Last autumn, The Independent highlighted a loophole which left armed forces veterans who had developed cancer as a result of exposure to asbestos unable to obtain proper compensation.
The Mesothelioma Act 2014, which provides for lump-sum payments to civilians who contract the disease, was not applicable to veterans. Because the time between diagnosis and death is usually no more than a year or two, this meant that affected ex-servicemen and women – who could apply only for war pension relief – were likely to receive about £150,000 less than civilian victims.
Shortly before Christmas, the Government bowed to pressure and confirmed that former forces personnel would be eligible for full compensation as a lump sum; but the policy would apply only to those diagnosed after 16 December.
In time, there may be at least 2,500 applicable cases, but the decision left in limbo about 60 veterans already living with mesothelioma. This loophole has also, thankfully, now been closed. It is a reminder of the vital role that the media, alongside campaign groups such as the Royal British Legion, can play in raising the profile of social injustice.
Most crucially, the Government’s decision will offer a degree of relief to those who have already fallen victim to this particularly aggressive cancer. Receiving proper compensation will enable them to live the remainder of their lives in greater comfort and help their families to plan for the future.
The Armed Forces Covenant recognises that the nation has a moral obligation to service personnel and their families. Acknowledgement that this imperative should also drive government policy towards those who were placed in the way of deadly asbestos is welcome. But what a tragedy that it will come too late for some.
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