Veterans Outreach: Focus on VSO Training for Asbestos Claims
Our Veterans Outreach team at The Mesothelioma Center at Asbestos.com is coming off another stellar year of serving veterans diagnosed with asbestos-related diseases and building relationships within the Veterans Health Administration.
In 2019, we helped more than 200 veterans and their family members affected by mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases.
We also sponsored the National Association of County Veteran Service Officers Conference in Cleveland in June 2019 and trained more than 800 VSOs in nine states across the U.S.
Our sights are set even higher in 2020.
We hope to grow on the momentum we created last year with a goal ensuring all veterans affected by asbestos-related illnesses receive the services they need without delay.
Our mission is to make sure no veteran with mesothelioma gets left behind.
Dedicated to Helping Veterans
Mesothelioma receives the majority of advertising and public awareness based on the civilian legal claims available for individuals affected by this rare cancer.
However, the Department of Veterans Affairs recognizes a more extensive list of asbestos-related conditions that affect veterans and may qualify them for health care and disability benefits.
Many of the veterans we speak with have already been diagnosed with an asbestos lung disease and have had a claim denied by the VA before contacting us.
The majority of these veterans did not have the correct supporting nexus information from a medical specialist to show that asbestos was a cause of the illness.
We provide information and guidance on what is required and how to speak to their doctors to secure that evidence.
Veterans we work with are often surprised that the VA did not know how they were exposed to asbestos during their service.
I work with each veteran to understand their duties and working environment in the military as well as civilian exposure to asbestos.
We then try to determine where the majority of their lifetime exposure occurred. The next step is to write an asbestos exposure summary that describes their experience in detail while highlighting that they did not know the dangers of asbestos during their service and were not provided with any personal protective equipment to limit exposure.
A Growing Involvement with NACVSO
Our Veterans Outreach team sponsored the National Association of County Veteran Service Officers Conference in 2019.
It was the third year we sponsored NACVSO, and we are a sponsor for this year’s event in Atlanta from June 7-12.
In addition to sponsoring in 2019, we also operated a table at the convention and distributed information and educational materials to the VSOs who attended.
This event has provided an opportunity to meet and connect with individual VSOs to discuss the specific circumstances of the veterans’ disability claims they are working on.
Connections we’ve made at NACVSO continued in the years following the conferences. These relationships are the basis for our quarterly Veteran Outreach email newsletter in which we provide information and resources for VSOs assisting veterans with asbestos-related claims.
We also made connections with VSOs who coordinate annual training for their states. This led to scheduling several of the training events that we provided last fall and this spring.
Nine Training Sessions in 2019 and More to Come
One of our biggest achievements in 2019 was expanding our efforts to train veteran service officers on how to handle asbestos-related VA claims.
Last year marked our first full year of training and travel in this area. In 2018, we completed training in three states and trained an additional 120 VSOs in District 2 of North Carolina, the state of Wisconsin and Orange County, Florida.
This spring I will be training VSOs in North Dakota, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Michigan and New York with the hope of adding additional training locations.
Our training sessions cover:
- All diseases that the VA recognizes as being caused by asbestos
- The diagnostic tests required to prove service-connected exposure
- How to provide the nexus between asbestos and the diagnosis
- How to write comprehensive asbestos exposure summaries
Many of the VSOs I trained had worked with veterans who had asbestos-related claims denied by the VA.
Proving that an asbestos-related disability was caused by military service is difficult. Mesothelioma has a latency period of 20 to 50 years from initial asbestos exposure to the onset of symptoms. Veterans rarely have any complaints of breathing problems or a diagnosis during their service.
I also spoke to many VSOs who did not understand the diagnostic tests required to accurately diagnose and document an asbestos lung disease or asbestos-related cancer.
Many VSOs also did not provide enough specific details about how and when the veteran was exposed to asbestos-containing materials and equipment during their service to prove that they had more exposure to asbestos then than in their civilian work experience.
It was rewarding hearing how helpful the training was. This is evident by the number of VSOs who have contacted us after the sessions for help with a veteran they are assisting.
Primary Goals of Veteran Outreach for 2020
Our goal is to be a resource for local VSOs so that each veteran in their community receives the best advice and assistance to secure the benefits they earned through their service.
In 2020, we plan to establish more relationships with VSOs around the country so that each veteran affected by these diseases is connected with a trained and experienced service officer in their community who understands how the VA treats asbestos claims.
The goal is to give each veteran the best chance of being approved by the VA for benefits. We hope to accomplish this by providing more state training events, meeting more VSOs at the NACVSO convention in June and by providing helpful information and updates through our emails and website.