In a recent op-ed in The Hill, Rep. Blake FarentholdRandolph (Blake) Blake FarentholdThe biggest political upsets of the decade Members spar over sexual harassment training deadline Female Dems see double standard in Klobuchar accusations MORE (R-Texas) claimed that “asbestos reforms are needed to protect first responders and veterans.” He claimed his bill, H.R. 526, or the so-called “FACT Act,” would address this problem and should be approved by the House. But what Farenthold neglected to mention is that many national veteran and service member organizations such as the Military Order of the Purple Heart of the U.S.A (MOPH), the Association for the United States Navy (AUSN) and the American Veterans (AMVETS) strongly oppose his legislation due to its detrimental and disparate impact on men and women in uniform.
H.R. 526 (and its Senate companion S. 357) would be extremely detrimental to our members and all veterans who were exposed to asbestos while serving their country, in addition to their family members. Veterans disproportionately make up those who are dying and afflicted with mesothelioma and other asbestos-related illnesses and injuries. Although veterans only represent 8 percent of the nation’s population, they comprise 30 percent of all known mesothelioma deaths. During and after World War II, asbestos use greatly expanded as the asbestos manufacturing companies started producing more equipment and infrastructure for the Department of Defense, most extensively in shipbuilding for the Navy. Tens of thousands of workers and service members were unknowingly exposed to deadly asbestos-containing products.
When our veterans and service members file claims with the asbestos bankruptcy trusts to receive compensation for harm caused by asbestos companies, they submit personal, highly sensitive information such as how and when they were exposed to the deadly products, their health information, work histories and more. The FACT Act would require asbestos trusts publish this highly sensitive information on a publicly accessible website, available for anyone to see. The asbestos industry is demanding this with a simple and grisly motivation: to delay and deny claims submitted by service men and women until they die so they can ultimately pay less to families of the deceased.
The FACT Act would hurt our members and their families by delaying the trust process through the use of burdensome and costly reporting requirements and by forcing the disclosure of sensitive, private information. Forcing veterans to publicize their work histories, medical conditions, social security numbers, and information about their children and families is an offensive invasion of privacy to the men and women who have honorably served, and it does nothing to prevent future asbestos exposures and deaths. In an age when identity theft is on the rise and credit cards numbers are stolen by the millions, forcing victims of asbestos exposure to divulge their most private information puts a target on their backs for criminals who would do them harm.
The FACT Act puts the priorities of the asbestos industry above the rights of asbestos victims and their families. This is contrary to the supposed intent of Farenthold to protect the funds in the trusts for future generations. If that were his true goal, he should recognize that the trusts are severely underfunded and don't have enough money to pay existing claims. These trusts were grossly underfunded when they were created because asbestos corporations never want to commit enough money into the funds to fully compensate all of the victims they’ve harmed or killed. The FACT Act would further stretch the already resource-depleted trusts at the expense of victims seeking compensation for their injuries.
If Farenthold wishes to ensure that current and future victims of asbestos exposure are adequately compensated, his push on legislation that puts more burdens on trusts and victims and not on the companies who knowingly caused their injuries and deaths demonstrates something else: his commitment to the asbestos industry, not its veteran victims. Nothing in the FACT Act requires additional transparency or disclosures on the part of the asbestos industry. If Farenthold recognizes that the trusts are underfunded and not paying victims what they deserve, why not push legislation that requires the asbestos companies to pay additional funds into the trusts or provide greater transparency about where their asbestos-containing products are located? Why is it that when we talk about asbestos we put the entire onus on the victims to make it a better process and not the companies that caused the mess in the first place? The FACT Act further victimizes the servicemen and women exposed to asbestos and lets the companies responsible for poisoning our veterans off the hook.
We humbly suggest that before Farenthold makes any future claims to his congressional colleagues and the general public suggesting his legislation will protect veterans exposed to asbestos, he may want to consider actually checking with veterans first.
Gober is national legislative director of the Military Order of the Purple Heart of the U.S.A. Little is national legislative director of the Association of the United States Navy.Zumatto is national legislative director of American Veterans.