Vets, first responders, teachers push Congress to reject asbestos bill

Veterans, first responders and teachers are urging lawmakers to reject legislation that would require asbestos victims to share personal information when seeking compensation in court.

Two letters were sent to Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyGOP senator grilled over DeVos vote during town hall Big Pharma must address high drug prices ­ObamaCare fix hinges on Medicaid clash in Senate MORE (R-Iowa) on Monday ahead of Wednesday’s committee hearing voicing opposition to the Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency, or FACT Act introduced by Sen. Jeff FlakeJeff FlakeDem senator pushes back against GOP efforts to rescind internet privacy rules Dem super PAC ads pressure GOP senators to back independent Russia probe Week ahead: Net neutrality supporters rally on rule's second anniversary MORE (R-Ariz.).

In their letter to Grassley and the committee’s Ranking Member Patrick LeahyPatrick LeahyDem senator asks for 'top to bottom' review of Syria policy A guide to the committees: Senate Verizon angling to lower price of Yahoo purchase: report MORE (D-Vt.), veterans from 17 organizations, including the Air Force Sergeants Association (AFSA), the National Defense Council and Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA), said the bill puts many of their veterans, who are ill and likely dying from asbestos-triggered diseases, at a greater risk of becoming victims of identity theft.

The FACT Act would require trusts to file quarterly reports on their public bankruptcy dockets that include personal information on the victims making demands for payments and the basis for payments made.

“The bill is a cynical ploy by the asbestos industry to avoid compensating its victims who are seeking justice in court—many of whom are veterans who were doubly exposed; first while in uniform and when they went on to work for companies that knowingly exposed them to the deadly fiber,” the veteran groups said in their letter.

A spokesman for the Senate Judiciary Committee said last week that Wednesday’s hearing is being held to explore possible legislative fixes to bring about greater transparency and accountability in the asbestos trust system.

Republicans have argued that these trusts – accounts set up under the bankruptcy code to pay victims of asbestos-related diseases – need to be protected to prevent fraudulent or inflated claims from drawing down on this finite funding.

The hearing comes about a month after the House passed the FACT by adding it to another piece of legislation that set new limits on class-action lawsuits.

The International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) also sent a letter Monday calling on members of Congress to oppose the bill.

“Victims of asbestos exposure, including first responders and teachers, among many other dedicated public employees, are entitled to compensation from the companies that caused their illnesses,” they said. “S. 357, however, would give companies an unfair advantage over asbestos victims seeking justice for their injuries — speciously touted as a “transparency bill,” the measure actually is designed to help the asbestos industry avoid paying victims through delay tactics and waste of scarce trust resources set aside for victims.”

Alex Formuzis, of the Environmental Working Group Action Fund said the overwhelming opposition to the bill should send a strong message to the Judiciary Committee and the rest of the Senate.

"Supporting legislation that would almost certainly put tens of thousands of innocent Americans, including veterans and firefighters, at risk of identity theft should be a non-starter for lawmakers,” he said.