Mesothelioma & Veterans

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Every branch of the military used asbestos products during the 20th century, causing high rates of mesothelioma among veterans today. Veterans who develop mesothelioma because of military asbestos exposure can file for VA benefits and other forms of compensation to help pay for treatment and out-of-pocket expenses.

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Former U.S. Army Capt. Aaron Munz explains why veterans are at a higher risk of developing mesothelioma.

Types of Veterans Benefits for Mesothelioma

Veterans exposed to asbestos during military service who develop mesothelioma and other asbestos-related conditions qualify for benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Eligible veterans with mesothelioma may receive 100% disability compensation and other types of assistance from the VA, including VA health care services and special monthly compensation. The surviving spouse of a veteran who died of a service-connected disability is eligible for dependency and indemnity compensation, commonly abbreviated as DIC.

VA Health Care

Enrollment in VA health care can be based on the veteran’s income level or confirmation of a service-connected illness. The VA considers mesothelioma service connected if at least 50% of the asbestos exposure that caused the cancer happened during active duty.

Qualifying under the income-level category may require copays for health services.

Disability Compensation

Disability compensation is a monthly benefit based on a veteran’s level of disability. Asbestos-related cancers, such as mesothelioma, are considered 100% disabling.

Veteran with mesothelioma qualify for the maximum monthly benefit, which starts at $3,057.13, according to the Veterans Compensation Benefits Rate Tables. Benefits may increase based on the veteran’s number of dependents.

Special Monthly Compensation

Special monthly compensation is a benefit available to veterans disabled enough to need the aid and attendance of another person. This benefit is also available to spouses and parents of veterans.

The rates for special monthly compensation depend on how much aid and attendance is necessary, among other factors, but payments often range from $3,800 to more than $5,000 a month. This is based on the veteran’s number of dependents.

Dependency and Indemnity Compensation

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, the benefit is $1,319.04 a month.

Whether or not a veteran was already receiving disability compensation for asbestos-related cancer before dying, their spouse needs to file a claim to receive dependency and indemnity compensation.

VA Burial Benefits

The VA burial allowance for a death connected to military service is $2,000. A person seeking this benefit must provide proof they paid for a veteran’s burial or funeral. They also must show the veteran died of a service-connected disability such a mesothelioma linked to military asbestos exposure.

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How to File a VA Claim and Other Veterans Benefits

To file a VA claim and receive veterans benefits, you must submit documentation of the veteran’s asbestos exposure and the resulting diagnosis.

Claims processing takes time, and it is easier for family members to get survivor benefits if a disability claim is approved first. For these reasons, veterans should start the VA claim process as soon as possible after a mesothelioma diagnosis.

Basic Requirements for Filing a VA Claim

  • Discharge Status: Discharged from active military service in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps or Coast Guard under conditions other than dishonorable.

  • Exposure summary: Includes history of military job ratings, locations, etc.

  • Medical Evidence: Medical proof that active military duty led to asbestos exposure that caused mesothelioma or another asbestos-related disease.

  • Medical Documentation: A doctor must provide medical records that show mesothelioma was caused by asbestos exposure.

Filing a VA disability claim for an asbestos-related condition is easier with a VA-accredited claims agent. These agents can help veterans with mesothelioma file a claim.

Asbestos Diseases Approved for VA Disability Benefits

  • Mesothelioma

  • Asbestosis

  • Interstitial pulmonary fibrosis

  • Lung cancer

  • Bronchus cancer

  • Gastrointestinal cancer

  • Larynx cancer

  • Pleural effusion

  • Pleural plaques

  • Pharynx cancer

  • Urogenital cancers (except prostate)

Aaron Munz,
Aaron Munz

“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.”

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Common VA Claims Myths

After years of helping former servicemen and women with mesothelioma, we’ve found that 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 take decades to develop. If veterans can prove their exposure was service connected, they qualify for veterans 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.

Cancer 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.

The best mesothelioma centers for veterans include the VA health care systems in Boston and Los Angeles, which are served by some of the top mesothelioma doctors in the nation.

Dr. Abraham Lebenthal and Dr. Robert Cameron are two specialists lauded for their work performing the latest surgeries for veterans with pleural mesothelioma.

Dr. Abraham Lebenthal, pleural mesothelioma doctor

Dr. Abraham Lebenthal

Brigham and Women's Hospital

Dr. Abraham Lebenthal is a respected thoracic surgeon who treats pleural mesothelioma patients at Brigham & Women’s Hospital and Boston VA Hospital. Lebenthal worked alongside Dr. David Sugarbaker at Brigham and teaches at Harvard Medical School.

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Dr. Robert B. Cameron, pleural mesothelioma doctor

Dr. Robert B. Cameron

UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center

Dr. Robert B. Cameron developed a lung-sparing surgery for pleural mesothelioma that not only extends survival but offers greater quality of life by preserving the lung. Cameron’s surgery has a lower risk of complications and studies report longer survival times.

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Veterans benefits can also cover the cost of specialized services when a veteran cannot receive the care needed within the VA system. For example, the Veterans Choice Program allows veterans to see a mesothelioma specialist of their choice outside the VA health care system.

Clinical Trials for Veterans

Veterans with mesothelioma can also participate in clinical trials, where the latest experimental treatments are tested and refined. There is no cure for asbestos-related cancer, but researchers are making significant advances in mesothelioma treatment through clinical trials.

Veterans and their family members can get advice directly from other patients and caregivers by attending a mesothelioma support group.

Odell R., U.S. Navy
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.”

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Veterans and Asbestos Exposure

Every branch of the armed forces used asbestos extensively during the 20th century. The military certainly had safety 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.

This put veterans at risk for mesothelioma and other terrible diseases.

All modes of military transportation contained asbestos products such as thermal insulation, electric wiring insulation, brake pads and clutch pads. Barracks and other buildings on military bases were made with asbestos cement and a variety of other asbestos-containing construction materials.

It wasn’t until the long-term health risks of asbestos gained considerable publicity in the mid-1970s that the military reduced its use. Many of the veterans who are diagnosed today had their first military exposure to asbestos during the Korean War or Vietnam War or soon afterward.

Discover How Your Branch of the Military Used Asbestos

Today, veterans who served in certain military occupations between 1930 and 1980 have a high risk of developing health problems from asbestos exposure.

Those who served more recently are also in danger because it took years for the military to completely remove or encapsulate asbestos products. Further, members of the military who were deployed overseas may have been exposed to asbestos dust in the debris of damaged buildings.

World War II Veteran

Exposed to Asbestos in the Military?

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Asbestos Exposure in Navy Ships and Shipyards

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 asbestos-related diseases.

Virtually no portion of a naval ship was free of asbestos between the 1930s and 1970s. Records show Navy ships housed more than 300 asbestos-containing products, and shipyards were filled with these materials.

Asbestos-containing materials were used most extensively in engine and boiler rooms and other areas below deck for fire safety purposes.

High risk areas of asbestos exposure on Navy ship

Asbestos Exposure 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 who were trained in construction or engineering naturally sought related jobs when they rejoined civilian life.

In many cases, these jobs added to their asbestos exposure, which increases the odds of developing an asbestos-related condition.

Secondhand Asbestos Exposure in Military Dependents

Military families were put at risk when service members brought asbestos dust home on their work clothes. This exposed their spouses and 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 work 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.

Common Questions from Mesothelioma Veterans

Veterans may have many questions about their mesothelioma diagnosis, VA claims and other issues regarding VA benefits. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about asbestos-related VA claims.

Is There a Time Limit to File 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.

Are Spouses of Veterans Eligible for Asbestos VA Benefits?

Spouses of veterans who died from a service-related disability are eligible for dependency and indemnity compensation, commonly referred to as DIC. The current DIC benefit for deaths caused by mesothelioma is $1,319 a month for the surviving spouse. Monthly payments for other veterans benefits, such as disability compensation and special monthly compensation, increase if the veteran has a spouse.

What Are the Differences Between VA Benefits and Legal Claims?

VA claims are not legal claims. Veterans with a service-connected disease can file for VA benefits such as VA health care and disability compensation. Veterans with mesothelioma may also have the legal option to file a lawsuit or asbestos trust fund claim against companies who supplied asbestos products to the armed forces. A qualified mesothelioma lawyer can review your history of military and civilian asbestos exposure and determine what legal options you have.

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Director of Veterans Department

Former U.S. Army Capt. Aaron Munz is the director of the Veterans Department at The Mesothelioma Center, and he is a VA-accredited Claims Agent. He received the Bronze Star in 2004 during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Munz has intimate knowledge of how veterans were exposed to asbestos because he served under similar conditions.

Walter Pacheco, Managing Editor at Asbestos.com
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9 Cited Article Sources

The sources on all content featured in The Mesothelioma Center at Asbestos.com include medical and scientific studies, peer-reviewed studies and other research documents from reputable organizations.

  1. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2019, October 30). Veterans Compensation Benefits Rate Tables.
    Retrieved from: https://www.benefits.va.gov/compensation/resources_comp01.asp
  2. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2019, October 11). Eligibility for VA health care.
    Retrieved from: https://www.va.gov/health-care/eligibility/
  3. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2019, July 16). Special Monthly Compensation (SMC) Rate Table.
    Retrieved from: https://www.benefits.va.gov/compensation/resources_comp02.asp
  4. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2019, May 20). Dependency and Indemnity Compensation.
    Retrieved from: https://benefits.va.gov/Compensation/current_rates_dic.asp
  5. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2018, December 7). Benefit Rates.
    Retrieved from: https://www.benefits.va.gov/compensation/rates-index.asp
  6. 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
  7. 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/
  8. War Related Illness & Injury Study Center. (2013, August). Exposure to Asbestos. :
    Retrieved from: http://www.warrelatedillness.va.gov/education/factsheets/asbestos-exposure.pdf
  9. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (n.d.). Veterans Asbestos Exposure. Retrieved from: https://www.va.gov/disability/eligibility/hazardous-materials-exposure/asbestos/
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Last Modified January 27, 2020

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