This Memorial Day, Richard Corley is running out of time.
The retired Marine Reservist from Harlem survived Stage 3 esophageal cancer but now faces a growing tumor next to his pancreas caused, he believes, by the toxic water at Camp Lejeune, the famed US Marine base in Jacksonville, NC.
“You gotta drink water, you gotta shower in it, and sometimes for operations, you got to lay in it,” the 64-year-old dad of three kids recalled.
As many as a million military members, their families and civilian staffers are believed to have been exposed to contaminated water for decades.
Harmful volatile organic compounds, and potentially carcinogenic chemicals such as trichloroethylene, perchloroethylene, vinyl chloride and benzene were found in Camp Lejeune drinking water in 1982, and appear to have come from the military’s waste disposal and leaking storage tanks, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Most of the contaminated wells were taken offline in 1985 but the contamination is believed to have started in the 1950s.
After decades of begging for assistance, sick and dying vets such as Corley thought help had finally arrived in August, with the passage in Congress of the Camp Lejeune Justice Act.
The measure allows those diagnosed with one of 15 different illnesses who served at Lejeune from 1953 to 1987 to file a claim with the US Navy, and to sue in federal court if the claim is rejected or ignored.
The new law sparked an incessant wave of late-night attorney ads seeking clients.
Nearly a year later, none of the more than 45,000 claims submitted to the Navy has been resolved, and more than 900 ongoing lawsuits have been filed, advocates said.
“For them to mess around and act like we’re not important or we don’t matter, I don’t understand that,” said Corley, who attained the rank of gunnery sergeant and worked in real estate until he got sick. “They haven’t said what compensation would look like. Something would help before I die.”
Ten members of Congress called further delay “unacceptable” in a May 17 letter demanding action from the Navy’s Judge Advocate Division, or JAG, which handles the claims, and the Department of Justice.
“It is critically important that JAG and DOJ move quickly to adjudicate or settle these cases in a transparent, efficient manner. Anything less is an injustice,” the US representatives wrote.
Peter Romano was a kid from Staten Island who wanted to see the world when he enlisted in the US Marines in 1982, and served five years at Camp Lejeune as a communications specialist, with two deployments.
He was 23 when he was diagnosed with testicular cancer that left him unable to have kids, and suffers from Hepatitis C after being infected during his cancer treatment.
“Not one single person has gotten anything at all,” said Romano, now of New Jersey. “Absolutely none of us had any kind of clue.”
Long Island surgeon Richard Qualliotine had a thriving medical practice and two kids when he was drafted in 1966, and was stationed at Lejeune until 1968.
He died of esophageal cancer in 2005 at age 69.
“He was very happy to serve his country,” recalled his widow, Zenovia Qualliotine, 71, of Fire Island. “I think a lot of people financially could use some assistance.”
Attorney Andrew Van Arsdale’s AVA Law Group has filed 3,000 claims on behalf of veterans sickened at Camp Lejeune, or their families.
“These folks are sick, they are dying and they just want some level of accountability from the government they gave so much to,” Van Arsdale told The Post. “You promised you would take care of them and you are not following through on that promise.”
Veterans have until Aug. 10, 2024 to file claims, which if ignored or rejected, allows them to file suit in North Carolina Federal Court, where already overwhelmed judges have voiced exasperation.
Litigation is “not the solution these folks need,” said Van Arsdale, whose firm had 40 Camp Lejeune clients die since the act was passed.
Career Marine Jerry Ensminger’s daughter Janey died of leukemia in 1985, at the age of 9.
She was the only one of his kids conceived, carried and born at Lejeune.
He’s testified in front of Congress nine times about the base since 2004.
“Somebody with the power needs to step up to the plate and say, ‘Get this done,’” he said.
Adjudicating the claims is “complex” and “time-consuming,” the Navy said.
“The Navy remains committed to resolving all claims related to this matter as fairly, thoroughly, and expeditiously as possible,” a spokeswoman told The Post.
with Post wires
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