James L. Mitchell: Act quickly for veterans
Congress needs to act quickly before it is too late for some of our country’s veterans. Today, thousands of veterans are dying from diseases caused by asbestos, a deadly substance to which they were exposed during their service in the military.
Asbestos has especially taken a heavy toll on our nation’s veterans. This dangerous substance was widely used by the military during and after World War II, particularly in insulation aboard U.S. Navy ships. Because of the long latency periods of asbestos-related diseases, many veterans are being diagnosed today with life-threatening diseases caused by exposure that occurred during military service decades ago.
Because veterans were employed by the Federal Government, they have very limited recourse to seek compensation from the government for their illnesses. Other avenues where veterans might seek compensation are time-consuming and all too often fruitless. The companies that produced and supplied asbestos to the military mostly have gone bankrupt and provide only pennies on the dollar to victims, if any money at all. In addition, because the courts have been flooded with asbestos claims, many veterans die before their cases are even heard in court.
Veterans don’t deserve this kind of treatment from their country. Many of our men and women in uniform fought hard to defend our country and our freedom, and now it is time that our Colorado Senators fight for our veterans.
The Senate Judiciary Com-mit-tee recently approved the Fairness in Asbestos Injury Resolution Act, or FAIR Act, a bill that would require much-needed relief for veterans who were exposed to asbestos and other sick asbestos victims.
The FAIR Act would establish a privately-funded, no-fault, national asbestos victims compensation fund to replace the current, broken asbestos litigation system. The fund would provide prompt compensation for asbestos-related injuries based on claimants meeting reasonable eligibility criteria. All sick victims of asbestos exposure, including veterans, would be eligible under the fund.
The trust fund will not cost taxpayers a cent and will be funded by the businesses and insurance companies that are facing asbestos lawsuits.
Some in Congress have suggested that a federal medical criteria bill, which would leave consideration of asbestos claims in the courts, is a better solution. But a medical criteria bill would do nothing for veterans. A victims’ trust fund is quite frankly the only solution to the asbestos problem that will ensure veterans receive the compensation they deserve, quickly and fairly.
In addition, the FAIR Act protects current veterans’ benefits ,and legal assistance is available to those who need help with their claims. Veterans would be reimbursed for medical monitoring costs, allowing them to seek medical attention at the hospital of their choice.
And the fund would make sure there will be money available well into the future to take care of the victims who don’t know they are sick yet.
Colorado veterans need this bill. Congress is now in a position to do something to help veterans suffering from asbestos-related illnesses. Colorado’s Senator Allard is already a co-sponsor. As a Coloradan and a veteran, I urge Senator Salazar to join the growing, bipartisan list of bill co-sponsors. And I encourage both our Senators to do the right thing and vote yes for S. 852 when it comes to the Senate floor.
James L. Mitchell, Past Department Commander
Colorado Department of the Veterans of Foreign Wars
PO Box 262
South Fork, CO 81154
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