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Camp Lejeune water poisoning victims, advocates weigh in after hearings start

Mike Partain (left) and Jerry Ensminger (right)
Mike Partain (left) and Jerry Ensminger (right), plaintiffs in a class-action suit filed against the United States Department of Defense.

Earlier this month was the first hearing in a class-action lawsuit, filed by victims of water poisoning at Camp Lejeune. Many have been pushing for justice for decades.

President Joe Biden signed the Camp Lejeune Justice Act in August of 2022, which opened the door for the Department of Defense to start addressing years of pain and suffering caused by poisoned water at the U.S. Marines Corps base in North Carolina.

When Biden signed the bill, Jerry Ensminger and Mike Partain were there.

Ensminger, a retired Marine Corps Master Sergeant, has been pushing for accountability for decades after the death of his daughter, Jamie Ensminger, due to childhood Leukemia.

“I started this journey in August of 1997. And even then, it was 14 years after Jamie had been diagnosed and 13 years after she died,” Ensminger told WHQR after the initial hearing.

Mike Partain was born on Lejeune, and developed male breast cancer later on in life. When asked for his thoughts, he said restitution might depend on the person, but for him, there was no way the DOD could make him whole.

“I mean, honestly, there is no amount of money that the government could compensate me. To compensate for what I've been through, what my family's been through," he said.

While optimistic about the hearing, Partain noted that since the signing of the act in August of last year, no settlements have been made among the thousands of cases. In fact, the Department of Defense hadn’t even made any offers.

Lawyers with Camp Lejeune Legal expressed optimism in the overall tone of the courtroom: prosecutors and the defense agreed that politics and ideology aside, the end goal is justice for these families, according to Thomas Henson with Camp Lejeune Legal.

“Today was not about the lawyers of the law firms. It was about our clients. It's about Jerry and Mike and all the other clients and their families. And we all need to remember that," he said.

This month's hearing was a general informational discussion where the court gave lawyers instructions and laid out the best steps for moving forward most efficiently.

While there are many law firms across the country handling Lejuene settlement cases, most have collectively agreed that there needs to be a grouping system in place; the sheer number of cases makes it impossible to try them one at a time. How that problem gets solved will shape the next steps in the lawsuits.

Camille hails from Long Island, NY and graduated from Boston University with a BS in Journalism and double minors in Classical Civilizations and Philosophy. Her story focus revolves her deep care for children, young adults and mental health. You can reach her at cmojica@whqr.org.