Experience Key with Asbestos-Related VA Disability Claim
January 19, 2015
Veterans diagnosed with asbestos-related diseases today – often decades after leaving the service – are entitled to receive the same disability compensation as those who were injured on active duty.
But the path to receiving that compensation isn’t always easy to follow. That’s where experience dealing with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and filing a disability claim can help in streamlining the process.
Filing that mesothelioma claim can be a daunting process, but the key is filing a fully developed disability claim that includes a detailed, asbestos-exposure summary to convince the Veterans Benefits Administration that at least 50 percent of your lifelong exposure occurred in the military and not your civilian job.
That asbestos summary is the most important piece of information you will need for the VA to approve your claim.
Asbestos-related diseases such as mesothelioma, lung cancer, asbestosis, pleural plaques and pleural effusions have hit veterans hard.
For decades, the U.S. armed forces exposed veterans to the toxic product on a daily basis. Asbestos products were everywhere you turned.
The lengthy latency period of these diseases, about 20-50 years, means many veterans are now being diagnosed from exposure that occurred in the 1960s and 1970s – the height of asbestos use by the military. That’s a long time ago.
Reasons Why Claims Are Approved
I served in the Army for nine years as an armor officer and became a VA-accredited claims agent. I’ve reviewed hundreds of these claims.
That experience helps me work with veterans so they can submit those fully developed claims every day. I help them write their exposure summaries, and make sure they are providing all the necessary supporting documentation to get their claim approved.
Exposure to asbestos in the Navy varies dramatically depending on where you worked. Those jobs can be categorized as high, moderate or low risk.
If you worked in the engine room or boiler room, where parts containing asbestos often released the toxic mineral into the air, exposure would have been greater than if you were stationed on the bridge.
The VA recognizes that veterans from other branches of the military may have had significant exposure as well. These jobs include mechanics for wheeled, tracked, rotary and fixed wing aircraft, HVAC specialists, and they can include vehicle operators and crew members who worked directly maintaining equipment that placed them in immediate contact with asbestos materials.
But there are a lot of other factors involved:
- Where else did you work, even for short periods? Were you ever on fire watch as a junior sailor? Were you around welding, grinding or torch work even for a short period?
- Was your ship ever in the shipyard for repairs or an overhaul when you were on it?
- Were you loaned out to different divisions as an undesignated seaman? Did you ever spend a week working with the sheet metal crew or the boiler men? Were you around asbestos-covered pipes that were getting ripped out?
You have to jog the memory, flush out details you may have forgotten. All those things need to be included in the summary. Detail your entire military history and you might be surprised where you’ve been.
How the VA Pays Disability Compensation
The VA pays disability compensation based on the awarded disability rating that ranges from zero to 100 percent. It automatically pays the complete cost if a veteran’s mesothelioma or lung cancer claim is approved.
For all the noncancerous asbestos illnesses, the VA will award a rating based on the results of a pulmonary function test that measures how well the lungs inhale, exhale and circulate oxygen in the bloodstream. You can take the test at the VA if your physician hasn’t performed one.
The VA benefits system is filled with layers of government bureaucracy. Sometimes it’s difficult to navigate, especially for an asbestos-related claim, which almost certainly is not filed when you’re on active duty.
One of the most cumbersome parts of filing a claim is the paperwork. It can overwhelm anyone, but if you know what you need from the start, the process can run much more smoothly.
Here’s the paperwork you need for the VA:
- Application for Disability Compensation and Related Compensation Benefits: VA Form 21-526EZ
- Declaration of Status of Dependents (if applicable): VA Form 21-686c
- Discharge Paperwork: DD 214
- Exposure Summary
- Copies of all civilian medical records or a signed medical release allowing the VA to request those records.
- Copy of marriage certificate or license (if applicable)
- Divorced or widowed documentation (if applicable)
The VA will be looking at what you did before and after your service when evaluating your claim. The VA isn’t too interested in where the exposure took place, but determining if exposure was related to your military service.
That’s why it’s so important to make a solid case with a detailed exposure summary and having someone with experience dealing with the VA guide you through the process with some advice.