In order to have an asbestos-related, military service-connected disability claim approved by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), a veteran must show they have a diagnosis the VA recognizes can be caused by exposure to asbestos.
The VA recognizes the several diseases as asbestos-related, according to the M21-1 Compensation and Pension Manual Rewrite. Each has specific requirements for filing a VA claim.
Eligible conditions include:
Fibrosis, including asbestosis
Pleural plaques (scars of the lining that surrounds the lungs)
Mesotheliomas of pleura and peritoneum
Cancers of the lung, bronchus, gastrointestinal tract, larynx, pharynx and urogenital system except the prostate
People with significant asbestosis often develop cor pulmonale (enlargement of the right ventricle of the heart) and heart disease secondary to disease of the lung or its blood vessels.
All diagnoses with the exception of pleural mesothelioma, peritoneal mesothelioma and asbestosis also require a nexus statement from a medical specialist linking the disease to exposure to asbestos.
It is important to note the most common respiratory conditions in the U.S. — chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and sleep apnea — are not recognized as primarily caused by asbestos.
It may be possible to get these common conditions connected as a secondary condition if an acknowledged diagnosis is service connected and a pulmonary doctor makes a nexus between the service-connected condition and COPD or sleep apnea.
For example, if the veteran is granted service connection for asbestosis and the pulmonologist believes the veteran’s sleep apnea may be caused or worsened by the compromised lung function, then the VA may grant a secondary-service condition.
If the veteran does not already have a diagnosis from a specialist, a veteran service officer can share information about how the veteran can speak with their doctor to ask for the necessary testing.
It is important for veterans to tell their doctor about their history of asbestos exposure in order for the doctor to look for specific evidence of asbestos damage in the body. Signs of damage and symptoms may not be attributed to asbestos if it is not discussed as a risk factor.
Because asbestos-related diseases carry a long latency period, many veterans may be misdiagnosed with COPD, which is most commonly a result of smoking.
This does not prevent a veteran from receiving VA disability, but a second diagnosis of a VA-approved asbestos disease must be made before the VA will grant benefits.