July 12, 2006 12:00
Earlier this year, the Louisiana Legislature considered legislation aimed at cleaning up the asbestos legal mess in our state. I applaud any attempt to solve the problem of runaway asbestos lawsuits, but it must be said that the bill, SB 398, would have done little to help those Louisiana veterans who are sick from asbestos exposure that occurred during service to their country.

Ultimately, the Legislature did not act on SB 398 in the most recent session, and I thank our state lawmakers for not leaving Louisiana's veterans out in the cold.

Many thousands of veterans who served from World War II on through the Vietnam era were exposed to this dangerous material when they were in the armed forces, defending our country. But because the federal government has asserted sovereign immunity, these veterans are barred from holding the federal government (their employer during their time in the military) liable for their exposure. So veterans must try to find and sue the companies that once supplied the government with asbestos ' most of which have gone belly up.

A medical criteria bill like SB 398 would weed out the cases of those claimants who have filed asbestos claims even though they aren't sick, and greedy trial lawyers have clogged up our court system by filing case after case on behalf of people who aren't even sick. But a medical criteria bill would do almost nothing to resolve the unique challenges faced by sick veterans.

What's needed is a national victims' trust fund bill like the FAIR Act, which is being considered by the U.S. Senate. This approach would take asbestos claims out of the overburdened court system, and it would provide fair and prompt compensation to all sick asbestos victims, veterans included. The national trust fund would compensate only those victims who meet established medical criteria, to ensure that the sickest get compensated first.

It is clear to me that a national trust fund solution is the answer to the asbestos litigation problem. Our nation's veterans deserve to be treated with fairness. Sens. Mary Landrieu and David Vitter supported an earlier version of the trust fund bill. I thank them for their support and call on both of them to push for passage of this critical legislation this year.