Veterans and Mesothelioma

In the U.S., over 30% of those diagnosed with mesothelioma are veterans. Every military branch relied on asbestos for decades, meaning thousands were exposed on a daily basis. Today, veterans with mesothelioma can receive VA benefits and other forms of compensation to cover their medical expenses.

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Veterans and Asbestos Exposure

U.S. Veterans are at an especially high risk of developing mesothelioma. Every branch of the military relied on asbestos-based products from 1935 to 1975.

Asbestos was favored by the military because it was flame-resistant and highly durable. However, asbestos exposure can lead to deadly cancers like mesothelioma.

Products containing asbestos could be found in military:

  • Bases
  • Vehicles
  • Planes
  • Ships

In the process, thousands of veterans were put at risk.

The military was unaware that asbestos was dangerous. The companies that made asbestos-based products hid the facts to keep making money.

Today, veterans with mesothelioma can receive compensation and medical treatment through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and its health care system. The VA recognizes that mesothelioma is a serious threat to veterans and offers a number of benefits for those affected.

Veterans can also file a legal claim against the asbestos companies that sold their products to the military. No branch of the military will be sued. A legal claim may award veterans with financial compensation to cover the costs of medical treatment.

Quick Facts About Veterans and Mesothelioma

  • All military branches — including the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Coast Guard — used asbestos.
  • Navy veterans are at an especially high risk of mesothelioma. Navy vessels contained a huge amount of asbestos products.
  • Some military jobs (such as mechanics, shipyard workers, and boilermakers) put veterans in contact with asbestos on a daily basis, increasing their risk of cancer.
  • Today, asbestos has been removed from most military assets. However, some service members may be at risk if they are exposed to asbestos overseas.

How to File a VA Claim

The U.S. government recognizes that veterans are at an especially high risk of mesothelioma. To help these veterans, the VA has put several medical programs and services in place. Veterans can access these services through a VA disability claim.

With a VA claim, veterans can receive medical care through the VA health care system. This includes treatment for mesothelioma. Veterans may also qualify for other care services, monthly stipends, and benefits for their family members.

Veterans with following asbestos diseases may be able to receive VA benefits: 

  • Mesothelioma
  • Lung Cancer
  • Asbestosis
  • Pleural plaques

Veterans must first meet certain criteria in order to file a VA disability claim.

Basic requirements for filing a VA claim include: 

  1. You were exposed to asbestos during your military service
  2. You were not dishonorably discharged
  3. You have medical records that prove you have an asbestos-related disease
  4. You have service records that show what jobs you held in the military
  5. You have a doctor’s statement that connects your military exposure to asbestos with your current illness

Common Questions About Filing a VA Claim

The VA claims process may not always be cut and dry. Here are some common questions — and answers — about filing a VA claim.

  • Are my VA benefits taxable?

It depends on the benefit in question. Some VA benefits are taxable, while others are not. For example, VA retirement benefits are taxable, but VA disability benefits will not be taxed.

  • Where can I file a VA benefits claim?

Veterans can typically file for disability benefits in-person at a local VA office or online. For other benefits, veterans may be able to apply by phone or through the mail.

  • Is filing a VA claim easy?

Since mesothelioma takes decades to develop, it can be challenging for veterans to remember how, when, and where they were exposed to asbestos. Because of this, filing a VA claim can be overwhelming.

Claims need to be filed exactly in accordance with VA criteria or else veterans risk having their claim delayed or rejected.

To avoid issues, many veterans work with VA-accredited attorneys who can help them properly file a claim.

Types of Veterans Benefits

There are many different types of VA benefits that veterans can access. These benefits can help veterans receive medical treatment for their illness and may also grant them a financial stipend.

Veterans may also be able to receive health care through private insurance — even if they have VA benefits.

Not every veteran will qualify for all types of VA benefits. To understand what benefits may be available, veterans should work with a VA-accredited attorney.

VA Disability Compensation

Through the VA’s disability compensation program, veterans can receive a monthly financial stipend. This money can help veterans cover their medical and basic living expenses.

Usually, filing a VA disability claim for mesothelioma qualifies veterans for 100% disability coverage. Under the VA’s disability compensation structure, 100% coverage equates to $3,057 per month. However, it may be higher for veterans with dependents or those who need caregiver assistance.

This is a 100% tax-free monthly benefits program. Compensation amounts are not determined by a veteran’s employment status or their current levels of income.

VA Health Care

The VA health care system was established to specifically treat veterans and offer them quality, affordable care. The VA health care system includes thousands of doctors and hospitals across the country.

Veterans who are not automatically enrolled in the VA health care system can apply for enrollment. The VA health care system is helpful, as its doctors and medical professionals have experience specifically with veterans’ health issues.

Veterans MISSION Act

Veterans may be able to use VA health care to visit some non-VA doctors and medical coverage through the MISSION act. This act expanded VA health care coverage to include some local providers in 2019.

Private Insurance

Some assume that if they are awarded disability benefits from the VA for their condition, then they must use the VA health care system for treatment. This isn’t true.

While the VA health care system does employ some of the nation’s top mesothelioma specialists, it is not mandatory. Many veterans choose to use their own insurance while receiving VA disability benefits.

VA Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (VA DIC)

VA Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (VA DIC) claims are paid to a veteran’s family members in the event of the veteran’s death. It is normally paid out to their spouses and children.

To receive VA DIC, it must be shown that the veteran died of mesothelioma that was caused by their military service. Like VA disability compensation, VA DIC is tax-free and is paid monthly.

VA Pension

Through a VA pension, a veteran receives a monthly, tax-free sum through the VA.

To receive a pension, the veteran must meet the income, age, and disability requirements outlined by the VA. Veterans can typically apply online for their VA pension.

If a veteran dies, their family members may be able to receive a survivors pension as well.

Special Monthly Compensation (SMC)

Special monthly compensation (SMC) is an additional financial benefit that may be available to veterans. This benefit is available for those who cannot care for themselves and need the help of another person.

Veterans with mesothelioma are considered to be completely disabled by the VA since the cancer is so aggressive. Many patients need intensive treatment after they are diagnosed.

Treatment for Veterans with Mesothelioma

No matter when a veteran is diagnosed with mesothelioma, there are treatment options available.

Common treatments for mesothelioma include: 

  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation
  • Surgery

To receive these treatments, veterans with mesothelioma need to work with experienced mesothelioma doctors. Since the cancer is so rare, general cancer doctors may not have the ability to properly treat mesothelioma.

Fortunately, veterans with mesothelioma can access top doctors and medical treatment through the VA health care system

Notably, there are two VA doctors who have dedicated their careers to treating pleural mesothelioma and providing excellent care to veterans.

These doctors are: 

Dr. Avi Lebenthal

Dr. Avi Lebenthal is the Director of Minimally Invasive Thoracic Surgery for the VA Boston Health Care System in Massachusetts. As a veteran of the Israeli army, he is extremely compassionate and well-respected among veterans.

Dr. Robert Cameron

Dr. Robert Cameron is the Chief Thoracic Surgeon at West Los Angeles VA Medical Center. He is a pioneer of pleural mesothelioma treatment.

Dr. Cameron pioneered the pleurectomy with decortication (P/D) surgical procedure. A P/D does not remove the patient’s lung, unlike some other surgeries. By sparing the lung, patients can recover from this surgery faster.

Clinical Trials

By receiving high-quality medical care through the VA, veterans may also have access to clinical trials.

Clinical trials test new and upcoming mesothelioma treatments. Treatments from a clinical trial may be helpful to veterans if they don’t respond well to standard treatments.

The VA hosts sponsored clinical trials at facilities all across the country. However, since roughly 1,000 veterans are diagnosed with mesothelioma each year, VA clinical trials for mesothelioma may be limited.

Veterans can talk to their doctors to learn more about clinical trials and if they may benefit from joining one.

Military Asbestos Uses

The U.S. military was one of the largest purchasers of asbestos-containing products.

Asbestos products throughout the 20th century. Asbestos use was especially high during war times. World War II saw the military widely use asbestos as the production of military assets ramped up.

Asbestos products were used in military assets like warships, aircraft, armored personnel carriers, barracks, warehouses, and more.

Many veterans wonder how a product that was so abundantly used could have such well-known yet ignored health consequences. Victims also grapple with why the military chose to use asbestos and not switch to alternative products.

Like many organizations, the military used asbestos extensively because it appeared to be an incredibly useful product.

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By nature, asbestos is fire-retardant, which is essential in military construction for preserving human lives from weapon fire. Asbestos is also a natural insulator, making it the perfect construction material in military buildings.

Asbestos appeared to have plenty of other benefits for military construction.

Asbestos was favored because it is:

  • Cheap to purchase
  • Resistant to heat, water, and chemical corrosion
  • Virtually indestructible, and capable of withstanding the demands of military operations

Sadly, the military was also at first deceived about the health risks associated with asbestos exposure. When the medical evidence revealed the long-term consequences of asbestos exposure, the damage was already done.

Military members now account for one of the largest demographics of mesothelioma cases in the world.

Which Military Branches Used Asbestos?

All U.S. military branches have used asbestos throughout their history. Military members stationed overseas may still be involved in the direct handling of asbestos-based products. Though every branch had asbestos applications, some used it more abundantly than others.

The different amounts of asbestos use throughout the military means there are varying levels of health risks for certain military occupations.

Here’s an overview of the different military branches and how each one used asbestos:

Asbestos Exposure in the Navy

The U.S. Navy has by far the highest exposure risk of any military branch. Nearly every warship built in the mid-20th century was lined with asbestos insulation.

Sailors who spent extended periods of time aboard these vessels were at high risk of developing mesothelioma or another asbestos-related illness. Quarters in Navy ships were often cramped and poorly ventilated, making it virtually impossible to escape asbestos exposure.

However, some Navy sailors worked directly with asbestos-based products on a daily basis in their duties.

Navy jobs with a high risk of asbestos exposure included: 

  • Boilermakers
  • Construction workers
  • Engine mates
  • Machinist’s mates
  • Shipyard workers

Anyone who worked at these jobs — and others — during their Navy service runs a high risk of mesothelioma today.

Navy Ships and Shipyards

Navy sailors responsible for shipbuilding and shipyard work had the highest levels of asbestos exposure. That’s because they were directly handling asbestos-based products used on Navy ships.

As shipyard workers performed their duties, they were constantly surrounded by a material that could lead to their deaths. Even their after-work living quarters were not safe, as many barracks and bases were built with asbestos products.

Asbestos Exposure in the Air Force

Planes and other aircraft used by the Air Force relied on many asbestos-based materials and parts. Asbestos helped prevent the planes from catching on fire.

Asbestos-containing products used by the Air Force included: 

  • Brake pads
  • Cockpit and engine insulation
  • Gaskets
  • Paint
  • Sealants

Anyone who regularly worked on Air Force planes was at risk of asbestos exposure. Pilots, mechanics, and aircrew members like gunners all may have been exposed on a regular basis.

Asbestos Exposure in the Army

Army soldiers were exposed to asbestos in several ways.

First, asbestos was a key product used in Army vehicles. It was used in clutches, brake pads, and gaskets. Asbestos-based products could also be found in Army barracks, bases, and living quarters.

Any soldier who spent any time in Army vehicles or could have been exposed to asbestos at some point. However, some Army veterans may be at a higher risk depending on what job held during their service.

Army occupations with a high risk of asbestos exposure included:

  • Construction workers
  • Firefighters
  • Electricians
  • Mechanics
  • Pipefitters

These jobs constantly exposed Army soldiers to asbestos.

Modern-Day Army Asbestos Exposure

Though asbestos was phased out of Army operations, veterans of the recent Afghanistan and Iraq wars were likely exposed to asbestos when buildings exploded.

These Army vets are still at risk of developing mesothelioma due to the 20-50 year period it takes to develop this cancer after asbestos exposure.

Asbestos Exposure in the Coast Guard

Coast Guard veterans who served on military ships between the 1930s and 1980s are at risk of developing mesothelioma.

In particular, Coast Guard veterans who worked to maintain or fix their ships may have been directly exposed on a regular basis.

Coast Guard jobs with a high risk of asbestos exposure included:

  • Boilermakers
  • Insulators
  • Electricians
  • Pipefitters

Additionally, sleeping quarters on Coast Guard ships were also lined with asbestos, putting service members at risk of exposure while they slept or rested.

These ships were poorly ventilated, meaning that any disturbed asbestos fibers could continue to circulate through the ship and risk inhalation by crew members.

Asbestos Exposure in the Marine Corps

Many Marine Corps veterans could be at risk of developing mesothelioma.

The Marine Corps worked alongside different branches of the military, but was very versatile and could operate on its own. Because of this, there were many ways that Marine veterans could have come in contact with asbestos.

The Marine Corps may have regularly exposed to asbestos from: 

  • Aircraft
  • Navy ships
  • Military bases and living quarters
  • Vehicles

In particular, the Marine Corps worked closely with the Navy during wartime. Marines often had similar levels of asbestos exposure to sailors as a result.

Modern-day Marines who served in Afghanistan and Iraq may have been exposed to asbestos through building explosions.

Secondhand Asbestos Exposure in Military Families

Military veterans themselves were not the only ones at risk. If their families lived with them in military bases or military-built housing, they also could have been put at risk through secondhand exposure.

Secondhand asbestos exposure occurs when someone who does not directly handle asbestos products is exposed. For example, if a military member got asbestos dust on their clothes and returned home, the fibers could enter the air and put their family members at risk.

Asbestos Exposure After the Military

After their service, some military veterans may have been exposed to asbestos elsewhere. One of the most common ways veterans were exposed post-service was at their job.

Asbestos was widely used both by private industries and the military. Veterans could find jobs similar to the ones they held during their time in the service.

The following occupations had a high risk of asbestos exposure: 

  • Auto and aircraft mechanics
  • Construction workers
  • Firefighters
  • Electricians
  • Insulators
  • Plumbers

If a veteran was exposed to asbestos both during and after their service, this may impact their ability to file for compensation.

While veterans who were exposed solely in the military can file for VA benefits, those who were exposed elsewhere may also be able to receive compensation through a legal claim.

Our Military Members’ Sacrifices

Hundreds of thousands of U.S. military members have selflessly dedicated their lives to serving our great nation. Sadly, many of them have given their lives to protect the rights and freedoms of fellow American citizens.

Today, veterans with mesothelioma are paying with their lives decades after the fact.

It’s vital for the men and women of our armed forces to know that they are not alone. Through the VA, veterans can receive high-quality medical care and compensation for their illnesses.

Outside of the VA, veterans also may be able to receive compensation through legal action.

Legal Process for Seeking Compensation

Veterans who have been diagnosed with mesothelioma or other asbestos-related illnesses are victims of negligent companies. These companies sold asbestos to the military even though they knew the health risks.

When their deceit was revealed, these companies faced thousands of legal claims from their victims. Today, veterans with mesothelioma can seek financial compensation from these companies as well.

Compensation can help pay for:

  • Lost wages
  • Travel expenses
  • Treatment costs
  • Other expenses

The Mesothelioma Justice Network believes in fighting for justice on behalf of veterans and all victims of asbestos.

Our team is here to help veterans file for VA benefits and learn about legal compensation. Start a free case review today.

Author:Stephanie Kidd

Editor-in-Chief of the Mesothelioma Justice Network

Stephanie Kidd

Stephanie Kidd works tirelessly as a dedicated advocate for the vulnerable and underrepresented. Stephanie worked as a copywriter for an agency whose focus was communicating safety procedures on construction work sites. With her extensive background in victim advocacy and a dedication to seeing justice done, Stephanie works hard to ensure that all online content is reliable, truthful and helpful.

Last modified: August 9, 2019

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