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Letters to the Editor 10-01-2003

Alabama veterans want asbestos reform now

Dear Editor:

Finally, some folks in our nation's capital have gotten serious about helping veterans and workers in Alabama and across America who suffer from asbestos-related illnesses get the compensation they deserve.

For decades workers got sick and died from asbestos exposure before the risks of this deadly material were understood.

Veterans paid a particularly heavy price, because the Navy once used asbestos on most of its ships, and other branches of the armed services used it in barracks and boiler rooms.

What's almost worse is that the current system for compensating asbestos victims just adds cruel insult to their injuries.

The courts are overwhelmed with asbestos cases filed on behalf of people who aren't even sick, while victims who are seriously ill must wait years for court dates.

Even those sick victims who finally do see an award settlement end up having to pay most of it to lawyers and the courts, to cover fees.

And sometimes when compensation does come, it comes too late.

In July, though, Senators from both political parties joined to support legislation that will create a national trust fund to provide quick, efficient and reliable compensation for asbestos victims. The Fairness in Asbestos Injury Resolution Act, or the FAIR Act, will set up a trust fund worth more than $100 billion that will be financed by companies and their insurers.

Under the FAIR Act victims will no longer have to suffer the endless wait for their case to be heard, or share their settlements with high-priced lawyers. Victims with very serious illnesses like mesothelioma, and others who've suffered extreme hardship, will receive priority. And, unlike under the current system,the FAIR Act will allow victims who get sicker to seek additional compensation.

The bill also has a backup funding mechanism, which will kick in if more money is needed to cover all victims' cases.

Finally,what a lot of folks don't know is that in spite of the known risks of asbestos,it is still used in a lot of products today. The FAIR Act would close that loophole once and for all by banning the manufacture of virtually all these products, with only a handful of exceptions.

The bottom line is that the FAIR Act, which has support from both parties, looks like the best chance we've got to resolve the asbestos tragedy once and for all time.

Sick veterans and workers will only suffer more if this bill is not approved.

I hope Senators Shelby and Sessions will remember Alabama's veterans and workers,and vote for the FAIR Act.

James L. Manley

Past State Commander, Alabama VFW