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Mesothelioma and Veterans - VA Claims, Types of Benefits, Eligibility and Application Process

By Michael Bartlett

Posted on January 06th, 2017

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) provides a series of financial benefits for veterans who developed mesothelioma, including disability compensation and health care, as well as dependency and indemnity compensation. Learn about financial help, available benefits, eligibility and how to file a claim.

Veterans represent the largest group of people who suffer from mesothelioma, accounting for 30% of all diagnosed cases. Due to the prevalent use of asbestos in the military, particularly in the U.S. Navy, vets who served between 1930 and 1975 are at a high risk of developing this form of cancer. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) provides a series of financial benefits for veterans who developed mesothelioma, including disability compensation and health care, as well as dependency and indemnity compensation.

Veterans with Mesothelioma

Exposure to asbestos is currently the only known cause of pleural mesothelioma, a very rare and aggressive form of cancer occurring on the outer lining of the lungs, heart, abdomen or testicles. The main risk factors for developing mesothelioma include working in a high-risk occupation or serving on military ships or in facilities built with products containing asbestos.

Many of the symptoms of mesothelioma are the same as those likely to be caused by other conditions, so they can be easily mistaken for the signs of non-malignant respiratory conditions such as pulmonary fibrosis, diffuse pleural thickening, emphysema, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, bronchitis or other bronchial infections. It would not be unusual for mesothelioma to be misdiagnosed as lung cancer either, because both resemble each other in terms of symptoms.

In consequence, if you have a history of asbestos exposure, it is important to find a specialist who can diagnose or confirm your condition quickly to get an accurate mesothelioma diagnosis and the right treatment plan. Seeking a second opinion from a mesothelioma specialist is crucial if you have a history of asbestos exposure. Additionally, an incorrect diagnosis will also prevent veterans from claiming the amount of financial compensation they are eligible for.

Can Veterans Claim With the VA for Mesothelioma?

Veterans who served in the U.S. Military between the 1930s and mid-1970s and got sick with mesothelioma or another type of asbestos-related disease can get an asbestos claim approved with the VA.

In your asbestos claim, you must make the case that active-duty exposure caused the asbestos disease. The VA will examine the asbestos exposure that occurred both pre- and post-service. VA automatically accepts asbestos exposure as the only cause of mesothelioma. But in general, VA will also look at your medical records.

Will a claim with a bankruptcy trust affect your VA disability benefits? No. The VA is not concerned with payouts you get from a bankruptcy trust fund.

The VA does consider other money you receive from the government, as their interest is to prevent anyone from being compensated twice by the government for the same illness. Money received through the legal system does not affect your VA benefits.

Also known as mesothelioma compensation funds, asbestos trust funds were created by bankruptcy courts as a way for injured claimants or their family members to seek compensation for personal injury or wrongful death. Asbestos funds are managed by boards of trustees who are required to ensure the funds make appropriate payments to all qualified victims of asbestos-related injuries without the hassle of going to trial.

What VA Benefits Can Veterans and Family Members Get?

Veterans diagnosed with mesothelioma can seek a variety of benefits including:

  • VA Disability Compensation - In order to receive disability compensation, a veteran's level of disability will be assessed and subsequently rated from 0 to 100 percent. The compensation sum depends on the severity of the disability. A veteran suffering from mesothelioma will be assigned the maximum disability level due to the aggressive nature of the lung disease and will be offered a monthly sum of approximately $2,800 if they are single or $3,000 if married. Additionally, the veteran's benefits may increase if there are one or multiple persons, such as children, who are dependent on the veteran's income.
  • Health Care Benefits - Offered exclusively to veterans who are enrolled in the VA's health system. Thus, they are eligible for receiving treatment at any VA hospital, regardless of their residence or whether they are already undergoing a form of treatment for mesothelioma.
  • Aid & Attendance - Veterans who are severely disabled, bedridden or housebound in any other way and require the aid and attendance of another person can benefit from a special monthly compensation as well. The sum they receive depends on the degree of their disability, generally ranging from $250 to $650. Moreover, the special monthly compensation may also be awarded to the veteran's family, and if their spouse needs permanent aid and attendance as well, the financial benefits will increase with approximately $140 per month.
  • VA Pensions - Offered to disabled veterans with low incomes. However, in order to be eligible for this benefit, a veteran must have been severely injured while serving and must have had at least 90 days of active duty, of which at least one must have overlapped wartime. It is also important to mention that veterans who served on September 7th, 1980 must have 24 months of active duty, with at least one day falling during wartime and the income of their family must also be below the limits established by the U.S. Congress.
  • Military Funeral Honors - provided by The Department of Defense both to veterans who served during wartime and to those who were on duty during peacetime. Even though funeral honor requests are directly managed by The Department of Veterans Affairs National Cemetery Administration, the family of a deceased veteran can also be assisted by funeral directors in numerous cases.
  • Dependency and Indemnity Compensation - Another type of tax-free benefit which the family of a deceased veteran may be eligible for. In order to qualify for this benefit, the veteran must have passed away either while on duty in the military or following a disease caused by asbestos exposure such as mesothelioma. It involves receiving a monthly sum of approximately $1,200 in the case of a surviving spouse, while the financial compensation increases for spouses with dependent children.

Eligibility For Mesothelioma VA Disability Benefits

In order to receive financial compensation, veterans and their families must meet a series of eligibility requirements.

Eligibility Requirements for Veterans

  • Proof of disease. For a valid mesothelioma claim, medical documentation of diagnosis from the treating hospital or physician, including X-Rays, MRIs, CAT scan and biopsy, must show mesothelioma as the primary cancer.
  • Proof of exposure. Military records describing your duties, how long you served in the military, as well as how asbestos exposure occurred during your service must also be presented along with the other documents.
  • Proof that the veteran didn't receive a dishonorable discharge.
  • Veterans can file a claim for disability up to 180 days before leaving the service. There's no time limit on filing a claim after discharge. But the process may become more complex the longer they wait.

Eligibility Requirements for Family Members

  • Proof of exposure. Family members must demonstrate how exposure to asbestos occurred while the veteran was on active duty and they also have to include Military Occupation Specialty, as well as the location they were stationed at while exposure happened.
  • Significant impact. Family members of a deceased mesothelioma patient must show their loved one's death has a substantial impact on their lives. This impact can be either emotional or financial, or both. Emotional damages include pain and suffering, loss of love, companionships and nurturing. Financial loss includes medical costs for mesothelioma treatment as well as funeral expenses. It can also include financial contributions to the family the victim would have made if they were still alive.

How to File a VA Claim for Mesothelioma

Filing a VA asbestos claim is a complex process. The good news is that you can work with a legal professional to get help gathering supporting documents and filing a claim for compensation.

How Do You File Your Application?

  • Gather the documentation you'll submit when you file your VA claim:
    • VA and private medical records and hospital records related to the asbestos illness
    • Nexus letter confirming your illness was caused by asbestos
  • Fill out your claim completely and send it along with all the supporting documents:
    • Application
    • Marriage documents
    • Military discharge documents
    • Exposure to asbestos summary letter explaining how the exposure was primarily caused by military service
    • Supporting statements from family members or those you served with that can tell more about your condition and how and when it happened
  • Send any required additional forms together with your claim

The VA reviews the forms submitted and decides on your claim on an average of 82.4 days. If you start your application and need time to gather more evidence, you have up to a year from the date the VA receive your claim to turn in additional documents.

Remember, Veterans Are Also Eligible for Mesothelioma Asbestos Trust Funds

Asbestos trusts use 'disease levels' to ensure that the limited amount of money in the trust is paid out fairly. As such, a veteran's compensation will depend upon the level of the disease. Mesothelioma is on top of the list, while non-malignant diseases have been deemed to cause the least distress to asbestos victims.

Disease levels in order of the most severe to the least severe condition:

  • Level 8 - Mesothelioma
  • Level 7 - Lung Cancer 1
  • Level 6 - Lung Cancer 2
  • Level 5 - Other Forms of Cancer
  • Level 4 - Severe Asbestosis
  • Level 3 - Asbestosis/Pleural Disease 2 with significantly restricted function
  • Level 2 - Asbestosis/Pleural Disease 1 without significantly restricted function
  • Level 1 - Other asbestos diseases

The amount of time in which a legal claim for mesothelioma can be processed represents the statute of limitations. Most states have a statute of limitations for asbestos claims between 1 and 3 years. When the veteran dies, the statute of limitations for a trust claim brought by family members begins immediately after the death.

It is important to highlight the fact that asbestos trust funds payouts depend primarily on the severity of your diagnosis. Thus, a false diagnosis may lead to recovering a smaller amount of money from asbestos trust funds than you are entitled to. Up to 32% of people who were suffering from mesothelioma were diagnosed with a different disease before receiving the correct diagnosis. We strongly encourage you to seek the opinion of at least two medical experts, preferably from medical professionals specialized in asbestos-related diseases.

What Military Branches Were Most at Risk of Asbestos Exposure?

Asbestos, a group of naturally occurring toxic minerals, deemed carcinogenic by numerous government agencies in the US, was widely used after the Industrial Revolution due to its heat and chemical resistance, durability, and inability to conduct electricity Asbestos is estimated to have been a raw material used in over 300 products in the U.S. Military until the mid-1970s. Thus, thousands of veterans are suffering nowadays from mesothelioma and the number is constantly increasing. However, it is worthy of note that the U.S. Military was not directly responsible for exposure since a large number of manufacturers withheld essential information regarding the dangers of asbestos dust.

It was not until the early 1970s that the tremendous health risks of asbestos exposure were discovered and properly assessed. Preponderantly used in construction and various industries such as automotive, asbestos was also used in the U.S. Military. Due to its heat resistance and low costs, asbestos was present in all types of insulation required by various military applications. Tanks, ships, aircraft, and barracks, as well as multiple other transport vehicles, were all lined with a protective layer of asbestos, which would prevent them from catching fire. Asbestos was used by all branches of the U.S. Military, being more prevalent in the Navy.

Although virtually every member of the U.S. Military was exposed to asbestos between the 1930s and 1970s in one form or another, for short or prolonged periods of time, there is a series of occupations, which place veterans at a significantly higher risk for being diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma. Asbestos was extensively used for its practical properties, convenient cost, and accessibility within all branches of the military. However, these toxic minerals tended to be more common in certain materials. Therefore, mesothelioma cancer is more prevalent in veterans whose job involved frequent contact with asbestos-containing materials.

Veterans who served in the U.S. Navy have the highest risk of developing mesothelioma since asbestos was significantly more common in this branch. The vessels were permanently packed with asbestos-containing materials and the toxic minerals were also frequently used for shipbuilding, maintenance, and repairs. Moreover, starting with 1938, layers of asbestos would also protect a ship's walls, engine rooms, doors, flooring, and piping. To make matters worse, the production of asbestos-laden vessels by the U.S. Navy increased dramatically as World War II was approaching. Thus, due to the extensive use of asbestos, navy veterans who were active between 1938 and the early 1990s are particularly more prone to being affected by mesothelioma. Jobs on Navy ships that put veterans at risk of mesothelioma:

Asbestos was present both in aircraft and military bases in the U.S. Air Force. In 2002, a study conducted by The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the prevalent use of asbestos in U.S. Air Force facilities. The carcinogen was discovered in pipe insulation, ceiling tiles, cement wall insulation and floor tiles in multiple military bases. However, aircraft were not safe either, as asbestos would fireproof gaskets, brakes, engines, electrical wiring and torque valves. Additionally, civilian contractors who were assigned jobs in Air Force bases might have been exposed to asbestos as well. The following Air Force jobs are associated with a particularly increased risk:

  • Environmental support specialist
  • Aircraft mechanic
  • Aircraft electrician
  • Welder
  • Vehicle mechanic
  • Boilerman

The U.S. Marine Corps was not protected from asbestos either. Although exposure occurred on the ships, aircraft and armored vehicles they used, it was their association with the U.S. Navy, which entailed the highest risk. The wide prevalence of asbestos in various components of the ships, which transported the Marines during the second half of the 20th century, along with poor ventilation, represented a hazardous environment, responsible for numerous cases of mesothelioma among veterans nowadays. Moreover, the U.S. Marine Corps was also in contact with the toxic minerals on land, since the heat resistance of asbestos made it a very suitable material for bedding and piping insulation. Some of the high-risk Marine Corps jobs included:

For the majority of the U.S. Military branches, exposure to asbestos would occur during the 20th century, when its use was extremely widespread, as the severe health dangers associated with this group of minerals were still unknown. However, the U.S. Army is an exception in this respect. Even though exposure happened between the 1930s and the 1970s to a great extent, there is also a more recent risk involved. Veterans who served in the Iraq war may have been in prolonged contact with asbestos, which was used by various companies for construction. During the last century, the carcinogen has had similar purposes within the U.S. Army, being incorporated in insulation, flooring, plumbing systems, and roofing, as well as in-vehicle components such as clutch plates, brake pads, and gaskets. The following Army jobs put veterans at a very high risk of developing mesothelioma:

The vessels and aircraft which were used by the U.S. Coast Guard to ensure maritime security and safety were also built with asbestos-containing materials and products. Even though the number of veterans diagnosed with mesothelioma who served as coast guards is lower than the figures for the other U.S. Military branches, the frequency of exposure to asbestos was relatively similar in their case as well. The reason why there are fewer cases of diagnosed mesothelioma among this group of veterans is related to its reduced size, the U.S. Coast Guard representing approximately one-tenth of the U.S. Navy. World War II implied a particularly increased risk for asbestos exposure and veterans who were active within the U.S. Coast Guard during that time span are thus more likely to develop mesothelioma. Jobs at high-risk included:

  • Shipyard worker
  • Insulation worker

Quality Legal Assistance for Mesothelioma-Diagnosed Veterans

When you get diagnosed with a devastating disease such as mesothelioma as a consequence of past asbestos exposure, your first concern will probably be to get effective treatment as soon as possible. In order to receive compensation, you have to file a claim with the asbestos trust fund set up by the company responsible for your injury.

An experienced attorney specialized in asbestos litigation cases can speed up the process significantly. Attorneys at Environmental Litigation Group, P.C. have recovered $1.4 billion for over 25,000 asbestos victims and their families. If you are struggling with mesothelioma which developed as a result of workplace exposure, do not hesitate to contact our team and we will explain the procedures and possible limitations on what you may recover from a trust claim. With minimal effort on the part of the veteran, we can provide a clear path through the process and can also negotiate with the trust funds to obtain the maximum compensation for you.