Bloomberg Law
May 25, 2023, 9:10 AM

Navy Lawyer Blames Lejeune Delays on Funding, Staff Shortages

Kaustuv Basu
Kaustuv Basu
Senior Enterprise Reporter

The Navy lacks the money and staffing to quickly review compensation claims from thousands of veterans poisoned by toxic water at Camp Lejeune, a Navy attorney acknowledged.

In an email this month to claimants’ lawyers, Navy attorney Jennifer Tennile Karnes said nearly 500 law firms have registered to represent Camp Lejeune clients, with another 100 pending. She said her tort claims unit is working “an unsustainable amount of overtime” to process claims and that it hopes to nearly double its staff by the end of the summer.

Karnes also said the Navy still hasn’t created the online portal it promised to help expedite the claims, and that Congress “forgot” to appropriate the extra money needed to build and manage the compensation program for veterans and others sickened by contaminated water on the North Carolina Marine base.

“So where does that leave us? Well, back to the same ole place we have been this entire time. Building the plane in mid-air,” Karnes wrote in the email, obtained by Bloomberg Law.

Karnes and a Navy spokesperson didn’t respond Wednesday to a request for comment.

Her 2,600-word email, sent in early May, came nine months after the government agreed to pay billions of dollars to people who blame their cancer, Parkinson’s or other diseases on the tainted water at the base.

The pace of resolving the claims, and lack of answers from the Navy, has outraged veterans who pressed the government for years to acknowledge the impact of the Camp Lejeune contamination. Lawyers say some of their clients are dying as they wait to be compensated.

Under the provisions of the Camp Lejeune Justice Act, enacted in August, potential victims are expected to first register a claim with the Navy, which oversees the Marine base. If their claim is denied or unresolved after six months, they can file a lawsuit in the Eastern District of North Carolina.

About 900 cases had been filed by the end of April. Court officials there are bracing for thousands more lawsuits, and the litigation could become one of the largest mass torts in history.

Bloomberg Law reported this month that the Navy hadn’t settled any of 45,000 claims veterans had filed with the department through April. That spurred questions from a bipartisan group of lawmakers, including Sens. Ted Budd (R-N.C.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) and Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.).

Karnes’ email indicated the number of new cases keeps growing.

“It’s official, we have received so many claims, it’s difficult to get an accurate count,” she wrote. “I am estimating that we jumped up to 60,000 but it could be more.”

The email didn’t say if any had been settled. She did, however, write that her staff had not yet finished processing the claims filed by October.

Unresolved Cases Growing

The Navy told lawyers in January that the online portal would help expedite the review of claims. But a timetable for launching it remains unclear.

In her email, Karnes wrote: “Let’s address the elephant in the room: the technology situation/portal. Unfortunately, it’s not great news. I keep hoping that I would be able to email everyone before the summer and say, ‘We are a Go!’, but that didn’t happen.”

In a May 17 letter to Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), obtained by Bloomberg Law, a Navy representative wrote: “Unfortunately, based on the sheer volume of claims alone, it is not possible to expedite certain claims ahead of others, nor can we forecast an expected processing time for any individual claim.”

The revelations prompted Rubio this week to demand answers from Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro about the reasons for the delay, how it will impact payments, and the Navy’s plan to expedite the process.

Rubio noted that 25,000 Florida residents have registered as potential Camp Lejeune claimaints.

“These delays in claims processing is adding even more insult to injury for veterans, their dependents, and others who are suffering due to the Navy’s lack of movement to expeditiously process claims,” Rubio wrote. “Those who have served this nation deserve better.”

About 1 million people were potentially affected by the contaminated water at the Marine base between 1953 and 1987, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. Under the law, all claims must be filed by August 2024.

The compensation payout could ultimately reach $21 billion, according to congressional projections.

To contact the reporter on this story: Kaustuv Basu in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: John P. Martin at and Bernie Kohn at

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