Mesothelioma Diagnosis in Air Force Veterans

Summary

The United States Air Force veterans are a large fraternity with close ties to history and ensuring America remained safe from the skies. The USAF detached from the United States Army Air Corps after World War II. The new military entity developed sophisticated aircraft, equipment and fighting techniques but kept a number of links to their past. Some were proud achievements, but one had a dark history—many Air Force veterans were exposed to deadly asbestos fibers.

The USAF was no different than its American military cousins when it came to extensive asbestos use. Granted, the Navy used far more asbestos-containing materials (ACM) than the Air Force, Army, Marines and Coast Guard. Navy ships were blanketed in ACMs while the Air Force was slightly more selective in using asbestos in aircraft building and base construction.

Asbestos Exposure in Air Force Veterans

The American military was the largest consumer of asbestos products for five decades.

Heavy asbestos use started in the pre-war years in the 1930s and continued until the mid-80s when overwhelming information about health hazards from asbestos exposure was too great to ignore. By then, the damage was done for many Air Force vets.

They’d been exposed to many products with ACM over many years. The amount and duration of asbestos contamination led to latent development of life-threatening diseases such as asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma. It takes anywhere from 10 to over 50 years for asbestos-caused diseases to set in and show symptoms. Proper medical diagnosis is usually made when an illness advances to middle stages. By then they can be impossible to treat, leaving many veterans’ only recourse being benefits provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA).

Asbestos Products Used in the Air Force

The U.S. Air Force used asbestos in their manufacturing, construction and maintenance projects for the same reasons other military branches wholeheartedly endorsed asbestos products. Asbestos was noncombustible. It wouldn’t burn under any conditions. This made asbestos ideal for aircraft engine heatshields, cockpit protection and fuel tank isolation.

Asbestos was thermally inert and worked as an excellent insulator. It was non-corrosive and electrically non-conductive as well as chemically stable, strong and lightweight. Combined with low-cost and ease of access, asbestos appeared to be a miracle material for Air Force use on and above the ground.

Asbestos products went into every American military aircraft built from the late 1930s until the early 1980s.

To the Air Force command’s credit, they took extensive steps to remove ACM from their air fleet once they understood how serious a health problem their veterans would face. The USAF led the military’s asbestos abatement program, but that was a monstrous task.

During a fifty-year period, their aircraft had asbestos in these components:

Some specific aircraft used higher amounts of ACM than others. Asbestos use depended on risk-management, as many high-performance airplanes were more volatile than cargo and passenger aircraft.

Planes with high asbestos materials were:

  • B-36 Peacemaker
  • B-25 Liberator
  • B-29 Superfortress
  • B-47 Stratojet
  • B-52 Stratofortress
  • B-58 Hustler
  • F-104 Starfighter
  • KC-135 Stratotanker
  • SR-71 Blackbird
  • U-2 Spyplane

Aircraft weren’t the only assets where the USAF used asbestos. Their ground facilities were full of asbestos, too. That took in hangars, maintenance facilities, administration offices, mess halls, barracks and family housing.

Harmful asbestos construction materials included:

Compensation and Benefits for Air Force Veterans

MJN Brief

United States Air Force veterans have disability compensation and special benefits available through the Department of Veterans Affairs. These are entitlements, not some sort of negotiable bonus. Veterans who honorably served their country are eligible to apply to the VA for various compensation and healthcare benefits.

Two main eligible criteria exist:

  • The veteran applicant had military service resulting in an honorable discharge. Dishonorable dismissals are not eligible for any benefit form.
  • The claimed disability was caused by some event occurring while on duty. That may be an immediate injury, an aggravated pre-existing illness or a latent disease like mesothelioma that manifests decades after an honorable discharge.

The USAF depends on the VA to administer all veteran affairs, including regular pension payments and compensation for special circumstances. There are a variety of compensation classifications, claim types and special healthcare benefits available to disabled veterans.

The following are the primary classifications for VA compensation:

  • Disability Compensation: This is the standard tax-free monthly monetary compensation plan where claimants receive guaranteed income supplements for being disabled as a result of active-duty dangers like asbestos exposures. Payments are made on a graduated scale from 10 to 100 percent of monthly financial requirements. Qualifying circumstances include how debilitating the disability is, whether it was primary or secondary to active service and how the disability is expected to increase.
  • Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC): DIC is paid to surviving spouses and child dependents of military veterans who died from active duty causes. That includes death from asbestos-related diseases. This is also tax-free and remains in place as long as the recipients continue qualification.
  • Special Monthly Compensation (SMC): Veterans with special requirements receive additional monthly compensation. This is at a higher, tax-free rate to cover costs like home care workers, special transportation or impairment injuries like limb loss and prosthetics. SMC compensation varies on a case-by-case base.
  • Additional Special Circumstances: This extends common SMC benefits. Additional compensation is available for special circumstances such as breathing-assistance apparatus, extensive medical treatment and hospitalization.

Air Force Veteran Benefit Claim Types

Because there are so many Air Force veteran disability claims covering a wide scope of contributing factors, the VA administration isolates claims into specific types. This aids classification and determining how fair and equitable compensation payments are made.

These are the main DVA claim types:

  • Pre-Discharge Claims: Active service personnel within 180 days of discharge may file for already-known disabilities.
  • Pre-Service Claims: Service personnel with pre-existing disabilities prior to entering service may claim when occupational hazards increased or aggravated the condition.
  • In-Service Claims: Disabilities clearly incurred during active service may claim benefits but continue duty.
  • Post-Service Claims: Disabilities that arise after discharge can be claimed provided proof exists they were caused by in-service conditions.
  • Special Claims: Special circumstances occasionally dictate claims being processed on their particular merits.

Other VA Healthcare Benefits for Air Force Veterans

VA healthcare benefits aren’t restricted to financial compensation and specialized medical assistance. The Department of Veterans Affairs is structured to help disabled veterans readjust to life after suffering service-related injuries and illnesses. It’s a holistic approach ensuring veterans are looked after for their service sacrifices.

Some extended healthcare benefits available through the VA include:

  • Disability Pensions
  • Preventive Healthcare Services
  • Personal Health Programs
  • Education and Training
  • Home Loans
  • Insurance
  • Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment
  • Mental Health Assistance and Counseling
  • Survivors Benefits
  • Burial and Memorial Services

Applying for VA Healthcare Benefits

Healthcare benefit applications aren’t restricted to active-service personnel or veterans discharged to pension plans. Every United States Air Force veteran remains eligible for compensation and healthcare assistance as long as the initial cause was somehow related to military service. That includes service personnel discharged before pension eligibility and also those whose condition worsened during service time.

Application for healthcare benefits takes these forms:

  • Online application with the eBenefits portal on the VA website
  • In person at a VA field office
  • Having assistance from an accredited third-party representative
  • Retaining a specialized law firm to file claims

Retaining a Specialized Law Firm

Attorneys specializing in asbestos-related litigation and compensation claims are experienced and knowledgeable in complex laws governing asbestos-caused cases. This often involves filing lawsuits against negligent asbestos manufacturing and supply companies as well as accessing bankruptcy trust funds and private insurance providers. Specialized lawyers also are familiar with VA applications and can make the process fast and stress-free.

It’s important to know that private civil claims in asbestos cases don’t affect VA claims in any way. Air Force veterans are entitled to draw funds from multiple sources, and it won’t interfere with VA entitlements.

View Author and Sources
Sources
  1. CPEO Military, “Lowry AFB Asbestos Compliance Order”, Retrieved from http://www.cpeo.org/lists/military/2004/msg00237.html Accessed on January 2 2018
  2. Department of Veterans Affairs, War Related Illness and Injury Study Center, “Asbestos Fact Sheet”, Retrieved from https://www.warrelatedillness.va.gov/WARRELATEDILLNESS/education/factsheets/asbestos-exposure.pdf Accessed on January 2 2018
  3. Department of Veterans Affairs, “Compensation – Asbestos”, Retrieved from https://www.benefits.va.gov/COMPENSATION/claims-postservice-exposures-asbestos.asp Accessed on January 2 2018
  4. Department of the United States Air Force, “Facility Asbestos Management Directive”, Retrieved from http://static.e-publishing.af.mil/production/1/af_a4/publication/afi32-1052/afi32-1052.pdf Accessed on January 2 2018

Last modified: February 19, 2018