Veterans of the U.S. armed forces played an important role in building America into the great nation it is today. These brave men and women made incredible sacrifices to protect our country, and we owe them respect and gratitude.
Many servicemen and servicewomen gave their lives to defend our country. Others came home and died decades later from malignant mesothelioma, a cancer caused by exposure to the mineral asbestos.
The armed forces used the mineral extensively from 1935 to 1975. The military certainly had the safety of service members in mind when it first embraced asbestos as a fireproofing material. But the use of the toxic mineral continued well after medical evidence first proved the harmful effects of inhaling it.
Today, veterans account for nearly a third of all mesothelioma lawsuits in the United States. Veterans benefits are available from the VA for those diagnosed with mesothelioma.
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Veterans and Asbestos Exposure
Members of the armed forces who develop mesothelioma and other asbestos-related conditions after exposure to the mineral in the military qualify for special financial benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). These include disability compensation, special monthly compensation and service-connected death benefits for surviving family members.
An approved mesothelioma VA claim provides much-needed help for servicepersons. One of the most important veterans benefits is access to treatment at any facility in the VA network. Free travel is available for veterans who want to visit the Boston VA Healthcare System and the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System. These are two of the leading facilities offering the best mesothelioma treatments.
Overview of Asbestos in the Military
Asbestos was once highly regarded for its heat resistance and fireproofing capabilities. Nearly all branches of the military used the mineral from the 1900s to the mid-1970s. This put veterans who specialized in many military occupations at risk for mesothelioma.
All modes of military transportation contained products contaminated with asbestos. All aircraft, vehicles, tanks and naval ships contained asbestos. Common products included thermal insulation, electric wiring insulation, brake pads and clutch pads. Barracks and other buildings on military bases were constructed with asbestos cement pipes and a variety of other asbestos-containing materials.
Today, veterans who served between 1940 and 1980 are at high risk of developing health problems from asbestos. Those who served more recently also are in danger. It took decades for the military to remove or replace asbestos products. Members of the military who were deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan may have been exposed to the mineral in the debris of damaged buildings.
Asbestos Use in All Branches of the Military
It wasn’t until the mid-1970s, after considerable publicity over the toxicity and long-term health risks of asbestos, that the military curtailed its use. Many of the veterans who are diagnosed today had their first occupational military exposure to asbestos during the Korean or Vietnam wars and soon thereafter.
The VA website lists a variety of military duties that may have exposed members of the armed forces to the toxic mineral. The most dangerous occupations include mining, shipyard work and construction.
Military Occupations with Highest Exposure to Asbestos
- Shipyard work
- Insulation work
- Demolition work
- Roofing or flooring
- Vehicle maintenance
Secondary Asbestos Exposure in Military Dependents
Families of service members were put at risk through secondary exposure. Many veterans brought home asbestos dust on their work clothes. This exposed their spouses or children to the toxic mineral.
Children of servicemen were exposed when playing with their fathers or hugging them after they returned home from work. Wives often inhaled asbestos while washing the asbestos-laden clothes. These secondary exposures were far less severe than the firsthand exposures that occurred at Navy shipyards, but they still have the potential to cause cancer and other asbestos-related illnesses.
U.S. Navy Veterans Face Highest Risk for Asbestos Disease
U.S. Navy members were exposed to higher levels of the toxic mineral than servicemen in other branches of the military. The Navy packed its vessels with asbestos materials from bow to stern. As a result, Navy veterans have higher rates of related diseases.
The Navy began adding asbestos fireproofing materials to its ships in 1938. The following year, the Surgeon General of the U.S. Navy issued a warning about the dangers of asbestos exposure and the risk for asbestosis in the New York Navy Yard.
The Navy ignored the warning and increased production of asbestos-laden ships in preparation for World War II. Navy personnel faced exposure risks from the late 1930s to the early 1990s.
Asbestos Exposure Continues After Military Service
For some veterans who develop mesothelioma, their service is only one component of their asbestos exposure. Many members of the armed forces were trained in construction trades by the military. When they rejoined civilian life, they naturally sought jobs related to the skills they had developed.
Many later learned these jobs added to their exposure. Additional exposure increases the odds of developing an asbestos-related condition. Mesothelioma typically develops 20 to 50 years after exposure to asbestos.Read more about occupational asbestos exposure in the workforce
Asbestos Diseases Approved for VA Disability
- Interstitial pulmonary fibrosis
- Lung cancer
- Bronchus cancer
- Gastrointestinal cancer
- Larynx cancer
- Pleural effusion
- Pleural plaques
- Pharynx cancer
- Urogenital cancers (except prostate)
Exposed to Asbestos in the Military?
Our Patient Advocates can answer your questions and help you get approved for VA benefits.
Help with VA Claims and Other Veterans Benefits
Every member of the military discharged “under conditions other than dishonorable” has a right to VA benefits. These veterans benefits include health care, monthly disability compensation and survivor benefits for their loved ones.
The Veterans Department at The Mesothelioma Center specializes in getting VA claims and other benefits approved for veterans with mesothelioma. U.S. Army Capt. Aaron Munz, director of the Veterans Department, is well versed in helping people navigate the complicated VA claims process. He has the knowledge and resources to guide you each step along the way, so you can tap into VA benefits as a mesothelioma patient.
The VA recognizes mesothelioma as a service-connected medical condition, and it considers veterans with mesothelioma eligible for benefits. We can help you gather evidence to prove your disease is asbestos-related. We can help you explore other potential avenues of compensation. We’ll also answer frequently asked questions you might have regarding claims and other benefits.
Aaron Munz Director of Veterans Department and VA-Accredited Claims Agent
“In a war situation, the last thing you would ever think about is asbestos exposure. But it happened to a lot of good people. When you see guys getting asbestos-related diseases years after they served, you want to help, and I have that opportunity here.”
Types of Veterans Benefits for Mesothelioma
VA Health Care
Eligibility for VA health care is based on a series of priorities. These include service-related disabilities, income levels and special circumstances. The VA encourages all servicemen and servicewomen with mesothelioma to apply for benefits. Only they can determine a veteran’s eligibility.
Enrollment is tied to income level or a determination of whether the illness was service related. The VA uses two different income limits: The National Income Threshold and a Geographical-Adjusted Income Threshold. Qualifying under the income-level category may require copays for health services.
Disability Compensation is a monthly benefit based on a veteran’s level of disability. The VA rates the level of disability from zero to 100 percent and provides more compensation for higher disability ratings.
Some cancers, including mesothelioma, are considered 100 percent disabling. This would qualify a serviceperson for the maximum monthly benefit for their mesothelioma. Compensation starts at $3,057.13. Benefits may increase based on the veteran’s number of dependents.
Special Monthly Compensation (SMC)
Special Monthly Compensation (SMC) is a benefit available to veterans disabled enough to need the aid and attendance of another person. Examples include those who are bedridden or housebound. This benefit is also available to spouses and parents of veterans.
The amount of monthly SMC awarded depends on how much aid and attendance is necessary, but it often ranges from $250 to $650 a month.
Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC)
Dependency and Indemnity Compensation is a monthly benefit paid to the surviving spouse of a veteran who died from a service-related disability. For deaths caused by mesothelioma or lung cancer, the benefit is $1,319.04. If a military member already was receiving Disability Compensation for mesothelioma or asbestos-related lung cancer before dying, 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. Additional information regarding asbestos exposure must be produced.
Common VA Claims Myths
After years of helping servicemen and servicewomen with mesothelioma, we’ve found some veterans and their loved ones have misconceptions about VA benefits that prevent them from filing a claim — even when they qualify.
- Veterans can’t file a VA claim if their asbestos-related condition developed after their military discharge.
- Diseases related to asbestos exposure can take decades to develop. If veterans can prove their exposure was service connected, they qualify for VA benefits.
- Only veterans of the five main branches of military are eligible for benefits.
- VA benefits are extended to commissioned officers of the U.S. Public Health Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Geodetic Survey.
Stories from Veterans
Finding quality medical care and compensation for members of the U.S. armed forces is our mission at the Veterans Department of The Mesothelioma Center. Our testimonials are a great way to hear from some of the veterans and loved ones of veterans that we’ve helped. Below are just two of the inspiring stories from people we’ve spoken with and assisted over the years.
Odell R. U.S. Navy
“I would tell anyone diagnosed, or their family, to look beyond where they normally would for treatment. There are experts out there who can treat this disease, but you have to find them.”Read Full Story
John C. U.S. Navy
“The Mesothelioma Center helped us getting through the red tape with the VA, getting the necessary forms for us. We’d probably still be battling without their help — there’s no doubt about that.”Read Full Story
Get Help Filing a VA Claim
Our VA-Accredited Claims Agents, Aaron and Danielle, use their experience to help veterans understand and file VA benefits claims.Get Your Guide Now
Asbestos Exposure: Navy Ships & Shipyards
Every ship built by the Navy before the mid-1970s was fitted with asbestos-containing materials. Records show Navy ships housed more than 300 asbestos-containing products. Shipyards were filled with these materials.
Navy personnel who worked below deck prior to the early 1990s were commonly exposed to the toxic mineral. Veterans frequently removed damaged asbestos lagging from engine rooms and rewrapped the pipes with asbestos paste. They usually did so with no respiratory protection or other safety equipment.
Ventilation below deck was often poor. Asbestos dust released from disturbed materials would linger where personnel lived and worked. Veterans who never worked with the mineral directly may have run the risk of exposure from maintenance work happening nearby.
- Mess Deck
- Battery Directors
- Pilot House
- Open Bridge
- Sick Bay
- Anchor Windlass Room
- Chain Locker
- Crew Berthing Space
- Officers Quarters
Treatment for Veterans with Mesothelioma
Many veterans with mesothelioma disability status don’t realize they can seek treatment anywhere in the VA system. They have access to some of the best specialists in the country. In most cases, the VA can assist with travel arrangements and cover the cost of airfare and housing.
VA Health Care enrollment can also cover the cost of specialized services when a veteran cannot receive the care they need within the VA system.
Dr. Abraham Lebenthal is a proponent of extrapleural pneumonectomy surgery. It removes the entire affected lung and other nearby structures in the chest. Dr. Robert Cameron prefers a less aggressive approach. Cameron uses a lung-sparing procedure called pleurectomy/decortication.
In 2015, Lebenthal performed the first heated chemotherapy procedure in the VA health care system on a veteran with pleural mesothelioma. The innovative technique is similar to the hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy procedure for the peritoneal form of the disease. It combines aggressive surgery with heated chemotherapy. Lebenthal heats the chemotherapy solution to improve its effectiveness. The technique that has given some patients a survival advantage of five years or more.
Clinical Trials for Veterans
Military members can also participate in clinical trials. These are where the latest experimental treatments are tested and refined. There is no cure for mesothelioma, but researchers are making significant advancements in treatment through clinical trials. Trials are available at various sites throughout the country.
One emerging technology being tested in clinical trials is immunotherapy. Researchers hope it will revolutionize cancer treatment in the near future. The goal is to provide a more targeted treatment option with less severe side effects than chemotherapy.
Common Questions from Mesothelioma Veterans
Is There a Time Limit to File for a Mesothelioma VA Claim?
There is no time limit for filing a VA claim for disability compensation. Unlike lawsuits, mesothelioma VA claims are not subject to statutes of limitations. But asbestos-related VA claims do take time to prepare and evaluate, so the sooner you start the process, the better.
When Did the Navy Stop Using Asbestos?
The Navy largely phased out asbestos products for new ships and bases in the 1980s. However, the process of removing or encapsulating asbestos on existing vessels and facilities lasted well into the 1990s.
6 Cited Article Sources
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2018, December 1). Benefit Rates.
Retrieved from: https://www.benefits.va.gov/compensation/rates-index.asp
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2015, October 20). Compensation.
Retrieved from: http://benefits.va.gov/REPORTS/abr/ABR-Compensation-FY14-10202015.pdf
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2014, December). Department of Veterans Affairs Statistics at a Glance.
Retrieved from: http://www.va.gov/vetdata/docs/Quickfacts/Homepage_slideshow_09_30_14.pdf
War Related Illness & Injury Study Center. (2013, August). Exposure to Asbestos.
Retrieved from: http://www.warrelatedillness.va.gov/education/factsheets/asbestos-exposure.pdf
Cramer, T. (2014, August 4). Hope for veterans with asbestos-related cancer.
Retrieved from: http://www.blogs.va.gov/VAntage/14948/hope-for-veterans-with-asbestos-related-cancer/
- U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2015, August 18). Asbestos and Mesothelioma. Retrieved from: http://www.boston.va.gov/services/surgical/Asbestos_and_Mesothelioma.asp
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Last Modified April 16, 2019