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Senator Warner: "Support Research And Treatment"

Dear Mr. Sterling:

I am a Virginia resident, writing to introduce myself and respectfully request Senator Warner's support on an important issue facing our Nation's veterans. My late father, Admiral Zumwalt, former Chief of Naval Operations, worked closely with Senator Warner when the latter was Secretary of the Navy in the early 1970s. My father died in January 2000 of an incurable disease that afflicts more residents of Virginia than any other state in the country. This disease remains incurable because federal funding has yet to be seriously committed to finding a cure.

Mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer of the lining of the lungs, abdomen or heart. The medical community agrees that a mesothelioma tumor is among the most painful of cancers to experience and among those with the worst prognosis. On average, mesothelioma patients survive only four to 14 months after diagnosis. My father failed to even reach the four month minimum, losing his life only three months after being diagnosed.

I am writing to ask for Senator Warner's support for the Mesothelioma Foundation's efforts to advance the research and treatment of this deadly disease by expanding access to federal sources of grant funding. As an essential first step, I look for Senator Warner's support in ensuring that mesothelioma is included as a candidate for research under the DOD's Peer Reviewed Medical Research Program for FY 2007. In FY 2006, this program received $50 million to support medical research projects of clear scientific merit and direct relevance to military health.

One-third of today's mesothelioma patients are veterans who were exposed to asbestos during their service to our country onboard U.S. Navy ships or in shipyards. Despite this deadly toll on those who served our country, mesothelioma has been an orphan disease in terms of federal funding. Historically, the National Cancer Institute has devoted minimal funding to support mesothelioma research. Given the current budgetary constraints, it will be increasingly difficult for mesothelioma investigators to secure funding through the National Institutes of Health. And, despite the incredible investment in biomedical research made through the Department of Defense (DOD) - an estimated $3.75 billion since 1992 - none has been invested in mesothelioma research.

As reported, the Commonwealth of Virginia has one of the highest rates of mesothelioma in the country. In fact, Suffolk City and Hampton City rank as the top two counties with the highest mesothelioma mortality rates, according to the National Center for Health Statistics (1999). The presence of shipyards and naval ship construction are believed to contribute to such a high state-centered mesothelioma mortality rate.

The strong connection between mesothelioma and military service makes this cancer a just and deserving area of research to be included as a candidate in the DOD Peer Review Medical Research Program. This would add no new funding to the federal budget; it would merely allow mesothelioma investigators to compete within the already established fund based on the scientific merit of mesothelioma research proposals.

Senators John Ensign (R-NV) and Hillary Clinton (D-NY) share these concerns and are leading a bipartisan effort in the U.S. Senate to add mesosothelioma to the list of diseases and conditions eligible to compete for DOD funding. They are circulating a letter to the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman, Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK), and Ranking Member, Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI) asking that mesothelioma be included on the list. I look for Senator Warner's support in this effort and hope that he will agree to sign the letter as well. The points of contact for signing on to the letter are Ann Gavaghan in Senator Clinton's office and D'Arcy Grisier in Senator Ensign's office.

I have attached the Dear Colleague Letter being circulated by Senators Clinton and Ensign, to which I hope Senator Warner will agree to add his name to those of his fellow Senators listed thereon.

Thank you for your consideration of this request. I would be happy to speak with you further about this effort should you so desire.

Sincerely,

James G. Zumwalt
Reston, VA

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