Former U.S. Army Capt. Aaron Munz is director of the Veterans Department at The Mesothelioma Center. Munz is a decorated veteran who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2004.
As director of the Veterans Department, Munz uses his experience to help other veterans navigate the often complicated VA disability claims process. He maximizes the chances of winning a claim. And will work — at no charge — for individual veterans.
That means there is no risk. In fact, the potential rewards can be life-changing for veterans and their families. Imagine removing much of the frustration and anxiety that comes with dealing directly with the VA. It could also be rewarding financially.
The Veterans Department at The Mesothelioma Center doesn’t work for the VA or for any other government agency.
Veterans with mesothelioma or any asbestos-related disease may be eligible for a variety of VA benefits, including VA disability compensation and VA health care. The trick to filing a successful claim is knowing how to write it, how to cut through the red tape, and how to avoid the pitfalls that often lead to disappointing results.
On December 1, 2018, the Department of Veterans Affairs increased compensation rates for veterans.
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Eligibility for VA Benefits
Eligibility for most VA benefits starts with discharge from active military service under other than dishonorable conditions (OTH), although other than honorable and bad conduct discharges (BCD) may preclude the veteran from eligibility. Eligibility includes Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, or as a commissioned officer of the Public Health Service or the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), formerly known as the Environmental Science Services Administration.
Once that qualification is established, the veteran must convince the VA that the subsequent disease was likely a result of asbestos exposure on active duty. This is done through an exposure summary, which is a history of military job ratings, discharge status and civilian work history.
Someone with mesothelioma or asbestos-related lung cancer must provide medical evidence that his or her lung cancer came from asbestos exposure and that they were exposed to asbestos while on active duty in the military. An exposure summary spells out in detail where a veteran served and what specific tasks he or she performed while serving. The VA understands that anyone who served in a branch of the military prior to the 1980s was exposed to asbestos. The question then becomes: How much asbestos?
The key to a successful disability claim is convincing the VA that the condition is “service-related.” The veteran must provide medical documentation that convinces the VA that the disease is “as likely as not” to have been caused by military service. Getting a doctor to make that declaration can be crucial.
When it comes to mesothelioma, asbestosis or any asbestos-related illness and gaining a successful claim of disability compensation, at least half of a veteran’s lifetime exposure to the toxic material must have occurred during military service.
An experienced Claims Agent can help a veteran write his Asbestos Exposure Summary for the VA, assisting him in providing the proper documentation necessary to qualify for benefits.
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The VA recognizes mesothelioma as a service-connected disability but only if the majority of the exposure occurred during active duty. There are four generally accepted types of mesothelioma: pleural (lungs), peritoneal (abdomen), pericardial (heart) and testicular (testes).
The VA also only recognizes two of the four types of mesothelioma (pleural and peritoneal) as disabilities that are covered 100 percent. Because mesothelioma is caused only by asbestos exposure, which was so prevalent during the 20th century military life, less documentation is required for those cases.
Asbestos Lung Cancer and GI Cancers
Although these diseases are known to be caused by asbestos exposure, they also have been linked to other potential causes, like smoking, hereditary factors, and exposure to other dangerous substances, such as Agent Orange that was used so extensively during the Vietnam era.
To get these types of cancer approved by the VA as “service-related” conditions, veterans must provide some medical documentation that convinces the VA that they were caused by asbestos. It means that asbestos must be as likely as all other potential causes combined.
It helps if the veteran has a doctor to make that verification. Lung cancer, for example, is caused by smoking and asbestos. This is where a Veterans Service Representative from the Mesothelioma Center can help with the necessary documentation.
The VA recognizes these cancers as potential asbestos diseases:
- Lung cancer
- Gastrointestinal tract
- Urogenital system, except the prostate
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Asbestosis and Other Non-Cancerous Asbestos Diseases
These non-cancerous asbestos diseases are viewed differently than mesothelioma or asbestos-related lung cancer, which are seen as totally disabling by the VA. The monthly benefit would reflect that 100 percent disability.
The non-cancerous asbestos diseases are rated by the VA based on several criteria, including the results of a Pulmonary Function Test (PFT). It can result in a rating that is anywhere between 0 and 100 percent disabled.
The VA acknowledges that inhalation of asbestos fibers can produce:
- Fibrosis, which is a buildup of connective tissue. The most common place for this is in the lungs.
- Asbestosis, a type scarring of the lungs.
- Pleural effusions, excess fluid buildup around the lungs.
- Pleural plaques, a buildup or calcification of the lining of the lungs.
Disability Compensation Amounts
Disability compensation is usually paid monthly. The amount of compensation is determined by the veteran’s disability level, which is interpreted on a percentage scale of 0 through 100. Mesothelioma and other cancers have a 100-percent disability rating.
The government’s veterans compensation benefits rate for mesothelioma typically starts at more than $3,000 per month and increases depending on the number of dependents a veteran has.
An unmarried veteran with no children and a 100 percent disability rating can expect to receive $3,057 a month in benefits. A veteran with a spouse and child can expect to receive $3,352 a month in benefits.
Other Types of VA Compensation
In addition to Disability compensation, the VA also offers health care services, Special Monthly Compensation and Dependency and Indemnity Compensation.
VE Health Care Services
In addition to disability compensation benefits, the government provides health care at several VA treatment centers across the country for veterans who may have been exposed to asbestos and other environmental hazards while on active duty. Certain VA treatment centers offer specialized care for mesothelioma patients, such as the Boston VA Healthcare System and the Greater Los Angeles VA Healthcare System.
Special Monthly Compensation
SMC is a monthly benefit paid to veterans who are housebound, bedridden or disabled to a degree that they require the aid and attendance of someone else for care. This compensation is available to spouses and parents of veterans.
The amount of SMC someone receives will depend upon how much aid and attendance they require, though the benefit usually runs from $250 to $650 a month.
Dependency and Indemnity Compensation
Commonly known by its abbreviation, DIC is a monthly benefit available to the surviving spouse of a veteran whose death was caused by a service-connected disability. The monthly benefit starts at about $1,300.
A spouse needs to file a DIC claim even if their loved one was receiving disability compensation for mesothelioma or another asbestos-related disease prior to their death. If a veteran was not receiving VA compensation, a surviving spouse may apply for DIC, and they must submit information documenting the service-related asbestos exposure.
Asbestos-related diseases most often develop in older veterans, but young veterans are susceptible to developing them in the future. That’s because while asbestos is heavily regulated in the United States, the same is not true for other countries around the world.
1 Cited Article Sources
- U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2018, December 1). Benefit Rates. Retrieved from: https://www.benefits.va.gov/compensation/rates-index.asp
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Last Modified March 1, 2019