Wisconsin Veterans Step Down Opposition to Asbestos Bill

military-healthVeterans are stepping down in their efforts to stop an asbestos-related bill from being signed into law in Wisconsin. The group decided to end their opposition after an aide to Gov. Scott Walker told one of the veteran group’s leaders that there was no way to stop the bill from going through.

The business-backed measure was strongly opposed by veteran groups after they found that the majority of plaintiffs in these asbestos lawsuits were individuals who had served in the military. About 30% of Americans with asbestos-caused Mesothelioma are veterans.

“We’re extremely disappointed… we’re not necessarily going to forget about it,” says Jason Johns, Wisconsin’s legislative officer for the Military Order of the Purple Heart.

Johns decided to recommend that the group “stand down” on the bill after hearing about Walker’s comment that the bill would definitely be signed, citing that he did not want to risk affecting future fights the Military Order might have to play a role in.

Wisconsin currently has the 14th highest death rate in the nation for malignant Mesothelioma, which is a cancer caused by exposure to asbestos. Johns claims that, though lawmakers overall have been good to veterans, in this decision — which has life or death consequences considering the often deadly side of asbestos exposure — Republicans in legislature decided to overlook veterans in favor of businesses.

Democrats were opposed to the bill — Senate Democratic leader Chris Larson was quoted as saying, “Wisconsin has veterans currently dying from cancer caused by materials they handled while serving. The last thing politicians should be doing is limiting our veterans’ access to their equal share of financial relief.”

The bill was intended to lend support to businesses and protect them against people trying to double-dip on compensation. Victims of asbestos exposure can sue companies that are in business, as well as file claims with trust funds intended to pay out to asbestos victims. The new bill requires plaintiffs to disclose actions against trusts so that they cannot “hide multiple claims.” Many of the military groups opposing the claim point out that the bill could lead to trials delayed by six months or more — and Mesothelioma victims usually die within a year of being diagnosed. Additionally, many trusts have already been depleted — if the jury finds a trust responsible, the victim might not receive compensation.