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Beware Of Deceptive Marketing Tactics Targeting Military Veterans

We have previously commented on the lengths to which many law firms are willing to go to reach the 2,500 or so Americans who are diagnosed with mesothelioma in an article entitled “Beware of Madison Avenue Meso Lawyers”. In the article, we focused on the massive advertising budgets of certain firms, some in excess of $10 million, which have resulted in the airwaves being flooded with incessant commercials. Recently, we have noticed an even more disturbing effort in which firms are using deceptive tactics targeting mesothelioma patients who served in the U.S. military.

Statistics show that about 30% of mesothelioma patients in the U.S. were exposed to asbestos while serving in military, primarily in the Navy. In an effort to induce these newly diagnosed patients to contact them, many firms are engaging in tactics that prey upon the vulnerable veterans' sense of brotherhood with fellow veterans and the need for financial and medical resources to fight their disease

The Classic “Bait and Switch”

One of the tactics involves law firms which run ads or maintain websites on behalf of what appear to be veterans’ assistance agencies. While the ads or websites are filled with pictures of American flags, Navy ships and service men and women in uniform, conspicuously absent is the name or any reference to the law firm underwriting the marketing effort. The ruse would have the veteran believe that the so-called agency is aligned with, if not part of, the Veterans’ Administration itself.

The “agencies” offer free resources to military veterans diagnosed with mesothelioma. The resources commonly include assistance submitting claims for VA benefits. It isn’t until an unsuspecting patient contacts the “agency” that its “true colors” are revealed.

Patients who either call or submit a “free resources” request are quickly referred to an attorney at the law firm responsible for the ad or website. While the attorney may pay lip service to the patient’s interest in submitting a claim for VA benefits (which, as discussed below, does not require an attorney), the focus soon turns to getting the patient to hire the law firm to file a personal injury lawsuit. If the patient doesn’t immediately sign with the firm, which could be located across the country from the patient’s home, the firm will often hound the patient with non-stop phone calls until the patient finally relents.

“I Love a Man in a Uniform”

Another tactic involves law firms hiring retired military officers to make their firm more appealable to military veterans diagnosed with mesothelioma. The retired officers are not attorneys and therefore do not work on client cases (there are laws against non-attorneys practicing law). Accordingly, the involvement of the retired officers is typically limited to what can only be described as “client acquisition” functions.

Some firms promote the availability of their on-staff retired officers, complete with pictures of the officers in their dress blues or whites, to answer questions about benefits available to veterans diagnosed with mesothelioma. However, once a patient calls or submits an information request form, the conversation inevitably turns to getting the patient to hire the law firm to handle a personal injury lawsuit, followed by non-stop phone calls from the firm.

Some law firms have resorted to using their on-staff retired officers as “closers,” sending the officers out to meet with veterans who have contacted the firm. The marketing strategy is simple – the firm is betting that, in the tradition of esprit de corp, the veteran will more likely bond with and trust a fellow serviceman than an attorney. The gambit also has the advantage of promoting the perception that a firm that employs a polished retired officer is somehow uniquely qualified to handle a military veteran’s case. Typically, it is not until weeks or months after the firm is hired that the client learns that the retired officer, who is not an attorney, will not be working on their case.

Veterans’ Legal Rights

Central to the success of the deceptive marketing tactics targeting veterans is the perception that persons exposed to asbestos in the military possess legal rights which are substantially different than those possessed by non-veterans. This simply isn’t true.

All asbestos injury cases involve claims against the manufacturers and suppliers of asbestos products. Claims against solvent entities must be brought in state or federal court, and claims against bankrupt entities must be submitted to the asbestos bankruptcy trust for those entities that have them. Persons who were exposed to asbestos while serving in the military do not have the right to bring a lawsuit against the military or the federal government. Accordingly, the “legal” rights of persons with asbestos illness who were exposed in the military are no different than those who were exposed outside the military.

While it is true that persons exposed in the military have the right to apply for VA benefits, it should be understood that a claim for VA benefits is completely separate from a lawsuit. It involves the submission of forms to the VA. The forms are designed to be completed without the assistance of an attorney and, in fact, the vast majority of veterans complete the forms without attorney assistance. The amount of benefits are based entirely on VA guidelines – there is little or no room for negotiation. While it’s true that every penny counts, the amount of recoverable VA benefits pales dramatically in comparison to the amount that can be recovered in a personal injury lawsuit.

There’s No Substitute For Experience

Offers of "free" assistance with claims for VA benefits and the presence of on-staff retired military officers can be very seductive to a veteran recently diagnosed with mesothelioma. However, neither of these hallow offerings do much if anything to address what a newly diagnosed patient really needs.

Second only to prompt access to the most promising medical treatment is a patient’s need for prompt recovery of financial resources to cover the extraordinary medical and non-medical costs of fighting mesothelioma. Assistance with VA forms which patients can complete on their own, and the presence of retired non-attorney military officers who do not work on the actual lawsuits which are by far the greatest source of financial recovery, do little to address this need.

A mesothelioma patient’s financial needs are best served by a personal injury lawsuit handled by experienced asbestos attorneys with a proven track record of prompt and successful recoveries for their clients.

Can you be sure that law firms hiding behind deceptive so-called veterans’ assistance agencies or retired non-attorney military officers have this experience?

The Worthington Firm’s Experience Representing Military Veterans

For the past 20 years, the Worthington Law Firm has dedicated its practice to the representation of mesothelioma victims. Over this time, we have represented hundreds of veterans. In fact, approximately 50% of our clients were exposed to asbestos while serving in the military, most often the Navy. The recoveries for our military clients have consistently been among the largest in the country.

Our success in Navy cases is based in large part on the knowledge we have acquired over the years regarding Navy ships, when their hulls were laid down, when they launched for button-down cruises, where they ported or dry-docked for overhauls and conversions, and the identity and operation of the pumps, valves, turbines, boilers, catapults, heat exchangers etc. that were used on them.

Attorney Roger Worthington has been a long-time advocate for military veterans stricken with asbestos disease and has written frequently on the topic

Mr. Worthington is also very proud to have received the following endorsement from Lt. Col. James Zumwalt, USMCR, whose father Admiral Elmo Zumwalt, Jr., died from mesothelioma in January 2000:

"There is nothing so devastating as hearing the diagnosis a loved one has meso. It is at such a time a family needs guidance not only on legal issues but, more importantly, on methods of treatment. Because Roger Worthington has witnessed firsthand the suffering of mesothelioma victims, he established and funded MARF--a foundation focusing on finding a cure for this deadly disease. This has resulted in MARF attracting some of the most experienced medical authorities in mesothelioma treatment. I know of no other lawyer in America who funds a foundation on his own which, if successful, would minimize his potential client base. But Roger recognized a responsibility to mesothelioma victims that transcended the courtroom. As such, while he is an extraordinary advocate for clients throughout the litigation process, he has also become an extraordinary advocate, on behalf of all mesothelioma victims, within the halls of Congress as he has sought federal funding for R&D to find an ultimate cure for meso. No client could ask more of a legal advocate."

The Worthington Firm believes that America’s military veterans deserve our utmost gratitude and respect for their selfless service to their country. Veterans who contract mesothelioma were never privy to the information which asbestos companies knew about the deadly consequences of exposure to dust from the products they supplied to the military. This, in and of itself, was a tremendous betrayal of the trust and respect owed to our veterans. We find that the deceptive marketing tactics which some law firms are now using to target veterans with mesothelioma simply add insult to this injury.

John Caron

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