total payment for your lawsuit. Nonetheless, having these benefits does not completely prohibit anyone from filing a lawsuit based on contaminated water from Camp Lejeune. It also does not affect the veteran’s continued ability to receive payments.
Notably, because VA disability benefits are not based on income, your income should not be a factor, regardless of how you obtained it.
How Much Will I Lose Due to Having VA Benefits When Filing a Camp Lejeune Lawsuit?
The PACT Act includes a specific provision that states that any compensation received for a Camp Lejeune lawsuit must be offset by any disability award, payment, or benefit from the VA, Medicare, and Medicaid. However, it is unclear exactly how the offset works. While the wording indicates that the offset might be “dollar for dollar,” a few other methods might also apply.
For instance, if a veteran has received benefits since 1990 for a disability that may have been caused by the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune, does it still make sense to do a dollar-for-dollar offset today, over 30 years later? Maybe not. It is unclear whether this timeline matters in these cases.
In addition, it appears that the VA benefits you receive must be due to the health condition you developed because of living or working at Camp Lejeune. For instance, if you receive VA disability benefits to address hearing loss from active duty, it is unlikely that the offset will apply. Essentially, the offset kicks in if you receive benefits for the same service-connected disability that the toxic exposure at Camp Lejeune caused.
Family members can also file a claim on behalf of their deceased loved one if they believe their loved one’s passing resulted from exposure at Camp Lejeune. However, at this point, it is unclear how the offset will work (if it applies) when loved ones file these legal actions.
The bottom line is that you can still file a Camp Lejeune lawsuit if you receive VA disability benefits, Medicare, or Medicaid for the same condition. However, your total amount of indemnity compensation might be reduced because of those benefits — the exact calculation or process is uncertain at this time.
Can My VA Benefits Be Taken Away?
Your Camp Lejeune lawsuit should not affect the amount of VA disability benefits you receive if you have already been awarded these benefits. However, there are other circumstances where veterans can lose their VA benefits.
VA disability benefits can be reduced if a veteran is convicted of a felony that results in being in prison for more than 60 days. For those with a disability rating of 20 percent or more, it will be reduced to 10 percent. For those with a 10 percent disability rating, it will be reduced to half (five percent).
Once the veteran is released from prison, full benefits may be reinstated, but reinstatement will vary based on the severity of the disability.
Benefits are not reduced for veterans living in halfway houses, working in work release programs, or under community control. Pension benefits will terminate after the 61st day of imprisonment, and veterans can lose their pension benefits entirely if they fail to notify the VA of their incarceration.
VA Benefit Reduction Protections
In most cases, benefits will be reduced rather than terminated. However, many disability ratings receive protections, so they cannot be reduced unless there is fraud or other serious circumstances.
For instance, if you have had the same rating for five years or more, the VA cannot reduce your rating unless your condition improves in a way that is “more than temporary.” If you have the same rating for 20 years or more, the VA cannot reduce the rating unless they find the original rating was obtained by fraud.
Suppose you have received disability compensation for ten years or longer (regardless of the rating). In that case, the VA cannot terminate benefits entirely unless you obtained the benefits because of fraud or the VA made a “clear and unmistakable error” in granting you benefits. This “unmistakable error” is a significant mistake — such as if you were dishonorably discharged or did not meet the minimum service requirements to qualify for benefits.
If you started receiving disability benefits for the first time recently, it is more likely that your VA benefits will be reduced. However, an experienced attorney can help you address any issues with denials received from the Secretary of Veterans Affairs.
Which Conditions Might Be Reimbursed by the Camp Lejeune Lawsuit?
If you served and had contact with contaminants in the drinking water at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune or Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) New River in North Carolina, you might qualify for medical benefits if you developed certain medical conditions.
A few “presumptive conditions” are built into the laws that address eligibility for benefits following exposure to the toxic water at Camp Lejeune. That is, if you have any of the following medical conditions and served during the specific period at Camp Lejeune, the federal government classifies the following conditions as having a presumptive service connection.
- Adult leukemia
- Aplastic anemia (and any other myelodysplastic syndrome)
- Bladder cancer
- Kidney cancer
- Multiple myeloma
- Liver cancer
- Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
- Parkinson’s disease
The relevant period is between August 1953 and December 1987. You must have served or lived there for at least 30 cumulative days (not consecutive days).
Family members who have certain conditions might also qualify for veterans benefits. In addition to the above list, other potential medical conditions include:
- Breast cancer
- Esophageal cancer
- Female infertility
- Hepatic steatosis
- Lung cancer
- Neurobehavioral effects
- Renal toxicity
- Birth defects
While these conditions are not “presumed,” there may still be a connection between these medical conditions and the toxic water exposure at Camp Lejeune.
Will an Attorney Improve My Chances of Compensation?
If you already have VA benefits and are considering your options for compensation after exposure to toxic water at Camp Lejeune, talk to a personal injury attorney. They can help you work through the process, including asserting a tort action, gathering medical records, providing practical legal advice, and so much more.
The legal team at HawkLaw can review your situation and help you assert a disability claim, even if you already receive VA benefits. While it is not required that you hire an attorney to file a Camp Lejeune water contamination claim, having legal representation in personal injury cases most often grants higher compensation and less stress for claimants.*
Don’t Accidently Terminate Your VA Benefits!
You only get one chance to assert benefits for a Camp Lejeune lawsuit. The process is complicated, and it is easy to make a mistake. However, making a mistake may mean accidentally waving your rights or decreasing your benefits. An experienced attorney can walk you through the process and use their meticulous eye for detail to protect your rights and assert your claim. Contact HawkLaw by calling 888.HAWK.LAW or using the online contact form to request a free consultation.