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Veterans of the U.S. military account for nearly a third of all mesothelioma legal cases — and those veterans qualify for special financial benefits from the Veterans Administration (VA).
Veterans are a special group. Unfortunately, these men and women are at higher risk today than the general population for developing an asbestos-related illness like mesothelioma cancer. This is a result of the military's past reliance on asbestos, the primary cause of the disease, and the civilian jobs these veterans performed when they left the service.
Our Veterans Department can help you or a loved one file asbestos-related VA Claims and secure potential benefits.
Asbestos was once highly regarded for its heat resistance and fire-proofing capabilities, making it a valuable tool for every branch of the military. All modes of military transportation like ships, tanks, automobiles and aircraft contained asbestos.
It was used in electric wiring insulation, brake pads and clutch pads on jeeps, tanks and aircraft. Military housing and other buildings on bases were fitted with building materials containing asbestos.
It wasn't until the mid-'70s, after considerable publicity over its toxicity and the long-term health problems it caused, that the military curtailed its use of asbestos. Many of the veterans who are diagnosed today were first exposed to asbestos during the Korean or Vietnam wars and soon thereafter.
Veterans who served from 1940 to 1980 form a group at the highest risk of developing health problems from asbestos. Those who served more recently also are at risk because it took decades for the military to remove or replace the asbestos products.
For some veterans who developed mesothelioma, their service was only one component of their exposure. Many servicemen were trained in trade jobs in the Navy, Army, Marines and Air Force. When they stopped saluting and rejoined civilian life, they found themselves in jobs related to what they did during the service. They were plumbers, electricians, construction specialists, mechanics and industrial workers, just to name a handful of occupations that exposed workers to asbestos. These veterans later learned they were exposed at asbestos-laden jobsites after their military service was long over. Mesothelioma typically develops decades after exposure to asbestos.
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More than 300 products containing asbestos were used by the military. Every ship built by the Navy before the mid-'70s was fitted with numerous asbestos-containing materials. Shipyards were filled with asbestos materials.
Virtually no portion of a naval ship was asbestos-free between the '30s and mid-'70s, putting Navy veterans and shipyard workers at the highest risk for developing asbestos-related diseases. Asbestos-containing materials were used extensively in engine and boiler rooms and other areas below deck for fire safety purposes. The toxic mineral was used in navigation rooms, sleeping quarters and mess halls.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs website lists a variety of duties performed by service members in all branches that would have exposed men and women to asbestos. Among them are pipefitting, mining, milling, shipyard work, insulation work, demolition of old buildings, carpentry and construction.
There are an estimated 22 million veterans in the U.S. today, and a majority of them were exposed to asbestos at some point during their military service. A portion of those eventually will be diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease.
Mesothelioma is difficult to diagnose, which often delays the start of treatment and limits the treatment options. Many of the symptoms mirror those of less serious illnesses. Early warning signs like a persistent cough, night sweats and fever are frequently misdiagnosed as pneumonia or influenza, allowing the cancer more time to spread.
If a veteran has known asbestos exposure, it would be wise to heed any early warning signs and request a chest X-ray or other early screening tests. The Mesothelioma Center can help with any questions you may have.
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Veterans can apply for VA benefits for asbestos-related diseases, and the resources at Asbestos.com can assist veterans in applying for those benefits.
U.S. Army Capt. Aaron Munz served nine years in combat and strategic training before leaving active duty in 2006.
The VA recognizes mesothelioma as a service-connected medical condition. The Mesothelioma Center's Veterans Department can help you show that your disease is asbestos-related, and that exposure occurred during military service.
We also can help you explore all avenues of compensation.
U.S. Army Capt. Aaron Munz is the director of the Veterans Department at The Mesothelioma Center. He is well-versed in helping veterans navigate the complicated VA claims process.
Disability Compensation is a monthly benefit based upon a veteran's level of disability. These benefits are based on a rating from the VA, and those ratings range from 0 percent to 100 percent. Cancers like mesothelioma are considered 100 percent disabling, which would qualify for the maximum monthly benefit, which starts at over $2,800.
Benefits can increase. Those increases are based on how many dependents the veteran has. A veteran needs to have been discharged under any condition that is not dishonorable, to start the process. He/she then must show that the asbestos illness stemmed from military service.
Also known as DIC, this monthly benefit is paid to the surviving spouse of a veteran who died from a service-related disability. The benefit is $1,195.
If the veteran already was receiving Disability Compensation for mesothelioma or asbestos-related lung cancer when he died, the spouse needs to file a DIC claim. If the veteran was not receiving service-related compensation, the spouse still may be eligible for DIC, provided that additional information regarding asbestos exposure can be produced.
Eligibility for VA Health Care is based upon a series of priorities that include service-related disabilities and income levels. There also are special circumstances.
For veterans with an asbestos-related illness, enrollment would be tied either to a determination that the illness was service related, or to income level. The VA uses two different income limits: A National Income Threshold and a Geographical-Adjusted Income Threshold. Qualifying under the income level category may require co-pays for health services.
Special Monthly Compensation (SMC) is a benefit available to veterans who are bedridden, housebound or disabled enough to need the aid and attendance of another person. This benefit is also available to spouses and parents of veterans.
The amount of monthly SMC awarded depends upon the amount of aid and attendance necessary, but often ranges from $250 to $650 a month.
Veterans who receive mesothelioma disability status can seek treatment anywhere in the VA system, giving them access to some of the best specialists in the country.
Surgeons like Abraham Lebenthal, M.D., at the Boston VA Healthcare System and Robert Cameron, M.D., at the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System are lauded for their work as mesothelioma specialists, offering their services to veterans everywhere.
Navy veteran Odell R., for example, traveled from Mendenhall, Mississippi, to see Lebenthal in Boston, where he underwent a complex, 12-hour surgery for his pleural mesothelioma. The VA helped with travel and lodging. The Mesothelioma Center assisted in putting the two together.
Veterans also can participate in clinical trials, where the latest experimental treatment procedures are being tested. There is no cure for mesothelioma, but significant advancements in treatment are being made through clinical trials.
The National Cancer Institute, for example, has an ongoing clinical trial involving immunotherapy drug SS1P, which has produced impressive results in reducing tumor size with late-stage mesothelioma patients. There are dozens of mesothelioma trials at various sites throughout the country.
The VA health care system occasionally participates in mesothelioma clinical trials. They usually have trials on lung cancer, and sometimes on ovarian cancer, which is also caused by asbestos exposure. Currently, the VA Maryland Healthcare System is participating in a mesothelioma clinical trial that is evaluating the benefits of ongoing pemetrexed chemotherapy to prevent tumor progression.