Veterans and Mesothelioma

Veterans are responsible for the freedom we know and enjoy today. They have fought bravely on behalf of Americans and served with the utmost courage. Veterans are not strangers to hard work and have made incredible sacrifices to serve in the military. It is heartbreaking that those who fought for the United States continue to battle at home with mesothelioma.

Veterans are one of the leading groups directly affected by mesothelioma. One out of three mesothelioma patients are veterans, and that number is on the rise today. They make up one-third of all patients diagnosed with the disease. Today, veterans have access to many resources to ensure they get the treatment they need.

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Asbestos Exposure in All Branches of the Military

Every branch of the military utilized asbestos until the 1980s, which put several veterans at a high risk of developing mesothelioma. Asbestos is a carcinogen that was used heavily in the military from the 1930s until 1980. The military used asbestos in many environments, particularly ships. Asbestos was also used for its insulation and its fire-retardant properties. At the time, the military was unaware of the deadly health risks associated with asbestos exposure. Manufacturers of the substance suppressed the dangers of exposure to ensure the government would continue to purchase their products. It was not until OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) intervened and began limiting exposure to asbestos.

Veterans who served during the prevalence of asbestos were engulfed with the substance on a routine basis, which explains why most mesothelioma patients are veterans. Since symptoms of mesothelioma do not typically appear until 10-50 years after asbestos exposure, many veterans are just beginning to present with symptoms of the disease. The veterans that served several years ago are at high-risk today.

What Occupations within the Military had the Highest Exposure to Asbestos?

All branches of the U.S. military frequently used asbestos in one way or another, all veterans who served are in jeopardy. Nevertheless, some occupations within the military experienced higher exposure to asbestos than others. Some of the most violent exposure was from working in the following military occupations:

  • Mining
  • Demolition work
  • Carpentry
  • Shipyard work, and working on ships
  • Mechanical work
  • Pipefitting
  • Flooring
  • Roofing
  • Insulation work
  • Building military equipment

Other occupations were subjected to high levels of exposure as well and are still at risk for developing mesothelioma. There are also other asbestos-related diseases: lung cancer, pharynx/larynx cancer, bronchus, and other forms of cancer.

Atomic Veterans and Exposure to Asbestos

The International Journal of Radiation Biology released a study in early 2019 on the mortality rates of those veterans directly involved in the above-ground atomic testing. This was the first asbestos-related mesothelioma assessment conducted on veterans who participated in above-ground nuclear weapons testing.

The study included approximately 114,000 atomic veterans who were categorized by service, rank, occupation, and work location. The study found that the veterans involved in the nuclear testing from 1945-1962 had a much higher mesothelioma mortality rate than those who did not participate in the testing. The United States conducted 230 above-ground nuclear weapons tests, which involved over 250,000 members of the military. The study also produced data that supported the following military occupations on the test sites most impacted by asbestos exposure were:

  • Pacific Proving Ground Personnel (PPG)
  • Enlisted Personnel
  • Navy Personnel

The study concluded that the excess of mesothelioma mortality rates could be explained by asbestos exposure of those enlisted as naval personnel. Other occupations that displayed the highest potential for asbestos exposure included: machinist’s mates, boiler technicians, and firemen.

Secondary Exposure to Family Members

Family members or anyone who lived with someone in the U.S. military have suffered from secondary exposure to asbestos. Service members brought asbestos fibers home on their clothing, which came into contact with family members. The fibers were also released into the air, where family members would inhale the substance. Tragically, anyone with secondary exposure could face the same consequences as those with direct exposure while on the job. This was common with families that lived on the military base with daily contact with each other.

Mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases commonly take 10-50 years to present. Veterans who develop an illness as a result of occupational asbestos exposure may be eligible for disability benefits from the VA and can receive treatment at specialized VA cancer clinics.

Service Members Continue to Face Exposure to Asbestos

By the 1980s, the U.S. placed restrictions on asbestos use to protect from exposure. However, the limitations and legality of asbestos is different in each country. Servicemen and women are still exposed to the dangerous substance across the world. If an asbestos-containing ship is damaged, it may release toxic asbestos fibers in the air inhaled by the current service members. The exposure risk coupled with natural disasters and war continue to put our military members serving overseas at risk.

Veterans serving in Southeast Asia and the Middle East are the most at risk for asbestos exposure. While many Middle Eastern countries have banned the use of asbestos, the bans are loosely enforced. The United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) stated, “If you served in Iraq or other countries in the Middle East and Southeast Asia, you may have had contact with asbestos when old buildings got damaged, releasing toxic chemicals into the air. Or, you may have had contact with asbestos if you worked in certain jobs or settings, like shipyards, construction, or vehicle repair.”

As recently of 2018, contractors in Dubai have confirmed that the buildings and structures in the Middle East contain asbestos materials. The continued use of the toxic mineral places all military personal overseas at risk of exposure. Further, it puts veterans at a higher risk of developing mesothelioma.

What options do I have if I am a Veteran Diagnosed with Mesothelioma?

Receiving a diagnosis of mesothelioma is devastating. In spite of the diagnosis, there are a considerable amount of benefits available to veterans diagnosed with mesothelioma. The VA recognizes mesothelioma as a service-connected condition. Veterans who have suffered from mesothelioma are entitled to Disability Compensation, Dependency and Indemnity Compensation, and VA Health Care.

The level of VA Health Care determined by certain factors. Typically, it is related to the veteran’s income, and if the mesothelioma diagnosis is service-related. If a veteran is given disability status, the veteran can be treated at any VA Health Care facility. Some facilities have a mesothelioma specialist on staff.

Qualified veterans may also benefit from medical exams, treatments, and specialized intensive care through the VA. These benefits may also extend to veterans who believe they have been exposed to asbestos, even if they are not showing any symptoms of mesothelioma or other related condition.

Benefits for Veterans with Mesothelioma

Special monthly compensation (SMC) may be offered to veterans who are severely disabled by asbestos-related illnesses that require specialized care. This is usually reserved for veterans who are unable to live on their own, bedridden, or unable to leave the house. The special monthly compensation rewarded ranges between $250-$650 per month.

The VA bases compensation on a percentage of the disability level, which ranges from 1-100 percent increasing in 10 percent increments. The compensation also considers the number of dependents and the required assistance. The VA Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (VA DIC) extends benefits to the spouse and children of veterans who pass from a service-related disability. The benefits offered may include a monthly stipend, educational training, or health care.
It is important to note that a veteran may be entitled to more compensation outside of the VA. VA benefits do not interfere with or affect any personal injury claims filed against a company that was responsible for their exposure to asbestos.

What Other Resources Does the VA Offer?

The VA offers other programs and centers to servicemen and women that help various issues experienced by those who served in the U.S. military. The VA has 134 community living centers throughout the country. The community centers provide care to geriatric veterans. They offer similar services like a nursing home, but they are modeled to look and feel like a normal residential home. The centers are also pet-friendly and promote family visitation.

VA Treatment Centers for Mesothelioma

There are hundreds of VA Health Care facilities in the United States. Over nine million veterans have received health care from the VA. Some facilities specialize in certain areas of care, like mesothelioma, and can offer a more concentrated treatment plan.

The VA provides vet center community-based counseling. The counseling offers help to veterans and their families to readjust to life after serving in the military. They are separate from other VA medical centers and promote confidentiality to those receiving the center’s service. The vet center also works unconventional hours to accommodate the veteran and their work schedule better.

Qualifications for Disability VA Benefits

The VA has specific qualifications to be eligible for care. The first qualifier is that you are a veteran; the second is that you had contact with asbestos while serving in the military. Third, on the condition you did not receive a dishonorable discharge. The veteran must prove that at least 50% of their exposure came from their military service. All of the above must be true to qualify for VA benefits. The VA’s disability benefits include healthcare and compensation.

Just because a veteran has been discharged from the military, no matter the length of time since that discharge, they are still able to file a claim. Symptoms of mesothelioma do not typically surface until 10-50 years after exposure to asbestos. The veteran will need to prove that the exposure to asbestos and service are related.

VA benefits do not only offer benefits to the five branches of the military. The VA extends benefits to commissioned officers of the U.S. Public Health Service, the National Geodetic Study, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

To file for benefits, the VA requires that the veteran file a claim for disability compensation and provide the following supporting documentation:

  • Medical records that state your illness or disability, and
  • Service records that list your job or specialty, and
  • A doctor’s statement that there’s a connection between your contact with asbestos during military service and the illness or disability.

The veteran’s exposure summary should include their military job locations, history, and military job rating. A doctor must also submit proof that the veteran’s mesothelioma diagnosis was caused by asbestos exposure. A veteran can obtain assistance from a VA-Accredited Claims Agent or an attorney.

A VA claim can be filed in one of four ways:

  • Online through eBenefits
  • Through a licensed attorney
  • Contact a Veterans Service Organization
  • Visit a VA regional office

The average time for the VA to thoroughly review a disability-related claim is 109 days. The review period also depends on the type of claim filed, the complexity of the injuries and diagnosis, and the length of time needed for the VA to gather evidence concerning the claim.

Some concerns about VA benefits are when the majority of a veteran’s exposure to asbestos was in their civilian jobs. The veteran may still be qualified for a VA Pension from their non-service disability. They must meet a certain criterion to be eligible for the VA Pension. The criteria that should be met include: 1) over the age of 65 or completely disabled, 2) served a minimum of 90 days of active duty, and 3) an annual household income under a specific limit.

How do I know if I have an Asbestos-Related Condition?

The VA encourages veterans to speak with their doctors if they have worked in certain occupations or around certain products to get tested for illnesses that could potentially affect their lungs. The VA recommends that you get tested if you have worked in mining, milling, shipyards, demolition, construction, and carpentry.

The VA further recommends that you be tested if you have worked with the following products:

  • Roofing or Flooring
  • Cement Sheet
  • Pipes
  • Friction Products (Clutch Facings and Brake Lines)

There are several resources available to veterans that continue to suffer from mesothelioma. The risk is high, especially those who served decades ago. If you or a loved one has served in the military and have noticed symptoms related to mesothelioma or asbestos exposure, you are encouraged to speak with your doctor.

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