The Wisconsin Asbestos Victims Network is disappointed and troubled with the vote the Wisconsin Senate Committee on Judiciary and Labor took Oct. 9 to advance Senate Bill 13 out of committee. SB 13 would delay and deny justice for Wisconsin's asbestos victims.
The Wisconsin Asbestos Victims Network was formed to stand up for veterans and other asbestos victims to fight Senate Bill 13. Our coalition consists of a diverse group of organizations that represent veterans, laborers, seniors, people of faith and advocates. On behalf of these groups, we urge the Wisconsin Senate to oppose this bill. SB Bill 13 puts in place unnecessary delays, forces disclosure of filings with federal personal-injury trusts and takes choice away from veterans and other asbestos victims.
Asbestos is deadly. Exposure causes many devastating diseases, such as mesothelioma. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Wisconsin ranks 14th in mesothelioma deaths. When asbestos was first introduced and used, the public had no idea the deadly effects it could have on health, but the asbestos corporations did. Veterans were unknowingly exposed to this product while serving their country. Naval vessels and military barracks were often lined with the product. Factory, foundry, mill, nursing home and construction workers were often exposed to asbestos while on the job, but they had no idea the harm that was being done to them.
Much of our work has been with veterans’ organizations, like the Wisconsin VFW and Military Order of the Purple Heart, because asbestos affects veterans at an alarming rate. Veterans make up 8 percent of the population but account for 30 percent of all mesothelioma deaths. Moreover, the Military Order of the Purple Heart stated that it has not been past practice for them to get involved in legislation that changes the Wisconsin judicial system; however, in this case they felt they had to take a stand to protect their members’ rights. They noted, “Sometimes we simply need to take a stand on behalf of our members when a proposed law would detrimentally affect their constitutional right to a day in court.”
The Wisconsin VFW has officially opposed this legislation because it “creates additional hurdles for veterans and their families. Senate Bill 13 would only serve to prolong an excruciating and time-intensive process. Delay for even one veteran suffering from the fatal effects of mesothelioma is unacceptable — justice delayed is justice denied.”
We have also spent much of our time listening to asbestos victims and their families tell their heartbreaking stories. A military veteran from Green Bay told us that the air was so thick with asbestos dust he could not see the exit to his work area while aboard the USS Benjamin Stoddert. A widow of an asbestos victim from Racine, who was a veteran and factory worker, said that it was unbearable to watch her husband of nearly 50 years suffer. The daughter-in-law of a mesothelioma victim from Oconomowoc told us her mother-in-law “did everything right in life.” She worked at a nursing home taking care of sick people, invited nearby college students over for meals to discuss their faith and was named person of the year along with her husband in her local community. She was exposed to asbestos at the nursing home where she worked most of her life.
It is wrong to impede on the rights of veterans and other asbestos victims to access justice. We should not protect the asbestos corporations that knew long ago the deadly effects their product could have on Americans.
Senate Bill 13 should not be scheduled for a vote. We urge all the Wisconsin senators to stand with veterans and other asbestos victims and oppose Senate Bill 13.
Jason Johns is executive director of the Wisconsin Asbestos Victims Network.