The House of Representatives passed the Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency (FACT) Act (H.R 526) alongside The Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act (H.R. 1927) in a 211-188 vote on Friday, January 8. The bill must next pass through the Senate before being either signed or vetoed by the President. The Executive Office of Management and Budget has stated that the President’s senior advisors will all recommend that he veto the bill.
If, however, President Obama does not veto the bill and the FACT Act becomes law, mesothelioma victims (and victims of other asbestos-triggered diseases) will have to wait longer and struggle through more red tape to receive compensation from the asbestos corporations that made them sick in the first place.
Specifically, the bill will require bankruptcy trusts to file quarterly reports about claimants –reports that will be publicly accessible online and will contain work and health histories as well as the last 4 digits of claimants' social security numbers. Not only does this make cancer and asbestos-disease victims vulnerable to cybercrimes and identity theft, but it also forces sick and dying individuals to waste more of their already limited time waiting for justice and compensation.
Congress Turns Its Back on Nation’s Heroes
Among the more than 11,000 Americans who die of asbestos-caused diseases every single year, 30% are U.S. veterans. Many of the afflicted are Navy shipbuilders who were exposed to great quantities of asbestos up until the 1980s. For decades, civilian workers and veterans alike labored without knowing if they were being exposed to asbestos and without understanding the true danger of the mineral. That is not by accident – companies that manufacture asbestos-containing products have engaged in large-scale corporate cover-ups and spent millions of dollars procuring falsified scientific studies in an effort to bury the life-threatening effects of asbestos.
The men and women who sacrificed their health for the country need timely compensation from asbestos trusts – not just for medical treatment, but to support their families when they become too sick to work.
After the vote, The Veteran's Service Organization (VSO) issued a statement to Congress, opposing the FACT Act. The VSO pointed out that the bill is harmful to veterans and all victims, and is only of benefit to billion-dollar chemical corporations:
"H.R. 1927 is a bill that its supporters claim will help asbestos victims, but the reality is that this bill only helps companies and manufacturers who knowingly poisoned our honorable men and women who have made sacrifices for our country."
The Veterans Service Organization, along with many other advocacy groups have pointed out that the FACT Act will delay compensation to asbestos victims in the hope that they die before they can collect.
What Will Happen and What Can We Do?
The Office of Management and Budget, on behalf of the Obama Administration said that it strongly opposes H.R. 1927 because "it would impair the enforcement of important Federal laws, constrain access to the courts, and needlessly threaten the privacy of asbestos victims."
It is a small but important consolation that the President’s advisors are aware of the dangers of asbestos and in favor of supporting victims. Still, this isn't a time for inaction as the FACT Act has passed through the House and is progressing through the legislative process.
If you or someone close to you has suffered because of asbestos, then you know what damage it brings upon families and communities. Use social media to reach out to friends and loved ones and educate them on the FACT Act. Let them know that certain Republican legislators like Blake Farenthold (R-TX) would rather win favor with chemical corporations than help our nation’s veterans, firefighters, and construction workers.
Now is the time to show America’s greatest heroes that their work, their sacrifices, and their very lives are appreciated.