Your recent article “You Bet Your Life” by Paul Belden (10/18), dealing with viatical settlements for people with AIDS (PWA), was typical of ambush journalism: long on bravado, short on fact, and with an ever-fashionable dash of self-righteous indignation. Shame on you!

The option of selling one’s life insurance developed in response to the needs of terminally ill PWAs who faced destitution, hunger, and homelessness. While you benignly state that one PWA had to “wait five months” before he could start receiving disability benefits—guess the government is one of your heroes—viatical settlements allow those lucky enough to have life insurance access to funds when they are most needed.

What your readers need to know is that 70 percent of the insurance policies of all terminally ill lapse for nonpayment because these people can no longer afford the monthly premiums. The only winner here is the insurance company. This mammoth industry gets to keep a lifetime of paid premiums and never has to pay a beneficiary—where is your indignation here?

Your passing comments that somehow terminally ill PWAs are out to shaft the IRS are truly offensive. Viatical payments are a great option for those PWAs, albeit too few, who have life insurance. In recognition of the benefit they provide, Congress has passed legislation that will make a viatical-settlement payout tax-free as of Jan. 1, 1997! If you believe that the government would give up taxes for a transaction that is “vampirism” and perpetrated by “peddlers of death,” then I have some great real estate for you in Florida.

Arlington, Va.