Sponsored by U.S. Representative Blake Farenthold (R-TX), a proposed piece of legislation called the “FACT Act,” would make it much more difficult for U.S. veterans to seek justice and compensation for asbestos-related diseases. Farenthold and his Republican coalition in Congress claim the FACT Act will produce “fair asbestos reform,” but in examining the bill a bit closer, it’s clear that such measures would severely impact asbestos-exposure victims in a negative way.
Many of the unfortunate victims of asbestos exposure – around 33%, in fact – are U.S. military veterans whom have been exposed to asbestos on military bases or shipyards. Farenthold’s proposed legislation, then, could delay – or even stop – much-needed and much-deserved trust fund payouts that would help dying patients cover their medical costs.
How the FACT Act Hurts Veterans and Other Victims
The provisions of the FACT Act (an acronym for the Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency Act) would restrict payments out of “asbestos trusts” that were set up to provide compensation to victims. Many trusts were set up years ago, when companies tried to avoid liability for their deadly asbestos-containing products by filing for bankruptcy protection, but the courts held these companies accountable and required them to set money aside for victims. The worth of these funds is now estimated to be around $30 Billion.
Proponents of the FACT Act, which also happen to be corporate giants with very obvious financial interests, claim that their bill would keep more money in the trusts for future victims, but victims’ right organizations are calling their bluff. Groups like the Association of the United States Navy (AUSN), the Environmental Working Group (EWG), and the Center for Justice and Democracy, along with military organizations such as the Military Order of the Purple Heart of the U.S.A. (MOPH), and the American Veterans (AMVETS), are strongly opposed to the bill’s passage.
As Farenthold claims to have the best interests of veterans and asbestos-exposure victims in mind, he should probably check in with the actual victims: Hard-working military men and women who are now battling serious diseases, with little chance of survival. Veteran advocates, a coalition of unions, and many democrats, are calling the FACT Act a terrible burden on victims.
Is Farenthold and His Republican Coalition Fighting Imaginary Asbestos-Litigation Fraud?
Central to FACT Act supporters’ rationale is the idea that asbestos-victims – those who have mesothelioma, asbestosis, or other asbestos-related diseases – are somehow “cheating” or “lying,” or that their claims simply aren’t real. This allegation of fraud seems to be an excuse to deny treatment, care, or money to injured people whom have had their lives destroyed by awful diseases that could have been avoided if not for corporate greed and putting profits ahead of people.
As an example, Farenthold has published an op-ed article in The Hill that claims victims are somehow abusing asbestos trusts. But as Sokolove has earlier reported, these claims are clearly unfounded. There’s simply no proof that anyone is trying to get undeserved awards. Moreover, nonpartisan trust audits have reported no fraud.
Farenthold talks about the trusts being “fleeced into nothingness” by assumedly illegitimate claims. He talks about “lawyers cheating the trusts” and says the trusts are “unable to police themselves.” But when it’s time to back this up with real, supportive facts, Farenthold comes up empty.
On the flipside, by pushing the FACT Act, Farenthold isn’t siding with American veterans, he’s siding with corporate giants like Honeywell, Lockheed-Martin, Raytheon, and others, along with large insurance companies and other parties that would all stand to profit from keeping as much money out of the hands of victims as possible.
The Damage the FACT Act Does to Veterans Is a Travesty
The FACT Act will hurt military asbestos-exposure victims by requiring the trusts to publish documents containing highly-sensitive personal information about the victim and his or her family. According to the FACT Act, this information would be required by victims just to process legitimate payments. The victim’s information, which would include his/her work history and information about his/her children, would be posted on the Internet, open to the public.
It’s important to remember that many of these U.S. veterans were harmed while serving our country and working tough, manual-labor jobs, on domestic bases or abroad. They were exposed to harmful and potentially deadly toxins by others whom had knowledge of the dangers of asbestos and thus the responsibility to warn people of these dangers. These veterans deserve real care, not restrictive legislation that exposes them to further harm or suggests that they are in some way “gaming the system.”
“[The FACT Act] does nothing to improve compensation for asbestos victims and would in fact make the situation even worse,” says William Samuels, Director of Government Affairs at the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO). Samuels, who very vocally does not support the FACT Act, represents one of the country’s biggest unions.
In a letter talking about the delays caused by FACT Act’s reporting requirements, Samuels also suggests that FACT Act provisions would increase costs – which would take funds from victims. He notes that the proposed bill would also require more legal fees to lawyers to process payments.
Why is this an important detail? Because Farenthold and FACT Act supporters say that they’re in favor of making the process more efficient and decreasing waste. Still, the biggest issue for veterans is that the FACT Act would make it much harder for victims to actually pursue compensation.
In a joint letter written by Hershel Gober, National Legislative Director of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, Michael Little of the Association of the United States Navy, and Diane Zumatto of American Veterans, the authors go further on how the bill hurts military service personnel:
“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.”
Delays in Claims Processing for Victims Are a Very Big Deal
Advocates for victims, such as the Alliance for Justice accuse FACT Act supporters of wanting to stall or “run the clock out” on asbestos claims, and it’s important to understand why companies selling asbestos-containing products might lobby for this outcome.
Simply put: Delays keep more money in defendants’ pockets for a longer period of time. That can have positive effects on cash flow and investment for defendants, but it can also decrease the amounts paid out over time. As more asbestos exposure victims die, the potential payouts may become smaller in many cases, or families may not be as likely to file for compensation.
Farenthold’s FACT Act is a dishonest bill that should be stopped by those who understand the real consequences. Americans shouldn’t allow big special interests to determine public policy; instead, they should argue for a fair bill that fights for the men and women who keep them safe.