Active service members are challenging a rule that insulates the government from liability for their injuries.

Five military service members filed suit against the federal government on Thursday after they consumed fuel-tainted water delivered by the U.S. Navy on Oahu in November 2021.

The plaintiffs are Army Col. Jessica Whaley, Army Maj. Amanda Feindt, Army Chief Warrant Officer Elizabeth Thompson-Watson, Navy Chief Petty Officer Brian Jessup and Navy Petty Officer First Class Dustin Wallace.

However, 978 active-duty service members have filed pre-litigation claims with the Navy and are expected to join the litigation at a later date.

The claimants allege they were sickened and displaced from their homes when operations at the Navy’s Red Hill storage complex leaked thousands of gallons of fuel into the water supply that serves the Pearl Harbor area.

Typically, the government is insulated from liability when it comes to injury claims by service members. The newly filed case will challenge that rule, known as the Feres Doctrine. The plaintiffs’ attorney, Kristina Baehr, has asserted that the doctrine should not apply when military members are not injured in combat but rather sickened by contaminated water in their own homes.

“This is an important challenge to the Feres Doctrine on the eve of Veterans Day,” Baehr said in a statement on Thursday. “Our soldiers cannot be mission-ready if they are poisoned at home.”

Separately, thousands of military family members, also represented by Baehr’s team, have their own filed suit and are awaiting trial.

Meanwhile, military teams are working to defuel Red Hill. As of Thursday, more than 84 million gallons had been drained. The defense department has stated that 99% of the 104 million gallons that was stored there will be gone by January. The timeline for removing the rest, and the plan for Red Hill going forward, remains unclear.

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