New York – On a conference call with reporters, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today launched his push to block legislation that would further victimize veterans and others who are suffering from asbestos poisoning.
According to The Mesothelioma Center, veterans are at a higher risk of developing asbestos-related illnesses, like mesothelioma cancer, as a result of the military’s past reliance on asbestos. This material was previously used when building ships, tanks, automobiles and other aircraft due to its heat resistance and fire-proofing capabilities.
Schumer explained that recent legislation – the House-passed Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency (FACT) Act – passed by the House of Representatives would require those veterans who are sick and possibly dying from asbestos poisoning to disclose their personal information online, including their work histories, health records and parts of their Social Security Numbers, in order to receive financial compensation from companies that knowingly used this dangerous material.
Schumer said this could not only deter veterans from filing for the money they are owed but would also result in an egregious violation of their privacy and expose them to identity theft. Schumer therefore said he intends to fight against this legislation tooth and nail, calling it an “offensive invasion of the privacy of those who defended this country.”
“The most shocking part about this House bill is that it leaves defenseless those who defended us by serving our country. This legislation would not only delay the compensation process, it would intimidate those suffering from asbestos-related diseases, like mesothelioma, by requiring the publication of their personal, sensitive information on the internet,” said Schumer. “The whole purpose of our legal system is to level the playing field of justice, but this bill would put a thumb on the scale for the companies who may have knowingly exposed our veterans to asbestos. That is just plain wrong, and I plan to go to the mat for those who served our country to make sure this doesn’t pass the Senate.”
According to The Mesothelioma Center, veterans of the U.S. military account for nearly one-third of all mesothelioma legal cases. Mesothelioma – a serious type of cancer, usually affecting the lungs – is known to be caused by exposure to asbestos. In fact, according to the Military Order of the Purple Heart, veterans represent only 8 percent of the population, but constitute 30 percent of the known deaths from mesothelioma. Schumer explained that this exposure is a result of the military previously relying heavily upon the substance for construction projects; it was used in everything from electric wiring installation to the building of tanks and other aircraft. In addition, military housing and buildings found on U.S. bases were often fitted with materials containing asbestos, further increasing the harmful substance’s ability to negatively impact the health of military service members over time. And, veterans that served overseas may have been exposed to asbestos in demolished buildings there.
According to The Mesothelioma Center, there are an estimated 22 million veterans nationwide today, and a majority of them were exposed to asbestos at some point during their career of military service. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), veterans may have been exposed to asbestos during their time as service members if they worked in mining, milling, shipyard work, insulation work, the demolition of old buildings, carpentry and construction, as well as the manufacturing and installation of products such as flooring, roofing, cement sheet, pipe products, or the servicing of friction products such as clutch facings and brake linings. In addition, the VA states that if a veteran served in Iraq or surrounding countries in the Middle East Region, service members could have been exposed to asbestos when older buildings were damaged and the contaminant then released into the air.
Schumer explained that veterans suffering from mesothelioma can access compensation by filing for financial recompense through asbestos trusts, as well as obtaining favorable legal settlements and trial verdicts. Asbestos trusts in particular are often seen as favorable options to asbestos-related diseases sufferers because they do not require a lawsuit and were specifically designed to pay victims of asbestos-related diseases. The money comes from the corporations that were required to contribute to these funds after knowingly exposing veterans and others to asbestos while they were in uniform and in their workplace during their civilian lives. However, Schumer said this system is currently threatened by a bill recently passed by the House of Representatives.
Specifically, the FACT Act would require two things that could not only deter veterans from applying for this compensation, but also make them susceptible to identity theft. First, the legislation would require veterans and those who are sick and possibly dying from asbestos-triggered diseases, like mesothelioma, to publicly disclose personal, highly-sensitive information in order to receive this compensation. In fact, veterans would be required to disclose their names, work histories, health records and part of their Social Security Numbers. Second, this legislation also requires these asbestos trusts, set up to compensate victims, to publish this sensitive information on the Internet on a publicly-accessible database. Schumer called this an unprecedented invasion of privacy and a deterrent to those who might be looking to receive this compensation. Schumer said this could not only lead to veterans deciding to forego filing with an asbestos trust out of fear that their information would be made available to anyone with access to the Internet, but also expose them to an increased chance of identity theft.
As a result, Schumer has vowed to oppose this bill and fight its passage in the Senate at all costs. Schumer noted that legal, labor, occupational health and safety, environmental, first responder government accountability and veteran groups alike have all opposed this bill. Schumer said that while proponents of the legislation claim it is targeted at weeding out those looking to commit fraud within the system there is little evidence that asbestos victims and veterans have tried to double-dip on compensation funds. Schumer added that, if there was evidence of fraud or abuse in the claims system, there are more targeted ways to address this concerns, such as audits, rather than re-victimizing those who have already suffered as a result of their exposure to asbestos. Schumer said such a bill would give companies an unfair advantage over asbestos victims seeking justice as well as potentially open them up to identity theft. Schumer said that or country’s veterans who are currently sick and possibly dying as a result of asbestos-related diseases like mesothelioma, and their families, deserve more respect and better treatment from Congress.
“I am all for rooting out fraud,” said Schumer, “But we should do it with a scalpel, not a sledgehammer – especially when we are talking about our veterans.”
According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2010-2014 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimate, there were 541,295 veterans in Upstate New York between 2010 and 2014. According to Asbestos Nation, a campaign aimed at educating and mobilizing Americans around the ongoing dangers of asbestos, the total estimated number of asbestos-related deaths in Upstate New York (between 1999 and 2013) is approximately 7,501. Schumer said this means many veterans across Upstate New York are likely to be included in the asbestos-related death total, as a result of the high percentage of veterans exposed to the harmful substance. During the call, Schumer highlighted the number of asbestos-related deaths by region:
- In the Capital Region, there were approximately 1,167 deaths from asbestos-related diseases between 1999 and 2013, and an average of 74 deaths every year.
- In Central New York, there were approximately 862 deaths from asbestos-related diseases between 1999 and 2013, and an average of 55 deaths every year.
- In Western New York, there were approximately 1,850 deaths from asbestos-related diseases between 1999 and 2013, and an average of 121 deaths every year.
- In the Rochester-Finger Lakes, there were approximately 1,119 deaths from asbestos-related diseases between 1999 and 2013, and an average of 67 deaths every year.
- In the Southern Tier, there were approximately 688 deaths from asbestos-related diseases between 1999 and 2013, meaning an average of 42 deaths every year.
- In the Hudson Valley, there were approximately 1,333 deaths from asbestos-related diseases between 1999 and 2013, meaning an average of 85 deaths every year.
- In the North Country, there were approximately 482 deaths from asbestos-related diseases between 1999 and 2013, meaning an average of 28 deaths every year.