By Michelle Andrews
David and Adair Keller started their married life together in 1977 at Camp Lejeune, a military training base on the Atlantic Coast in Jacksonville, North Carolina. David was a Marine Corps field artillery officer then, and they lived together on the base for about six months.
But that sojourn had an outsize impact on their lives.
Forty years later, in January 2018, Adair was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. She died six months later at age 68. There’s a chance her illness was caused by toxic chemicals that seeped into the water military families at the base drank, cooked with, and washed with for decades.
When the PACT Act passed last August, David asked a neighbor who worked at a personal injury law firm in Greenville, South Carolina, if he thought he might have a case. Now Keller is filing a wrongful death claim against the federal government under a section of that measure that allows veterans, their family members, and others who spent at least 30 days at Camp Lejeune between August 1, 1953, and the end of 1987 to seek damages against the government for harm caused by exposure to the toxic water.
The Camp Lejeune Justice Act didn’t attract the spotlight like the aspects of PACT that deal with the harms soldiers experienced from burn pit fumes overseas. But for veterans who served at this North Carolina post, it is the realization of a decades-long effort to hold the government accountable.
As cases begin to proceed through the legal system, some veterans’ advocates worry that families who have already suffered from toxic exposure may get shortchanged by a process that’s supposed to provide them with a measure of closure and financial relief. They support limiting lawyers’ fees, some of which may exceed