The US House of Representatives recently passed the FACT Act bill (HR 1927) that will cause financial hardship to thousands of veterans and their families. The bill will now move to the Senate. Veterans’ groups consider it “unnecessary and unjustified.”
HR 1927 targets victims of diseases caused by asbestos exposure and is intended to regulate and monitor compensation from victim’s compensation funds. The bill offers protection to the organizations and companies victims claim are responsible for their exposure, many of which were big supporters of the bill. Many believe the corporations knew they were putting people at risk, many of whom were in the military when exposed or exposed as civilians later in life.
What is Mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma is cancer of the mesothelium, which is the protective membrane lining most of the body’s internal organs. Regardless where cancer cells originate, they are able to travel, causing the disease to affect the majority of the body. Most mesothelioma cases are quite advanced by the time they are diagnosed, reducing the five-year survival rate to no more than 10%.
Mesothelioma is a rarer form of cancer, with only about 3000 new cases diagnosed in the United States each year. Statistics show approximately a third of these cases are veterans.
The majority of victims develop mesothelioma after working near asbestos, which at one time was very common in a number of different industries. Though there are bans on asbestos now, the material still remains in a number of locations and can affect those working in those areas. When tiny asbestos fibers are released into the air, they can be inhaled or swallowed, causing them to implant in the body and trigger asbestos-related diseases, usually many years after the initial exposure occurred.
What’s Next for the Bill?
HR 1927 would require those seeking compensation from mesothelioma asbestos compensation trusts to disclose personal, sensitive information, including when and how they were exposed. General health records and social security numbers could also become public. The trusts would also be required to publicly release sensitive information that would be available in an online database accessible to the general public.
Those opposed to the bill, including the veterans’ groups that have been vocal about their opposition, believe it is an invasion of privacy to force patients to have their medical conditions, medical history, family information and other personal information posted publicly. They believe it would be wrong to force any patient to do this, but it is particularly offensive to force veterans – people who have honorably served and defended their country – to do so in order to receive the compensation to which they are entitled.
According to these groups, in addition to the blatant invasion of privacy, should this bill become law, it will also create a delay in processing and paying claims made by veterans and their families in relation to asbestos-related illnesses by adding additional reporting requirements on the trusts tasked with paying compensation.
For many battling asbestos-related illnesses, time is of the essence. Veterans are faced with fatal illnesses and have limited time to off-set the cost of their medical and end-of-life care. Families who have lost loved ones to asbestos-related illnesses are also in dire need of financial compensation in the weeks and months following the loss of their loved ones. Delaying payments will cause an undue and unfair burden on veterans and their families.
It should be noted the bill passed with less than half of the support of House members and had bi-partisan opposition. Many familiar with the circumstances and with the way in which Congress works in general believe this is a good sign and the bill is unlikely to have enough support in the Senate.