The Department of Veterans Affairs expects a surge of compensation claims totaling more than $2.2 billion from veterans exposed to toxic water at Camp Lejeune, N.C., but nothing compared to the "tidal wave" of cases that came out of the Agent Orange class-action suit.
After years of lawsuits and appeals, acts of Congress and amendments since the contaminated water at the Marine Corps base was confirmed in the 1980s, the VA will begin accepting claims March 14 for disabilities stemming from eight presumptive conditions.
A final hurdle to the compensation process emerged with the inauguration of President Donald Trump and his order blocking new federal regulations, which appeared to override rules approved in the last days of President Barack Obama's administration.
However, the office of Sen. Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican, said last week, "The White House has granted an exemption. This means the Camp Lejeune regulation will go into effect on March 14, 2017, as scheduled."
All of the Lejeune claims initially will be handled by the VA's Louisville, Ky., Regional Office (RO), Thomas Murphy, VA’s acting under secretary for benefits, said at a House Committee on Veterans Affairs (HVAC) subcommittee hearing last week.
"Ideally, we want to keep them in the one RO" in Louisville, where a Center of Eexcellence has been set up to deal with presumptive claims, Murphy said. "But if they can't handle the volume, we're going to have to train another and expand it, so we'll have to keep a very close eye on that."
Rep. Tim Walz, a Minnesota Democrat and ranking member of the HVAC, questioned whether Louisville is ready to cope with the claims. Walz asked Murphy, "You're ready to adjust to it, but you don't anticipate anything near the disruption that the Nehmer claims were?"