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

By Michael Bartlett

Posted on January 06th, 2017 in

Asbestos is estimated to have been a raw material involved in over 300 products in the U.S. Military until the mid-1970s. Thus, thousands of veterans are suffering nowadays from mesothelioma and their number is constantly increasing.

- By Michael Bartlett

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, veterans who served between 1930 and 1975 are at a high risk of developing this form of cancer. However, there is a series of financial benefits veterans diagnosed with mesothelioma can receive from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), including disability compensation and health care, as well as dependency and indemnity compensation.

Veterans are Diagnosed With Mesothelioma

Veterans and Asbestos Exposure

Asbestos, a group of naturally occurring toxic minerals, which was 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. Exposure to asbestos is currently the only known cause of mesothelioma, a very rare and aggressive form of cancer occurring on the outer lining of the lungs, heart, abdomen or testicles.

Asbestos Exposure Claims for Veterans

It was not until the early 1970s that the tremendous health risks entailed by asbestos exposure were discovered and properly assessed. Preponderantly involved in construction and various industries such as automotive, asbestos was also used in the U.S. Military. It was present in ships, tanks, barracks, aircraft and multiple other infrastructure projects, mainly in the form of insulation. Asbestos is estimated to have been a raw material involved in over 300 products in the U.S. Military until the mid-1970s. Thus, thousands of veterans are suffering nowadays from mesothelioma and their number is constantly increasing. Nevertheless, 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 from them.

See Asbestos Products

How Was Asbestos Used by 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.

The Navy

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.

The Air Force

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 Marine Corps

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.

The Army

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 Coast Guard

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.

Which Military Occupations Entail the Highest Risk for Mesothelioma?

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 is more prevalent in veterans whose job involved frequent contact with asbestos-containing materials. The following military jobs are associated with a particularly increased risk:

Navy

  • pipefitter
  • welder
  • boiler technician
  • molder
  • machinist mate
  • seabee
  • engineman
  • steelworker
  • radioman
  • storekeeper
  • metalsmith
  • damage control man
  • fire control technician

Air Force

  • environmental support specialist
  • aircraft mechanic
  • aircraft electrician
  • welder
  • vehicle mechanic
  • boilerman

Marine Corps

  • mechanic
  • marines who were deployed on Navy ships

Army

  • millworker
  • carpenter
  • aircraft mechanic
  • plumber
  • artilleryman
  • demolition worker
  • pipefitter
  • infantryman
  • construction worker
  • vehicle mechanic
  • heating system worker

Coast Guard

  • shipyard worker
  • insulation worker

Requirements for VA Compensation

Veterans who served in the U.S. Military between the 1930s and mid-1970s and have been affected by mesothelioma or another type of asbestos-related disease may be eligible for substantial compensation, as well as for a series of various other benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. In order to receive financial compensation, veterans must meet a series of eligibility and evidence requirements.

Eligibility Requirements

  • the veteran was not discharged under dishonorable conditions
  • exposure to asbestos occurred during the time span they have been serving in the U.S. Military
  • the veteran was diagnosed with a disease or condition caused by asbestos exposure

Other eligibility factors such as income level, the length of military service and available VA resources may also come in question, depending on the particularities of each case.

Evidence Requirements

  • the VA claim must describe how exposure to asbestos occurred while the veteran was on active duty and should include their Military Occupation Specialty, as well as the location they were stationed at while exposure happened
  • proof of diagnosis in the form of medical records, which contain evidence supporting the disease in question, such as pathology reports

The following list includes the asbestos-related diseases and conditions for which veterans may file a claim for:

All forms of cancer affecting:

Other conditions, which may have been the result of asbestos exposure:

It is important to highlight the fact that asbestosis and all four types of mesothelioma automatically deems a veteran eligible for the benefits they are entitled to since the sole known cause of these diseases is exposure to asbestos. Thus, additional evidence is often unnecessary.

Types of Benefits Available to Mesothelioma-Diagnosed Veterans

The main VA benefits available for a veteran who suffers from mesothelioma as a result of exposure to asbestos are disability compensation, dependency and indemnity compensation, health care and special monthly compensation. Some veterans may also qualify for other additional benefits such as VA pension and funeral honors.

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 is dependant on the severity of the disability. Nevertheless, a veteran suffering from mesothelioma will be assigned the maximum disability level due to the aggressive nature of the disease and will be offered a monthly sum of approximately $2,800 if they are single or $3,000 if married. Additionally, benefits may increase if there are one or multiple persons such as children who are dependent on the veteran's income.

Another type of tax-free benefit is the dependency and indemnity compensation, 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.

A common misconception regarding dependency and indemnity compensation is that the family of a veteran whose disease was not evaluated by the VA is not entitled to this financial aid. In fact, provided the spouse presents reliable information regarding the diagnosis and the circumstances of the exposure, they will be able to claim this type of benefit in the majority of cases. It is important to mention that the spouse of a deceased veteran whose illness had already been evaluated by the VA will not automatically receive the financial compensation and will be required to apply for it.

Health care benefits are 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. However, veterans who are not currently enrolled can apply if they meet the following criteria:

  • they must be diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease or condition, which developed due to exposure while on military duty
  • veterans' income must fall between the VA's limits

Additionally, if they belong to special groups such as veterans who have been exposed to Agent Orange, the recipients of Purple Heart and Prisoners of War (POW), their healthcare costs might also be supported by the VA.

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 (Aid & Attendance) 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. Veterans who meet the criteria listed below may be eligible for this type of VA benefit:

  • permanently requiring the aid and attendance of another person for daily functions such as bathing, dressing, preparing meals and using the restroom
  • having a physical or mental disability due to which the veteran lives in a nursing home
  • being bedridden

VA pensions are 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 not have had less than 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. Additionally, veterans willing to apply for a VA pension must fall under one of the following categories:

  • receiving social security disability insurance
  • irreversibly disabled
  • older than 65 years
  • receiving specialized care in a nursing home
  • receiving additional security income

Military funeral honors are 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.

How to File a VA Claim

First and foremost, it is worthy of note that the VA claim, regardless of its type and purpose, must not be filled for exposure to asbestos per se, as such requests will not be processed by the VA since it is not considered an eligible reason. Therefore, the claim must state a disease, condition or disability, which occurred due to asbestos exposure during military service as a consideration for financial compensation.

In order to obtain a VA benefit, veterans must get in contact with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. They will need to fill out a standard form and offer a brief description of the circumstances in which exposure to asbestos occurred during their service in the military. Medical evidence supporting the veteran's diagnosis, such as a pathology report, must also accompany the claim in order for the submission to be taken into consideration. Subsequently, the VA will evaluate the forms and the medical records and decide upon the compensation which shall be offered to the veteran. Reaching a decision might take between 6 and 8 months. Following approval, the veteran will be awarded the type of compensation they applied for in the form of a disability check at the beginning of every month.

In certain cases, the veteran applying for a VA benefit might be required to undergo the medical examination at a VA hospital in order to have their diagnosis confirmed. Nevertheless, this is a rare occurrence and the majority of veterans will be able to skip this step if they already have reliable and accurate medical proof of their disease.

Veterans applying for disability compensation must provide the following documents to the VA:

  • a filled out VA Form 21-526
  • an asbestos exposure summary (veterans can also receive assistance in this respect from a certified VA claims representative who will write a summary for them free of charge)
  • a copy of their discharge documents (DD 214), which can be retrieved from the local National Personnel Records Center if lost
  • a copy of the medical records stating their asbestos-related diagnosis
  • a copy of the veteran's marriage certification, if applicable

If their submission is rejected by the VA, veterans can appeal the decision within one year by filing a Notice of Disagreement, which can be obtained from the VA as well.

Finally, another important aspect regarding the VA claim filing process refers to the widespread misconception that if a veteran has previously filed a lawsuit against an asbestos company or manufacturer they are not eligible for receiving financial compensation from the VA. This, however, is false. In fact, receiving a sum of money following the winning of a lawsuit does not affect a veteran's qualification for additional VA benefits. Consequently, they are permitted to apply for disability compensation or for other types of VA benefit as well.

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