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					The River Journal: Veterans' News

Veterans' News
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Gil Beyer on 06/17/2010 05:24:00

A half-million vets potentially exposed

Last month’s article was more personal than previous submissions and it
appears that I have found a subject that resonates with more than just
me. For
those of you who may have missed last month’s piece it dealt with
asbestos
exposure and the potential long term effects of that exposure. Comments
have
been posted on the RJ website and I received a personal email from
another
reader. Thanks to all for your words.
It seems that many—if not all—navy veterans, shipyard workers, miners,
factory employees and their families that were even close to asbestos
products
between the 1930s and the mid-1970s have a high likelihood of coming down
with
either mesothelioma or asbestosis. That must mean that there are tens of
thousands—maybe hundreds of thousands—of possible victims of this widely
used material. Industry’s and government’s response over the past four
decades to this health risk has been marginal at best. As a prime example
of
what I mean by a marginal response is the following. In 1989 the EPA
instituted
a ban on all new products containing asbestos. They proposed no such ban
on
existing uses. The industry took the EPA to court and in 1991 a Federal
District
Court overturned that ruling. The rationale behind that decision are
technical
and not directly related to the potential health hazard resulting from
exposure
to asbestos.
Another facet on this subject comes from Congress. Since 1977 various
bills have
been introduced to establish a national trust fund to cover all who are
afflicted individuals. This was done as an attempt to make right what
some have
called “the worst industrial accident in U. S. history.” This national
trust
fund would have negated the need for individual and class action law
suits
against the manufacturers and mining companies but guess what? Not any of
the
many proposed bills were ever passed in either house. One can only wonder
at
what possible influence the legal profession had in this lack of
legislative
action. As I wrote in the previous article it was a phone call from an
attorney
in Illinois that led to that piece. I suspect that there may be a class
action
suit in the making here with hundreds of billable hours involved. But
then again
I’m somewhat jaded and cynical when it comes to the majority of lawyers.
There is another facet to the proposed national trust solution to this
problem
and that is simply, time. Assuming that Congress passes something like
the
“FAIR” (Fairness in Asbestos Injury Resolution) proposed by Senator Hatch
a
couple of years ago we would be faced with a HUGE backlog of claims.
Current
estimates put the number of potentially exposed individuals at 500,000.
This
would mean months of delays while the claims were being processed. And,
for
those afflicted with either mesothelioma or asbestosis, time is something
that
is in very short supply. As I wrote previously mesothelioma is sneaky and
seldom
presents itself until it is well advanced. By the time it is identified
the
range of options for treatment are very limited and most of those options
are
purely palliative.
As a result of this industry and governmental inaction we have at this
moment no
national trust fund and no ban on products containing asbestos. Now don’t
get
me wrong. There are numerous regulations and procedures at the federal
and state
level on the use, removal and processing of asbestos. There is, however,
no
outright ban of its use at this time at any level. As of January 2005 the
European Union has banned all use of asbestos. I would humbly suggest
that a
similar ban be implemented in the USA quickly. It would seem that our
government
has dawdled sufficiently. After all, asbestos has been a known carcinogen
for
over 35 years.
Asbestosis and mesothelioma are equal opportunity health hazards. They
can be
contracted simply by living with someone who has been exposed to asbestos
at
work or by living ‘downwind’ of a plant manufacturing products that
utilize
asbestos. The email I received stated that the sender’s mother had died
of
mesothelioma after working in a manufacturing plant during WWII.
Anecdotal
evidence suggests that people simply living in the vicinity of asbestos
mining
operations can and have gotten sick.
Which brings me to something that is more in keeping with veterans'
interests.
As of this writing the VA has yet to recognize that mesothelioma is a
‘service-related’ disorder. I find this strange simply because it has
been
known for well over thirty years that asbestos was a bad thing to inhale.
Exposure to ‘Agent Orange’ while serving in Viet Nam and exposure to some
specific chemical agents during the first Gulf War have already qualified
as
‘service-related’ illnesses or diseases in a much shorter time span.
Why, one could ask, has asbestos exposure been neglected? Who knows?
Maybe the
numbers involved are just too big. Maybe, after being short-charged
budget-wise
for so many years under previous administrations, the VA is still trying
to get
its head above water with the stuff that they have to deal with from more
recent
conflicts. I do believe that a lot of the problems facing both the VA and
our
veterans’ communities have been exacerbated by short-sighted fiscal and
budgetary policies over much of the previous three decades. A wise man
once
said, ‘There’s no such thing as a free lunch.’ No individual or
governmental entity—at any level—can spend like the proverbial ‘drunken
sailor’ and reduce income at the same time. For that is the path to
insurmountable debt and financial ruination.
Until next month—when I hope to have more information on topics related
to
mesothelioma and some ways to apply for available compensation—I’ll close
this up. Our local Bonner County Veterans Assistance Officer, Don Carr
(208-255-5291) probably knows more about this than I do. I readily admit
that I
am somewhat disappointed with the status of both regulation and
legislation on
this subject but as Chief Dan George once said, “We shall endeavor to
persevere.”

				
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