It’s been a year since Congress passed legislation allowing people exposed to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune in eastern North Carolina to take legal action against the federal government. 

According to the Navy, more than 90,000 people have filed claims under the law.

But one veteran is concerned some attorneys’ fees are too high -- and he’s pointing some of the blame at Congress.

“It was more of a sick feeling that somebody could take something that was meant to be so good for the people that actually defended this country,” Jerry Ensminger, a retired Marine Corps master sergeant, told Spectrum News.

Ensminger spent years calling out commands in the Marine Corps. He and his daughter Janey, who was conceived and born at the base, spent time at Camp Lejeune.

At the age of six, Janey was diagnosed with leukemia. She died in 1985, shortly after her ninth birthday.

“She was struggling to keep breathing and I laid down next to her and whispered in her ear and said, 'Janey … it’s time to take a break, it’s time to relax, you can stop fighting,'" he recounted.

Janey was one of around a million people the federal government estimates came into contact with toxic water at Camp Lejeune decades ago. The government acknowledges the chemicals have caused ailments ranging from Parkinson’s Disease to cancer.

Since Janey’s death, her father has pushed for justice.

Retired Marine Corps Master Sgt. Jerry Ensminger's daughter, Janey (Courtesy: Jerry Ensminger)

Last summer, Ensminger stood behind President Joe Biden as Biden signed the bipartisan PACT Act, which allowed Lejeune victims to take legal action against the federal government.

But what Ensminger didn’t know was that the legislation did not include caps on how much attorneys can charge. He said a cap on those fees was removed from the bill before Congress passed it.

“I said ‘holy crap.’ I said ’this is terrible. That is nothing but pure greed,'” Ensminger said.

Ensminger said some attorneys are charging victims 40% contingency fees. 

Ed Bell, a lawyer who has represented the interests of Camp Lejeune victims for years, has said he helped craft the Camp Lejeune Justice Act which allowed victims to take legal action. In March, Bloomberg Law reported Bell’s South Carolina firm, the Bell Legal Group, donated $1.9 million to lawmakers the past two years. The money was Democrat and Republican lawmakers. The outlet also reported that Bell said he had lobbied against the cap on fees.

This week, Bell told Spectrum News that he urged lawmakers not to cap fees to ensure that top-tier lawyers would be motivated to help the Camp Lejeune victims.

After passage of the law that Bell help to shape, federal judges in the Eastern District of North Carolina named him lead counsel representing Lejeune victims who file lawsuits. 

If the Navy denies a victim's claims, or someone waits more than six months for a decision, they can file a lawsuit in the Eastern District of North Carolina. 

The Navy told Spectrum News that more than 93,000 claims have been filed, and they have initiated processing of more than 18,000 of those claims. None of those claims have been settled yet. The Navy recently announced a new elective option to provider quicker settlement offers.

The number of lawsuits is currently a fraction of that number.

Bell is in a position to potentially receive many millions of dollars in fees representing victims. He tells Spectrum News that “most” of what he makes will be donated to the Charleston School of Law, where he currently serves as president.

Georgetown Law Center Ethics Counsel Mike Fresh told Spectrum News that if attorneys aren’t lobbying directly for existing clients there aren’t ethical rules against them benefitting financially after the legislation is passed.

“That may be a sad commentary of where we are in terms of how money plays a role in our politics,” Fresh said.

Ensminger says that he's fine with attorneys fees, but he just wants them to be fair -- so he can best bring overdue justice to Janey.

Legislation was introduced this year in Congress to put in place attorney caps.

One bill, from Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan, would cap attorney fees at 17%, a figure that Ensminer believes is too low. He is worried that would deter lawyers from taking on the cases. The bill has not received a vote in the Senate. 

Another bill, from New York Rep. Jerry Nadler and California Rep. Mark Takano, would cap attorney fees at 33%. Nadler’s office tells Spectrum News it has not received a vote in committee.

NOTE: This is Part 2 of a two-part series focused on Camp Lejeune. Read Part 1 here.