Isle senators should back asbestos reform
HERE in Hawaii, we understand what our veterans gave up for our country. Our own Pearl Harbor stands as an enduring reminder of the ultimate sacrifice many veterans have made in service to our country. Many World War II veterans, along with many men and women who served after them, face additional hardships today as they attempt to obtain compensation for their asbestos-related diseases.
Asbestos was commonly used in U.S. military construction, particularly in Navy shipbuilding, for fireproofing and insulation. Before the risks were understood, countless men and women were exposed to this substance while they served our country. Years later, they are being diagnosed with diseases such as asbestosis and deadly mesothelioma.
Unlike their counterparts in the private sector, veterans are not able to sue their employer -- the federal government -- for compensation. The government has sovereign immunity, which bars veterans from seeking compensation from the government in court. This severely limits the options veterans have for obtaining compensation.
The Senate is considering a bill, S. 3274 (the Fairness in Asbestos Injury Resolution Act), which will clear the obstacles that confront veterans today out of the way, enabling them to receive compensation for their asbestos-related illnesses. The bill will set up a victims' trust fund financed by defendant companies and their insurers that will operate outside the legal system.
The problems inherent in the asbestos litigation system extend beyond the veterans community. Civilians also encounter problems obtaining compensation because the courts are overrun with lawsuits. Thousands are now pending and, what's worse, experts have found that many of the cases filed are fraudulent. This means that sick victims who enter the court system must wait years before getting their court dates.
The FAIR Act won't just help veterans. It will ensure that all sick asbestos victims get compensation quickly and fairly.
The FAIR Act also includes enforcement provisions to eliminate the fraud and abuse that characterizes today's broken system. For example, compensation under the bill would be based on claimants meeting strict medical criteria, and it would establish harsh penalties for anyone who files a fraudulent claim.
Some lawmakers have said that a bill simply establishing strict medical criteria requirements for who can and can't file asbestos lawsuits would fix this problem. But leaving asbestos claims in the courts won't do anything to help sick veterans.
Congress mustn't leave sick veterans out in the cold. Our country needs a national solution to the asbestos litigation crisis that helps all sick victims, and a victims' trust fund is the only solution that will help sick veterans. I call on Senators Akaka and Inouye to join with the more than 20 veterans service organizations that support S. 3274 and fight to get this critical bill passed.
John S. Chapman is a past commander of the Hawaii Department of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. He lives in Mililani.