I am grateful to VFW Talk Radio and The National Defense radio show for giving me the opportunity recently during an on air interview to speak to veterans about the dangers of asbestos exposure and educate about their legal rights.
Click below to listen to the interview (part 1) or read the transcript below:
As Managing Attorney of Sokolove Law, I have the privilege of working with veterans across the country. Many of the mesothelioma cases we handle involve U.S. Veterans who were exposed to asbestos either during or after their military service. In doing so, I''ve learned that many don''t understand that they have legal rights outside of the assistance offered by the VA.
When I talk to these servicemen and women, they are often surprised to learn that even 30 years after asbestos use peaked in the U.S., 3,200 cases of mesothelioma the rare and deadly cancer that's caused by asbestos exposure are diagnosed each year.
Asbestos was widely used in products common in every branch of the military especially the U.S. Navy. Symptoms of mesothelioma can take 20-50 years to appear, so asbestos continues to be a real and pressing problem for our nation's veterans.
Whether at the convention or at local VFW posts, we try to provide veterans with information about early warning signs and symptoms. The earlier mesothelioma is diagnosed, the more treatment options are available.
To help spread awareness, Sokolove Law will be a returning sponsor again at the VFW National Convention held this year in St. Louis, MO July 19-23. In addition to visiting our Exhibit Booth #718 on the convention floor for information, I want to invite convention attendees to hear our 15-minute educational workshop titled Health Dangers of Asbestos Exposure & Veteran's Legal Rights'. We are offering this presentation several times a day during the convention in Hall Room #121, located just outside the main entrance to the convention floor.
Announcer: Heard on great radio stations all across America, it's the National Defense with Randy Miller and Jerry Newberry.
Randy Miller: This is the National Defense, Randy Miller along with Jerry Newberry, Assistant Adjutant General of the VFW and Jerry, as always, our dedication.
Jerry Newberry: Hey, this show's for you the men and women serving on active duty or the millions of veterans out there and it's for all their families. We're here for you. We love you. God bless you.
Randy Miller: All right, we've got, these folks have been a part of the VFW convention. They're back again as a sponsor for the fifth year in a row. The Sokolove Law Group and they're all over the country. I mean they've been a proud supporter of a lot of veteran's initiatives we'll get into. It's been great to have them as a part the team.
Jerry Newberry: It is and I know there are people asking, because we get calls and emails wondering what the hell we're doing Randy. I'm sure...
Randy Miller: Exactly.
Jerry Newberry: ...some of those people are saying law firm? Why? Well we're going to explain that.
Randy Miller: Absolutely. Ricky LeBlanc is here with us. He's the managing attorney of Sokolove Law. Ricky how are you?
Ricky LeBlanc: I'm well thanks guys. Thanks for having me on.
Randy Miller: Ricky, maybe you can explain that the best. Tell me about Sokolove Law and why it should matter to veterans.
Jerry Newberry: And please explain that we're not having you on because I need a ticket fixed. Because that's what people are going to assume.
Randy Miller: That's right.
Ricky LeBlanc: Good, I'm glad to hear you don't need a ticket fixed, because I'm not sure I can actually help you with that. That's not what we do.
Sokolove has been involved with the veteran's groups for the last four or five years, five plus years actually. The reason why we got involved is as a national personal injury law firm you may think well what do they have to do with veterans? The reason we got involved is because we represent a great deal of veterans around the country, especially those who were exposed to asbestos during their military careers.
And we realized that there was a void out there. Those folks that were exposed to asbestos and now have contracted some kind of disease didn't understand that they had legal rights. That they had recourse outside of the VA to receive compensation for that. So we tried to foremost educate them about the potential they could develop a disease and try to hopefully prevent it by seeing their doctors or at least get an early diagnosis or detection for a better outcome.
But also, to let them know that if you do once we've educated that you should be looking out for this that if you do contract a disease that you have rights and you should contact an attorney.
Jerry Newberry: Now asbestos was used everywhere at one time.
Randy Miller: Right.
Jerry Newberry: And a lot of guys who served in the military might be thinking well, I never saw any asbestos, what's this about?
Ricky LeBlanc: Well it's funny you say that because people think of asbestos as being seen in one of those little snowglobes, shooken up and you look around and there's all this white dust all around you. And the truth of the matter is that asbestos fibers are so small you need an electron microscope to really see them. So you may have been exposed to asbestos without ever actually, have ever seen it or even know what it is.
We talk about people in the Navy or Coast Guard that are in ships, Marines that have to be transported on ships, etcetera. That they're in an enclosed environment that has a lot of asbestos that's being wrapped as insulation or used around wiring or gaskets, etcetera. If you're a machinist mate sure you know you were around asbestos because you were cutting the stuff all the time. But if you were an electronics mate you may not realize that the machinist that's what he's cutting next to you or that you're being exposed on a daily basis.
They may not realize they were exposed to asbestos but they were. If you were in the motor pool in one of the other branches and you're doing brake work or clutch work those oftentimes contained asbestos as well and if you're blowing the dust out to do a repair, etcetera you get yourself exposed.
The part that people kind of forget about or think about is that “asbestos is something from 20-30 years ago. Its peak was more than 40 years ago. Well I don't have to worry about that now”. The problem with that is, with that line of thinking, is that asbestos enters your body 20, 30, 40 years ago but doesn't actually cause any condition to your body until 30, 40, 50, 60 years later people start developing diseases like asbestos or lung cancer or the signature disease mesothelioma which it's only known cause is asbestos exposure.
Randy Miller: And I can speak to that personally, we're talking to Ricky LeBlanc. He's the managing attorney of Sokolove Law, and Ricky I can really attest to that.
A good friend of mine died of mesothelioma a year and a half ago. He had no indication all of his life that he had asbestos contamination until it showed up at the age of 42. I mean, it was the worst, fastest moving condition I've ever seen in anyone and it was just a sad situation. But you're right. He had no idea and his came from automotive. So exactly what you're talking about.
Ricky LeBlanc: Yeah, I mean that's why we try to provide veterans whether it be at the conventions or at various posts etcetera. We try to provide them with information about early warning signs, because although if you've got the asbestos exposure and you develop a cancer or asbestosis, mesothelioma, there's nothing we can do about stopping it from happening because the exposure was so long ago.
Randy Miller: Sure.
Ricky LeBlanc: But what we can do, is arm people with the knowledge of what to look for. That that low back pain may not be because you were cleaning the gutters on your home [00:06:00] or you were painting or doing work around the house. That lower back pain may be a symptom of something else. If you are coughing don't presume it's pneumonia and don't presume your doctor has any idea that you were exposed to asbestos.
Randy Miller: Right.
Ricky LeBlanc: We always tell people that when you go, when you're going to see your doctor, whether it be at the VA or in private practice and you start telling them you've got a cough or pneumonia or that's the diagnosis he gives you make sure you let him know that, “listen I might have been exposed to asbestos does that change anything in your opinion Doc”?
Because now they're going to start looking differently, and they may have overlooked something if they didn't know that there was asbestos exposure. Quite honestly not every doctor understands occupations and what people did in the service and may not understand that they may have been exposed to asbestos.
Jerry Newberry: This isn't limited to Navy personnel or Marines who were on board ships. It could be someone conceivably who spent time in one of those old barracks.
Ricky LeBlanc: Yeah. It's... when you're talking about barracks any barrack that was built, especially like most of them were, in the 1940s for World War II and they continued to use them all the way through Vietnam and then some.
When you're talking about barracks you've got pipe insulation in them. The actual asbestos siding outside, the shingles on the roof, the gypsum board that they used on the walls, the mud they used to cover it which we call mud, or whatever you want to call the spackling type product that goes over the top, the joint compound is technically what it is.
All those things have it. Now most of them are, if they're not disturbed they're not emitting a great deal of asbestos but when you're talking about something that been sitting there for sometimes 20, 30, 40 years it's disturbed. It's been moved around it's starting to disintegrate and the dust is in the air.
So it could be those people as well, but even outside of the housing, when you start talking about other branches of the military besides the Navy it doesn't mean that the Army doesn't have a boiler that needs to be fixed. It doesn't mean that the Air Force doesn't have brakes on aircraft.
It doesn't mean that whether you're in the Coast Guard, smaller ships but you'll still have the same exposure and whether or not you're in the Marine Corp and you're in the motor pool or you're a tech that's working on aircraft for the Marines, you've got various component parts that also contained asbestos for many years.
Randy Miller: There has been money that has been allocated and set aside. An estimated 30 Billion dollars in court ordered trusts set aside by many manufacturers for victims and their families already, right?
Ricky LeBlanc: Yeah that's true. I mean this is one of the things that I wanted to get into. But, before I get into that number, let me just talk about people in the service, and we talked about no matter what branch of the service is we all know, especially enlisted men go into the service they learn a trade. That trade they, long after they leave the military they're going to use in civilian life.
Randy Miller: Sure.
Ricky LeBlanc: If you were a machinist mate you may become a HVAC guy or plumber. If you were a boiler technician you're going to do that on both sides. If you were a mechanic in the motor pool you're also going to go off and probably be a mechanic later in life. So veteran's exposure may continue long after their service. But there's also... it's not limited to just the service. I just want to make sure people understand that we're not just looking at people who were exposed in the service, but they might have been continually exposed.
Now what you had mentioned I think is very important. The $30 Billion estimate you may hear in television commercials, you may have seen in magazines etcetera, is money that has been put into trust for asbestos victim. Now what that really means is companies try not to make the payment or say they can't afford to make the payments to all the victims that they may have caused.
Their answer is they go to the bankruptcy court, just like anybody else would that can't pay all their bills, they have to go to bankruptcy court and try to get protection.
They file for bankruptcy and the court said, well wait a minute. You have a lot of money you can't just walk away from all these people so we're going to order you to put some money aside in a trust for anybody in the future that has a claim. You have to pay everybody that you already know is sick but then anybody in the future you have to put money aside for.
Over the years starting with the Johns Manville Trust, money continues to be put into these various trusts. There's going to be a few more probably put online this year meaning more money is going to be put into it again this year. And that number over the years is accumulated to being well over $30 Billion by most estimates and is going to continue to grow as other companies decide to look for protection from the bankruptcy.
Victims of asbestos disease have a right to make claims against that money; it's been set aside for them. If you can establish that you have an asbestos-related disease and you were exposed to one of the products that have this trust then you're entitled to compensation.
Jerry Newberry: What that trust means, the fact that the courts set up these trusts is that they must have found that companies were liable or they had culpability in not only producing a product but distributing it and what else? I mean they in fact tried to hide this didn't they? Some of them?
Ricky LeBlanc: Yeah. It's very clear in the evidence that most, many companies knew that asbestos exposure was going to be deadly, and they knew it for years and they hid it from the United States government. They kept selling their products to the government to put into their ships and trucks, etcetera. They hid it from the average worker who was working around it.
As a result what these companies did when they set these trusts up is they go to the bankruptcy court and said, “boy I've done all of these things and these people are claiming I did it and if I'm found responsible for this stuff I'm going to go broke so I need you to protect me”.
Then what the court said is “well how much were you paying people before when you were settling cases?” So that's how they determine how much money should go into trust, it’s based on “how much did I pay people before that I guess I agreed I was responsible for the disease. I probably didn't agree to it but I still paid them”.
They say “well how much did you pay those people and then on average that's what you should be paying other people in the future, so you should put money aside to do that”. Not to get too technical but the business said well I can't afford to pay everybody the same thing I paid in the past that's why I'm broke. I can pay everybody a percentage, so that's what they put aside. Then the judge tries to figure out what their liability is going to be in the future for all the people who haven't gotten sick yet, and that's how much money they try to order them to put into a trust or as much of that money as they can.
Randy Miller: I think you said something else important Ricky about, they've got the money in trust. They still don't want you to get it. I mean you need somebody...
Jerry Newberry: Yeah it's not like they're just, yeah, yeah.
Randy Miller: You do it every day that's why Ricky and...
Jerry Newberry: You know and I'm willing to bet that these company executives that knew they were poisoning people and killing people...
Randy Miller: Yeah, devious.
Jerry Newberry: ... but none of them went to jail.
Randy Miller: Exactly.
Ricky LeBlanc: You know it's funny. If you look in the 1980s and you start looking when Mansville first was going bankrupt and you start looking at news articles back then and the letters to the editors and those things there were people that were defending a company like Johns Mansville who was the largest producer of asbestos containing products in the world. They were defending them saying, “geeze you're going to put these people out of business and that's going to lose thousands and thousands of jobs. These bad tort lawyers, they're taking them and putting them out of business and making all these people lose their jobs”.
I always found that humorous when I read it because if somebody was doing something in your neighborhood that was harming the people in your neighborhood and the police came and arrested them and stopped them from doing it, even if he employed 50 or 60 other people to help him harm the people in your neighborhood you wouldn't say the police didn't do the right thing. You would say they were doing the right ... you'd say of course they should arrest this guy.
I always liken it to drug dealers. If a drug dealer has a bunch of runners and now they're all out of business because the police took down the drug runners does somebody write a letter to the editor saying these guys don't have any jobs anymore. They used to run this guy’s drugs and you took them out of business.
You know it's like, somehow we get looked at, tort lawyers, plaintiffs' lawyers get looked at like we're doing something wrong when...
Randy Miller: Not on this program!
Ricky LeBlanc: ... all we're trying to do is protect the citizenry.
Randy Miller: Not on this program Ricky!
Ricky LeBlanc: I appreciate it.
Randy Miller: Hey we're gonna take a quick break. When we come back I want to talk to Ricky about some of the veterans outreach programs that you have at the Sokolove Law. We'll be right back here on the National Defense.