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Law Alumni Newsmakers: John Lasco [GW Magazine]

by Hope Katz Gibbs
GW Magazine
Law Alumni Newsmakers
June 1998

IMAGINE THIS SCENARIO: A SOLDIER is riding in a bus operated by a private company. The driver runs a red light, slams into a telephone pole, and the soldier is badly injured. Who pays his medical bills?

For years, the answer would’ve been: the federal government—not the bus company. John Lasco (JD ’49) changed all that.

In 1952 Navy Lt. Lasco was the legal adviser at the U.S. Naval Hospital in Philadelphia. After a few months on the job, he began tracking the amount of money paid by the government for treating servicemen injured by third parties. He found that Congress budgeted millions of dollars annually to cover such injuries because of a 1947 U.S. Supreme Court decision. The court had ruled that the government had no right of action to recoup serviceman-injury losses from third party wrongdoers without remedial legislation.

So for three years Lasco reviewed hundreds of case studies, countless amounts of data and legions of legal rationales. In 1955 he submitted to the Secretary of Defense a report that suggested what such legislation should contain and documented the large sums it would allow the government to recover.

The secretary rejected the report, but Lasco didn’t give up. Later that year, he entered his proposal in the U.S. Naval Institute’s annual essay contest. He didn’t win, but the Naval Academy commandant, one of the contest’s judges, was impressed. Unbeknownst to Lasco, he sent the paper to then Rep. Thomas B. Curtis (R-Mo.) of the House Ways and Means Committee. Curtis saw merit in the proposal, as did members of the House Judiciary Committee. On their request, Lasco did additional research and his ideas were incorporated into House and Senate Bill HR 298.

John F. Kennedy signed the bill into law as PL 87-693 on Sept. 25, 1962. From that day on, the government has had the authority to recover medical expenses when federal employees are treated at a government facility for problems caused by a third party.

Since then, the law has saved the government more than $706 million. Lasco, a father of six, says he’s proud to have been part of such a cost-saving measure. Of course, a public pat on the back wouldn’t hurt.

Honors, though, have eluded the 81-year-old retired attorney. He has been considered his impressive array of 199 for several, including a Legion of Merit medal, but Lasco received none. He says awards and accolades don’t really matter. What’s important is knowing that he has done something of permanent significance for his country.

“I spent several years voluntarily researching this in my off-duty time,” he says. “Nobody asked me to do it. I just recognized the need and I did it.”

He gives GW considerable credit. “Without law school classes in case study analysis, training in legal writing, and the guidance of faculty members, my achievement would not have been possible,” says Lasco, who took classes at GW Law from 1944 until 1949 while assigned to the Navy’s Washington, D.C.-based Bureau of Medicine and Surgery.

In 1964, Lasco retired as a commander in the Navy to become the CEO of St. Louis City Hospital. Later he worked as a legal expert in the field of health care. From 1983 to 1985, he lived in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and helped develop a health care system at the King Fahad Hospital.

These days, Lasco lives in Quincy, Ill., and keeps himself busy and fit by competing in track and field events. In 1995 he set his sights on running in the Great River Golden Games in Quincy. Of course, he couldn’t shake the habits of thorough preparation and began taking daily runs, swimming at the local YMCA and doing yoga. As in the days when he worked on his legislative proposal, he frequented the local library—this time to hunker down with track and field instruction books.

His efforts paid off. He won one gold medal in 1996 at the Great River games, and 11 gold and two silver medals in 1997. This year, at the Western Illinois Senior Games in Macomb, he took home 11 first-place ribbons. Since he no longer holds out much hope of gaining recognition for PL 87-693, he says the acclaim for his athletic achievements is especially gratifying.

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Contact HOPE KATZ GIBBS by phone [703-346-6975] or email.

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