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Mesothelioma and Veterans

Over 30% of those diagnosed with mesothelioma are United States military veterans. Every branch of the Armed Forces relied on asbestos for decades, meaning thousands were put at risk of developing mesothelioma. Today, veterans with asbestos-related diseases can receive VA benefits and other forms of compensation.

Understand Your Legal Options

Veterans and Asbestos Exposure

U.S. military veterans are at an especially high risk of developing mesothelioma because the military relied heavily on asbestos-containing products from the 1930s to the early 1980s.

The military used asbestos because it was flame-resistant, highly durable, and cheap. It allowed key military assets to last longer and sustain enemy attack.

Asbestos-containing products could be found in military:

  • Bases
  • Planes
  • Ships
  • Vehicles

When military asbestos use was at its peak, the health risks of asbestos exposure were not widely known.

Did You Know?

It was not until the 1980s that the military took steps to remove the mineral amid a growing public concern about its risks.

The widespread use of asbestos by the Armed Forces means that many veterans may be at risk of developing mesothelioma or other asbestos-related diseases today.

Thankfully, veterans with mesothelioma can receive financial compensation and medical treatment through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and its health care system.

Veterans can also file a legal claim against the manufacturers of asbestos-containing products that sold goods to the military.

Legal claims are completely independent of VA benefits, and veterans can often file for both with the help of a mesothelioma lawyer.

Quick Facts About Veterans and Mesothelioma

  • Roughly 33% of all mesothelioma cases can be traced back to asbestos exposure in the U.S. Navy or shipyards.
  • Military jobs such as shipyard work, construction work, and boilermaking put veterans at a higher risk of asbestos exposure.
  • Military use of asbestos increased during World War II and continued for decades until the health risks were addressed in the 1980s.
  • Veterans may have been put at risk after they served through jobs that relied on asbestos-containing products, like plumbing or construction work.

Mesothelioma Veterans Benefits

The VA has put several medical programs and services in place to help veterans with mesothelioma. Mesothelioma veterans benefits can be accessed by filing a VA claim.

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

  • Mesothelioma
  • Asbestosis
  • Lung cancer
  • Pleural plaques

Below, see some of the many VA benefits that veterans may qualify for.

VA Disability Compensation

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

Disability compensation is ranked from 0% to 100%. The higher the percentage, the more money a veteran may receive.

Mesothelioma Veterans and Disability Coverage
Veterans with mesothelioma typically qualify for 100% disability coverage since the cancer is aggressive and deadly.

Compensation amounts are 100% tax-free and are not affected by a veteran’s employment status or their current levels of income.

VA Health Care

The VA health care system was established to offer veterans quality, affordable medical care.

With VA health care, veterans with mesothelioma can receive treatment from some of the world’s top mesothelioma specialists.

Veterans may also be able to access non-VA doctors and health care thanks to the MISSION act. This act expanded VA health care coverage to include select local providers in 2019.

VA Health Care vs Private Insurance

While the VA health care system does employ some of the nation’s top mesothelioma specialists, it is not mandatory. Veterans can choose to use private insurance to seek medical treatment.

In fact, VA health insurance can also be used alongside private health care plans, Medicare, and Medicaid. Having private insurance does not change what VA health care benefits a veteran may qualify for

Many veterans choose to use their own insurance while still having VA health care.

VA Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (VA DIC)

If a veteran dies due to a service-related illness or injury, their survivors (family members or loved ones) may qualify for monthly, tax-free compensation through VA DIC.

Several factors affect who can receive VA DIC. For example, the rules for a spouse to receive VA DIC are different from the rules that apply to children.

Because of this, the amount of compensation a family member may get also varies. Families are encouraged to work with a VA claims agent to learn how much compensation they may be able to receive.

VA Pension

A VA pension is a monthly payment to veterans who served during wartime. Veterans with mesothelioma may be able to receive a pension if they meet the established income limits.

The VA pension only pays out money to veterans who are below a certain financial limit.

VA Pension Qualifications
As of December 1, 2019, a veteran’s total net worth — combined with their spouse’s — must be less than $129,094 or they cannot receive a pension, according to the VA.

VA pension will pay the difference between the veteran’s current income and the maximum pension rate set by Congress.

Special Monthly Compensation (SMC)

SMC may be available to veterans who have disabilities. It is paid out based on different “levels” depending on the veteran’s health issues.

Veterans may receive SMC if they:

  • Are blind, bedridden, cannot use their limbs, or have had an amputation
  • Can’t leave their home due to a service-related disability
  • Have a dependant spouse or children
  • Need help with basic living needs (like eating and bathing)

Since mesothelioma is considered to be 100% disabling by the VA, veterans with this cancer may qualify for SMC.

How to File a VA Claim

To file a VA claim, veterans must fill out documents that explain what illness they have, how it is connected to their military service, and why they need specific military benefits.

Veterans with mesothelioma will need to show how they were exposed to asbestos while they served and how this led them to get sick decades later.

Basic requirements for filing a VA claim include:

  1. A veteran was exposed to asbestos during their military service
  2. They were not dishonorably discharged
  3. Medical records proving they have an asbestos-related disease
  4. Service records showing what jobs a veteran held in the military (and evidence linking these jobs to asbestos exposure)
  5. A doctor’s statement that links the veteran’s military exposure to asbestos to an illness

To meet these requirements, veterans should work with skilled mesothelioma lawyers and VA claims agents when filing a claim.

Did You Know?

It can be very hard to meet all these requirements without help. Veterans may not remember how, when, or where they were exposed to asbestos since mesothelioma takes 20-50 years to develop after first exposure.

Mesothelioma lawyers can help identify the asbestos-containing products veterans were exposed to and gather the evidence needed to file a strong VA claim. Lawyers review each case they handle with the utmost care.

From there, a VA claims agent can help veterans actually fill out the paperwork and submit the claim so it can be processed in a timely manner. Claims agents are certified by the VA to help veterans access these benefits.

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?

Some VA benefits are taxable while others are not. For example, VA disability compensation will not be taxed, but standard military retirement pay is taxable.

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?

It is easier with the help of a VA claims agent and a mesothelioma attorney who know how to build strong claims for veterans. Claims need to be filed exactly in accordance with VA criteria or else veterans risk having their claim delayed or rejected.

Treatment for Veterans with Mesothelioma

One of the most important benefits available for veterans with mesothelioma is medical treatment through the VA.

Though there is no cure for mesothelioma, treatments may help patients live longer and manage their symptoms.

Common treatments for mesothelioma include:

  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation
  • Surgery

Veterans should work with mesothelioma specialists to receive these treatments, as general cancer doctors may not have the experience needed to provide proper treatments.

Thankfully, there are two mesothelioma specialists within the VA — and they are some of the best in the country.

Dr. Robert Cameron

Working out of the West Los Angeles VA Medical Center is Dr. Robert Cameron. Dr. Cameron has served the VA for over 20 years and during this time has proven to be one of the nation’s leading mesothelioma specialists.

Did You Know?

Dr. Cameron developed a surgical technique called pleurectomy with decortication (P/D), which removes mesothelioma tumors but keeps a patient’s lung intact.

By not removing the lung, patients may recover from the surgery easier and with fewer complications.

He also co-founded the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation (MARF), a non-profit organization that studies new diagnosis and treatment options.

Dr. Avi Lebenthal

On the East Coast, Dr. Avi Lebenthal works tirelessly to treat veterans with mesothelioma. He is the Director of Minimally Invasive Thoracic Surgery at the Boston VA Hospital.

Did You Know?

Dr. Lebenthal learned how to perform extrapleural pneumonectomies (EPP) from the late mesothelioma specialist Dr. David Sugarbaker. This surgery removes the lung that is closest to the mesothelioma tumors to improve life expectancies.

He also knows how to treat patients using the P/D surgery pioneered by Dr. Cameron.

Dr. Lebenthal served in the Israeli army for nearly 20 years, helping him understand the issues faced by veterans — both during their service and after.

Clinical Trials

Veterans may also be able to access treatments through clinical trials, which test new methods of treating mesothelioma with the hopes of finding a cure.

Veterans with mesothelioma can learn more about clinical trials that they can participate in by talking to their doctors.

Which Military Branches Used Asbestos?

All branches of the U.S. Armed Forces used asbestos until the 1980s when the toxic mineral was finally removed from most military ships, vehicles, planes, and bases.

Some veterans may be at a higher risk than others depending on the Military Occupation Services (MOS) in which they served.

For example, shipyard workers typically worked with asbestos-containing products on a daily basis, meaning the extent to which they were exposed was likely much greater than those who served in the Military Police Corps, for example.

Below, learn how each branch of the U.S. military used asbestos and which military jobs put veterans at a higher risk of exposure.

Asbestos Exposure in the Navy

The U.S. Navy used more asbestos-containing products than any branch of the military since the mineral protected the ships from fires and corrosion.

Navy Ships and Asbestos
Almost every Navy ship built between 1930 and the late 1970s used asbestos-containing products.

Sailors who spent extended periods of time aboard these ships 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.

In addition, some sailors in the Navy worked directly with asbestos-containing products on a daily basis depending on their MOS, putting them at even greater danger.

Navy rates with a risk of exposure included:

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

Anyone who worked at these jobs during their Navy service may run a higher risk of mesothelioma today.

Navy Ships and Shipyards

Navy sailors who worked in shipyards were exposed to high levels of asbestos since they were constantly surrounded by the deadly material.

Did You Know?

Shipyard workers had to build and repair Navy ships and directly handle asbestos-containing products on a daily basis. This work could send asbestos fibers into the air around them, where it could easily be inhaled.

Even their after-work living quarters were not safe, as many barracks and bases were built with asbestos-containing products.

Asbestos Exposure in the Air Force

Anyone who regularly worked on aircraft in the U.S. Air Force was at risk of exposure since asbestos-containing parts were used to keep planes from catching on fire.

Asbestos-based products used by the Air Force included:

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

Pilots, mechanics, and aircrew members like gunners all may have been exposed on a regular basis.

Asbestos Exposure in the Army

Asbestos-containing products were used throughout the Army in vehicle parts, such as clutches, brake pads, and gaskets, and in construction materials used to make Army barracks, bases, and living quarters.

Any soldier who spent any time in Army vehicles or bases or could have been exposed to asbestos at some point.

Army jobs with a high risk of asbestos exposure included:

  • Construction workers
  • Electricians
  • Mechanics
  • Pipefitters

These jobs forced Army soldiers to work with asbestos-containing products on a daily basis, and the soldiers didn’t know the dangers until decades later.

Asbestos Exposure in the Coast Guard

Much like the Navy, the U.S. Coast Guard heavily relied on asbestos-containing products to build their ships, meaning anyone who served aboard them could now be at risk of developing mesothelioma.

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

Coast Guard jobs with a risk of exposure included:

  • Boilermakers
  • Insulators
  • Electricians
  • Pipefitters

Much like Navy shipyard workers, these Coast Guardsmen had to install or repair asbestos-containing materials on a regular basis.

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

Asbestos Exposure in the Marine Corps

The U.S. Marine Corps worked alongside other branches of the Armed Forces but also operated 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 been exposed to asbestos from:

  • Bases and living quarters
  • Air Force planes
  • Navy ships
  • Vehicles

Veterans of the Marine Corps were at particularly high risk if they served tours of duty on Navy ships.

These vessels used many asbestos-containing products and were poorly ventilated, making it easier to inhale stray asbestos fibers in the air.

Secondhand Asbestos Exposure in Military Families

Military veterans themselves were not the only ones susceptible to asbestos exposure, as their family members also could have been put at risk through secondhand exposure.

Did You Know?

Secondhand asbestos exposure occurs when someone comes in indirect contact with the mineral. This exposure can be just as deadly as being exposed on the job.

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.

Modern-Day Military Asbestos Exposure

Although the military removed most asbestos from its buildings, vehicles, and ships in the 1980s, some service members may still be at risk even today.

For example, modern-day Soldiers who served in the Middle East may have been exposed from building explosions, as some older buildings in Middle Eastern countries still contain asbestos.

Asbestos Exposure After the Military

Some military veterans may have been exposed to asbestos after their service, including through their jobs.

Asbestos was widely used both by private industries and the U.S. military. Veterans could find jobs similar to those they held in the Armed Forces, meaning they would still be exposed to asbestos even after they served.

The following jobs had a high risk of asbestos exposure:

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

If a veteran suffered from service-related and occupational asbestos exposure, they may qualify both for VA benefits and legal compensation from the manufacturers of asbestos-containing products.

Don’t wait — mesothelioma is highly aggressive. Learn more about the options available.

Compensation for Mesothelioma Veterans

If you are a veteran with mesothelioma, you may qualify for VA benefits and other forms of compensation. You served your country with pride, and you never deserved to get sick.

You may receive mesothelioma compensation through:

  • VA claims
  • Asbestos trust funds
  • Legal claims

For best results, work with an experienced mesothelioma lawyer who can help you learn when and where you were exposed to asbestos. From there, these lawyers can take legal action to get you compensation.

Working with a mesothelioma lawyer will not impact your ability to receive VA benefits.

To learn more about VA benefits and other ways to receive compensation, get a free case review today.

Mesothelioma Support Team
Stephanie KiddWritten by:


Stephanie Kidd grew up in a family of civil servants, blue-collar workers, and medical caregivers. Upon graduating Summa Cum Laude from Stetson University, she began her career specializing in worker safety regulations and communications. Now, a proud member of the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA) and Editor-in-Chief of the Mesothelioma Justice Network, Stephanie serves as a voice for mesothelioma victims and their families.

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