The Navy is reportedly denying the remaining thousands of civil claims related to contaminated drinking at water at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.
"There is no legal way for the Department of the Navy" to pay damages in these cases, Navy Secretary Richard Spencer told NBC News. "We are denying the claims to free everybody to take their own course of action."
Roughly 4,500 plaintiffs with claims of more than $63 billion in damages will not receive cash payments in what is believed to be one of the largest water contamination cases in U.S. history.
Between the 1950s and 1980s, people living or working at the Jacksonville, N.C., base may have been exposed to contaminants in their drinking water, according to government research on the issue.
The Department of Veteran Affairs has estimated that 900,000 people may have been affected by the contaminated water.
The Obama administration agreed to pay $2 billion in disability benefits to veterans who had been exposed to the water at Camp Lejeune.
According to NBC, the Navy's denial of claims will not affect medical care or disability benefits for the thousands of people receiving treatment.
Spencer gave NBC three legal justifications for the denial of the remaining claims.
First was a North Carolina law that sets a 10-year timeline for a civil claim to be filed for injuries, which since the contaminated wells were closed in 1985 would invalidate new claims.
The second was an exemption to the Federal Tort Claims Act which protects the government in cases were negligence is not established.
The third reason given by Spencer was the Feres doctrine, a policy by which military members cannot sue the government for injuries incurred during service.
The denial of claims allows all claimants "to try other avenues that might be available to them," Spencer said. "This was a decision that had to be made," he said. "We are acting on the situation at hand."