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Mesothelioma & Veterans

Veterans comprise more than 30 percent of all mesothelioma cases in the United States. Because all branches of the military relied on asbestos in the past, and builders overseas still do, veterans are more likely than others to develop asbestos-related diseases.

Key Stats
Veterans & Mesothelioma
Overview
  • Branch of military at highest risk: U.S. Navy
  • Around 10,000 veterans die from asbestos-related diseases every year.
  • Peak years for military asbestos use: 1935 to 1975
  • U.S. Navy sailors and shipyard workers bore the highest risk of asbestos exposure
  • More than 300 different types of asbestos products were used on Navy ships
VA Facts
  • Number of VA Medical Centers: 168
  • Veterans Receiving Compensation: 4.1 million
  • Survivors Receiving Death Benefits: 390,000
  • VA Compensation and Death Benefits Paid: $66.38 billion annually

Veterans of the U.S. armed forces are a unique group — one that 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.

While many veterans gave their lives to defend our country, others came home only to die decades later from mesothelioma, a cancer caused by asbestos.

The military used asbestos extensively from 1935 to 1975. While the military certainly had the safety of service members in mind when it first embraced asbestos as a fireproofing material, 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 cases in the U.S.

KEY STATS
Mesothelioma & Veterans
Key Stats
Veterans & Mesothelioma
Overview
  • Branch of military at highest risk: U.S. Navy
  • Around 10,000 veterans die from asbestos-related diseases every year.
  • Peak years for military asbestos use: 1935 to 1975
  • U.S. Navy sailors and shipyard workers bore the highest risk of asbestos exposure
  • More than 300 different types of asbestos products were used on Navy ships
VA Facts
  • Number of VA Medical Centers: 168
  • Veterans Receiving Compensation: 4.1 million
  • Survivors Receiving Death Benefits: 390,000
  • VA Compensation and Death Benefits Paid: $66.38 billion annually

Overview of Asbestos in the Military

Veterans who developed mesothelioma and other asbestos-related conditions after exposure to asbestos in the military qualify for special financial benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), including disability compensation, special monthly compensation and service-connected death benefits for surviving family members.

An approved mesothelioma VA claim provides much-needed help for veterans such as 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, two leading facilities offering the best mesothelioma treatments.

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Veterans and Asbestos Exposure

Asbestos was once highly regarded for its heat resistance and fireproofing capabilities, making it a valuable resource for the U.S. armed forces. Nearly all branches of the military used the mineral from the 1900s to the mid-1970s, putting veterans who specialized in many military occupations at risk for mesothelioma.

All modes of military transportation, including Navy ships, tanks and aircraft, contained products contaminated with asbestos. Those products included thermal insulation, electric wiring insulation, brake pads and clutch pads. In addition, barracks and other buildings on military bases were constructed with asbestos cement pipes and a variety of other asbestos-containing materials.

Discover How Your Branch of the Military Used Asbestos

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 because it took decades for the military to remove or replace asbestos products, and veterans who were deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan may have been exposed to asbestos 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 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 veterans to asbestos. The most dangerous occupations include mining, shipyard work and construction.

Military Occupations with Highest Exposure to Asbestos

  • Pipefitting
  • Shipyard work
  • Mining
  • Insulation work
  • Demolition work
  • Roofing or flooring
  • Carpentry
  • Vehicle maintenance

Secondary Asbestos Exposure in Military Dependents

The military’s reliance on asbestos also endangered the families of service members through secondary asbestos exposure. During the peak years of military asbestos use, many veterans brought home asbestos dust on their work clothes and unintentionally exposed their spouses or children to the toxic mineral.

Children of servicemen could be exposed when playing with their fathers or hugging them after they returned home from work, and 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 mesothelioma and other asbestos-related illnesses.

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Featured Story

Asbestos in the Military: How Asbestos Kills America's Veterans

The U.S. government never warned its service members exposure to asbestos in the military would lead to respiratory illnesses and deadly cancers. While the VA health care system struggles with a massive backlog of asbestos claims, it fails to tell many veterans about VA facilities in Boston and Los Angeles — the best that specialize in mesothelioma treatment.

Read the Full Story

U.S. Navy veterans were exposed to higher levels of asbestos than servicemen in other branches of the military because the Navy packed its vessels with asbestos materials from bow to stern. As a result, Navy veterans are diagnosed with mesothelioma and other asbestos-related illnesses at higher rates.

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.

However, 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 veterans were trained in construction trades by the military, and 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 history, increasing the odds of developing an asbestos-related condition years down the line. Mesothelioma typically develops 20 to 50 years after exposure to asbestos.

Read more about occupational asbestos exposure in the workforce

Common Civilian Jobs for Military Veterans:

Asbestos-Related Diseases Afflicting Veterans

Asbestos-related diseases are difficult to diagnose — especially mesothelioma, the signature cancer caused by asbestos. Many of the early symptoms of mesothelioma, such as a persistent cough, night sweats and fever, mirror those of less serious illnesses. Doctors often mistake these warning signs for pneumonia or the flu, giving the cancer more time to spread and ultimately limiting treatment options.

If you are a veteran with known asbestos exposure, it is important to heed any early warning signs and receive regular screening tests such as chest X-rays.

Asbestos Diseases Approved for VA Disability

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Understanding VA Claims and Other Benefits for Veterans

Every veteran discharged “under conditions other than dishonorable” has a right to VA benefits, including health care, monthly disability compensation and survivor benefits for their loved ones.

The Veterans Department at The Mesothelioma Center specializes in helping people navigate the complicated VA claims process. Our lead Patient Advocate for veterans, former U.S. Army Capt. Aaron Munz, has the resources to guide you each step along the way.

The VA recognizes mesothelioma as a service-connected medical condition. We can help you gather evidence to prove your disease is asbestos-related and show the majority of your exposures to asbestos occurred during your military service. We also can help you explore other potential avenues of compensation and answer questions you might have regarding claims and benefits.

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.”

Aaron Munz

Former Army Capt. Aaron Munz served nine years in combat and strategic training before leaving active duty in 2006

Types of VA benefits

VA Health Care

Eligibility for VA health care is based on a series of priorities, including service-related disabilities, income levels and special circumstances.

For veterans with an asbestos-related illness, enrollment is tied to a determination the illness was service related or to income level. 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

Disabled veteran

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 veteran for the maximum monthly benefit, which starts at $2,915.55. Benefits may increase based on the veteran's number of dependents.

Special Monthly Compensation (SMC)

Special Monthly Compensation is a benefit available to veterans disabled enough to need the aid and attendance of another person such as 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. The benefit is $1,257.95. If a veteran 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, provided additional information regarding asbestos exposure can be produced.

Common VA Claims Myths

After years of helping veterans 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.

Myth: Veterans can’t file a VA claim if their asbestos-related condition developed after their military discharge.

Fact: Diseases related to asbestos exposure can take decades to develop, so if veterans can prove their asbestos exposure was service connected, they qualify for VA benefits.

Myth: Only veterans of the five main branches of military are eligible for benefits.

Fact: 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 veterans 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 veterans we’ve spoken with and assisted over the years.

Odell R.

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 Conway

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

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Get Help Filing a VA Claim

Veterans Department Director Aaron Munz is available to answer your questions.

Asbestos Exposure: Navy Ships & Shipyards

Fast Fact

Virtually no portion of a naval ship was asbestos-free between the '30s and mid-'70s, putting Navy veterans and shipyard workers at the highest risk for developing asbestos-related diseases. Asbestos-containing materials were used most extensively in engine and boiler rooms and other areas below deck for fire safety purposes.

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, and shipyards were filled with these materials.

Navy personnel who worked below deck prior to the early 1990s were commonly exposed to asbestos. Seamen frequently removed damaged asbestos lagging from engine rooms and rewrapped the pipes with asbestos paste — usually with no respiratory protection or other safety equipment required for such a dangerous task.

Because ventilation below deck was often poor, asbestos dust released from disturbed materials would linger where personnel lived and worked. Veterans who never worked with asbestos directly may have run the risk of exposure from maintenance work happening nearby.

High risk areas of asbestos exposure on Navy ship

High-Risk Areas

  • Engine & Boiler Rooms
  • Damage Control
  • Pump Room
Medium risk areas of asbestos on Navy ship

Medium-Risk Areas

  • Powder & Shot Hoist
  • Powder & Shot Magazine
  • Ward Room
  • Turrets
Low risk areas of asbestos exposure on Navy ship

Low-Risk Areas

  • Mess Deck
  • Reefer
  • Battery Directors
  • Pilot House
  • Open Bridge
  • Sick Bay
  • Anchor Windlass Room
  • Chain Locker
  • Crew Berthing Space
  • Officers Quarters

Treatment for Veterans with Mesothelioma

Fast Fact

Surgeons such as Dr. Abraham Lebenthal at the Boston VA Healthcare System and Dr. Robert Cameron at the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System are lauded for their work as mesothelioma specialists who offer their services to veterans everywhere.

Many veterans with mesothelioma disability status don’t realize they can seek treatment anywhere in the VA system, giving them 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.

Dr. Abraham Lebenthal is a proponent of extrapleural pneumonectomy surgery, which removes the entire affected lung and other nearby structures in the chest. Dr. Robert Cameron prefers a less aggressive approach, using 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, similar to the Hyperthermic Intraperitoneal Chemotherapy procedure for peritoneal mesothelioma, combines aggressive surgery with high doses of chemotherapy. Lebenthal heats the chemotherapy solution to improve its effectiveness, a technique that has given some patients a survival advantage of five years or more.

Abraham Lebenthal

Dr. Abraham "Avi" Lebenthal

Boston VA Healthcare System

Brigham and Women's Hospital

E-consultation available

Contact Dr. Lebenthal
Robert B. Cameron

Dr. Robert B. Cameron

VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System

UCLA Medical Center

E-consultation available

Contact Dr. Cameron

Clinical Trials for Veterans

Veterans can also participate in clinical trials, where the latest experimental treatments are tested and refined. There is no cure for mesothelioma, but researchers are making significant advancements in treatment through dozens of mesothelioma trials at various sites throughout the country.

One emerging technology being tested in clinical trials is immunotherapy, which researchers hope will revolutionize cancer treatment in the near future by providing a more targeted treatment option with less severe side effects than chemotherapy. Currently, the Atlanta and West Haven VA medical centers are participating in a phase II immunotherapy clinical trial testing the effectiveness of the Keytruda-Opdivo drug combination for patients with rare cancers.

Get Help Contacting Mesothelioma & Veterans

Author

Danielle DiPietro is a VA-accredited Claims Agent for The Mesothelioma Center and Asbestos.com. She understands the medical and financial needs of military veterans because her own grandfathers served in the U.S. Army. Danielle helps veterans diagnosed with mesothelioma and their loved ones file for VA benefits.

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  1. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2015, October 20). Compensation. Retrieved from http://benefits.va.gov/REPORTS/abr/ABR-Compensation-FY14-10202015.pdf
  2. 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
  3. War Related Illness & Injury Study Center. (2013, August). Exposure to Asbestos. Retrieved from http://www.warrelatedillness.va.gov/education/factsheets/asbestos-exposure.pdf
  4. 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/
  5. 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