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Navy Veterans Heavily Exposed To Asbestos On Ships, But Bail Out Bill Undermines Right To Fair Compensation

Proposed Asbestos Bailout Bill is Taking Away Veterans' Rights

Don't be misled, this Asbestos Bailout Bill is bad for veterans. Thousands of veterans across this country do not support this bill. In fact, there is evidence of a fraudulent letter-writing campaign on behalf of veterans going on in favor of this bill.

Why a Trust Fund is Bad for Veterans

Veterans, like all Americans, have always had the right to go to court to hold accountable the companies that knowingly poisoned them. They have been able to receive court-approved compensation to cope with the devastating health and financial consequences of asbestos-related diseases…until now. Asbestos companies, their insurers and some Senators want to take that right away with a bill that shortchanges asbestos victims and rewards companies that poisoned them.

The asbestos bailout bill terminates the legal rights of all current and future asbestos victims and forces them into an untested national trust fund bureaucracy that would be under-funded by at least $40 billion. The bill would delay financial relief to veterans and other asbestos victims by up to nine years - time many dying asbestos victims just don't have.

Under the proposed bill, many veterans with asbestos-related diseases will not qualify for any compensation at all. With the exception of mesothelioma victims, very few veterans are likely to meet the five and ten year cumulative exposure requirements under the bill because they will not have been in the service long enough to qualify.

The bill bails out the very asbestos and insurance companies that knowingly exposed veterans to asbestos.

The Facts

"Industry data, collected in recent years, shows that claims from individuals exposed in military and shipyard construction accounted for 26% of cases of mesothelioma, a deadly asbestos related lung cancer, 16% of other lung-cancer cases and 13% of disabling lung-disease cases."1

"Naval ships and shipyards used asbestos heavily, and over 30% of America's mesothelioma victims were exposed to asbestos while serving their country, either in uniform or while building and maintaining our fleet. Spouses and children were exposed when the workers brought the deadly fibers home on their skin, clothes and hair."2

Why Navy Veterans are Most Affected

"If you served in the U.S. Navy before the mid-1970's, you were likely exposed to asbestos aboard ship."3

"Millions of Veterans exposed to lethal asbestos. During and after World War II, asbestos use greatly expanded as the asbestos manufacturing companies helped write specifications for products on U.S. Navy ships. This caused hundreds of thousands of workers and sailors to be unknowingly exposed to dangerous asbestos dust in the cutting and manipulation of insulation products. As a result, many of these men and women would contract an asbestos-related disease decades later."4

"No location aboard ship was safe. The wide variety of occupations of the victims of asbestos disease proves that no one was immune - even family members became afflicted. Although fire and engine rooms were most commonly associated with asbestos disease, no place aboard ship was safe including sleeping quarters, mess halls, and navigation rooms. Thousands were exposed to asbestos while working at shipyards and dry docks."5

What Does the Department of Veterans Affairs Do for these Victims?

The Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) Adjudication Procedure Manual M21-1, Part VI, paragraph 7.21, the VBA explains the asbestos problem with Navy personnel and shipyard workers.

"High exposure to asbestos and a high prevalence of disease have been noted in insulation and shipyard workers. This is significant considering that, during World War II, several million people employed in U.S. shipyards and U.S. Navy veterans were exposed to chrysotile [asbestos] products as well as amosite and crocidolite [asbestos] since these varieties of African asbestos were used extensively in military ship construction. Many of these people have only recently come to medical attention because the latent period varies from 10 to 45 or more years between first exposure and development of disease. Also of significance is that the exposure to asbestos may be brief (as little as a month or two) or indirect (bystander disease)."6

However, according to the Veterans Health Administration website, while the VHA offers a variety of Clinical Programs and Initiatives to help veterans - from "Blind Rehabilitation Services" to "Kidney Diseases Program" to an "Agent Orange Health Effects" program - it has no programs specifically targeted to help victims of asbestos-related diseases and their families.7

Veterans Letter Campaign a Fraud

On February 15, 2004, a letter signed by Richard Hagel, past president of the North Dakota Veterans of Foreign Wars appeared in the Grand Forks Herald. In his letter Mr. Hagel expressed support for the asbestos bill. However, after some investigation, it was discovered that Mr. Hagel did not agree to sign the letter. The letter was placed in the newspaper without his permission.8

Subsequently, the newspaper acknowledged its mistake and has since printed two op-eds regarding the asbestos bill.9 Similar letters are appearing in papers around the country.

Who knows which are being placed with the author's permission and which are not?

And who knows how many of our nation's veterans are being misled into thinking the asbestos bailout bill is good for them, rather than just for the companies that poisoned them?

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

"U.S. Stands Aside on Asbestos: Government Won't Pay Into Proposed Fund, Despite Navy Cases," by Shailagh

Murray, Wall Street Journal, November 11, 2003.

"Mesothelioma Takes Our Heroes," Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation, Inc., 2003,http://www.marf.org/marfMainContents/advocacy_brochure.pdf

Asbestos Veterans Assistance Information League (AVAIL) website, http://www.availusa.org/2web/2_2.htm

Asbestos Veterans Assistance Information League (AVAIL) website, http://www.availusa.org/2web/2_2.htm

Asbestos Veterans Assistance Information League (AVAIL) website, http://www.availusa.org/2web/2_2.htm

Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) Adjudication Procedure Manual M21-1 (Manual M21-1), Part VI, paragraph 7.21, www.vba-rms.intecwash.navy.mil/admin21/m21_1/part6/ch07.doc

Department of Veterans Affairs website, http://www1.va.gov/health_benefits/page.cfm?pg=13

"Be fair to the victims of asbestos exposure," by Richard Hagel, Grand Forks Herald, February 15, 2004.

"Fraudlent letter suggests win-at-all-costs approach," by David C. Thompson, Grand Forks Herald, March 13, 2004; "Hagel: I didn't write letter" by Richard Hagel, Grand Forks Herald, March 13, 2004; and "Vets need trust-fund solution," by Larry W. Rivers, Grand Forks Herald, March 27, 2004.

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