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Bill would compensate anthrax victims, survivors

From Kevin Bohn

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Two senators proposed a bill Thursday to allow surviving victims and families of victims who died in the anthrax attacks two years ago to apply for federal compensation.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, and Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, want the families of the five people who died and the 13 others who contracted anthrax to be allowed to apply under the September 11 Victim Compensation Fund.

The fund enables the survivors and families of victims of the September 11 hijackings to apply for government money in exchange for pledging not to file a lawsuit asking for damages.

"They are the victims of terrorists just as those who died on September 11," Daschle said Thursday on the Senate floor.

Two of four anthrax-laced letters that were recovered were sent to Daschle and Leahy. But since the lawmakers were not infected, they would not be eligible for any compensation.

The five people who died contracted anthrax through inhalation, the most dangerous type of exposure. Six other people were stricken with inhalation anthrax, while seven people contracted anthrax through skin contact.

Several of the victims have complained about being forgotten, and those who had inhalation anthrax said they still suffer from ailments, including heart and liver trouble, fatigue and other organ damage. Some also have said they are facing severe financial strains since they cannot go back to work.

In introducing the bill, Leahy said that he and Daschle did not know why they were targeted.

Several of the victims and survivors have filed lawsuits. The widow of American Media Inc. photo editor Robert Stevens, the first to die in the attacks, sued the government last month. David Hose, who ran a State Department mail annex, has filed a claim against the State and Defense departments.

Both allege the attacks were partly caused by lax security at the Army bioweapons lab at Fort Detrick, Maryland, which they contend did not keep close track of its anthrax samples.

The anthrax found in the attacks was the Ames strain, which is the same produced by the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick.

Investigators are trying to determine what lab may have produced the anthrax used in the attacks.

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