Asbestos bill would hurt veterans

Published 7:17 pm Monday, January 18, 2016

To the editor:

Most members of Congress never miss a chance to publicly praise the brave men and women who serve in or are veterans of our nation’s armed forces. But the House of Representatives has just passed a bill that will bring unnecessary and unjustified financial hardship to thousands of veterans and their families.

The so-called FACT Act (H.R. 1927) will make it harder for Americans who are sick and dying from asbestos-triggered disease to obtain compensation from the corporations responsible for their exposure.

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The bill is backed by some of the biggest corporations in the country that have knowingly exposed many of our veterans to asbestos while they were in uniform and in their workplace during their civilian lives.

Almost one third of the victims of mesothelioma, a rare and incurable cancer caused by asbestos exposure, are veterans.

The measure would force veterans and others who are sick and dying from asbestos-triggered diseases to publicly disclose personal, highly sensitive information such as how and when they were exposed, health records and part of their Social Security numbers.

The bill will also require the asbestos trusts that have been set up to compensate victims to publish their sensitive information on the Internet on a publicly accessible database.

Forcing our veterans to publicize their work histories, medical conditions, social security numbers, and information about their children and families is an offensive invasion of the privacy of the men and women who have honorably served, and it does nothing to assure they receive the compensation they deserve or prevent any future illness among our veterans.

If the bill becomes law, it will add significant time and delay in paying claims to our veterans and their families by putting burdensome and costly reporting requirements on trusts.

In most circumstances, dying veterans desperately need compensation to offset the cost of mounting medical bills and end-of-life care, as well as providing for their families’ support when they are gone. The bill passed by the House will force trusts to spend time and resources complying with these additional and unnecessary requirements at the expense of our veterans.

Members of the House who voted for Rep. Blake Farenthold’s (Texas, 27th) bill should be held accountable for casting their votes in favor of the asbestos industry and turning their backs on those who defended our nation. These members are put on notice that veterans have a long memory, and we vote.

The bill passed with the support of less than half of all House members, and we are proud of the 16 Republicans and all Democrats who voted against it. This is an encouraging sign that the bill will not be seen favorably in the Senate.

The Senate now has the opportunity to stop this injustice. Similar legislation authored by Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) awaits consideration by those in the upper chamber.

We hope that compassion for our veterans — not bowing to asbestos interests campaign donations — will prevail, and the Senate will roundly oppose S.357.

Gilbert C. Sawyer

Virginia Beach