Mesothelioma Diagnosis in Coast Guard Veterans

Summary

Now part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the USCG still carries its 227-year-old motto “Semper Paratus” meaning “Always Ready”. But, for nearly a century, Coast Guard sailors and shore workers were unknowingly always ready for dangerous exposure to asbestos.

The United States Coast Guard proudly displays their white ships and aircraft throughout America’s seashores, seaways and inland lakes. They’re marked with the distinctive red and blue service stripe so visible in maritime law enforcement, coastal defense and search and rescue operations.

The Coast Guard provided protection to America’s Atlantic and Pacific coasts, covering 3.4 million square miles of the exclusive economic zone. The USCG also protects American island interest in Hawaii, Guam and American Samoa as well as ranging north to Alaska and the Bering Sea.

Nearly 80,000 sailors, aircrew and support workers operate and maintain 1,800 USCG vessels and almost 200 aircraft. Though once attached to the Department of National Defense, all Coast Guard service people still have benefits delivered by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Asbestos Exposure in Coast Guard Veterans

Coast Guard ships have similar characteristics to Navy vessels. USCG utilizes many aircraft that the Air Force operates as well. Historically, Coast Guard boats and planes used identical construction materials as other departments. That included the same materials installed in buildings at USCG bases, shipyards and maintenance docks.

For most of the 20th century, asbestos-containing materials (ACM) filled Coast Guard ships and shore facilities.

Coast Guard assets contained asbestos products for the same reasons every other front-line defense department did. Primarily, asbestos was fireproof and an excellent insulation material. Asbestos wouldn’t corrode or conduct electricity. It offered strength to products and reduced their weight. Asbestos was chemically stable and easy to handle. It was also cheap to buy and readily available.

The Coast Guard fell into the same asbestos-using pattern as other government service providers. From the 1930s to the 1980s, USCG vessels, planes and buildings consumed asbestos at alarming rates. Once information on how dangerous asbestos exposure was to human health, the Coast Guard administration ordered an abatement program. They removed as much asbestos as practical, ensuring that remaining ACM was encapsulated to avoid accidentally releasing fibers.

High-Risk Asbestos Exposure Occupations to Coast Guard Veterans

Every Coast Guard sailor and shore worker was exposed to some amount of asbestos during the peak period when asbestos was unregulated. Health risks increase exponentially with greater amounts of asbestos in the atmosphere and longer exposure duration. Risks also increase depending on the type of asbestos present.

Certain Coast Guard occupations had higher risk exposure because their duties demanded they work directly with non-encapsulated ACM. High-risk occupations included:

MJN Brief

Asbestos-containing materials were plentiful at Coast Guard bases, in aircraft and throughout vessels. Some veterans suffered primary or first-hand asbestos exposure by directly working with loose ACM. Other vets experienced secondhand exposure by being in the vicinity where ACM work released airborne asbestos fibers. No matter how veterans became exposed to asbestos, they were all prime candidates for developing mesothelioma. For that, Coast Guard veteran are entitled to VA compensation and related healthcare benefits.

 

Compensation Benefits for Coast Guard Veterans

The Department of Veterans Affairs administers disability compensation and special benefits to United States Coast Guard veterans. Benefits and healthcare compensation are entitlements that veterans who honorably served their country are entitled to.

Two main eligibility criteria exist:

  • Honorable Discharge: Applicants must have been honorably discharged. Dishonorable dismissals are not eligible.
  • Disability During Active Duty: Applicants must have developed their disability as the result of an active-duty event, like asbestos exposure causing mesothelioma. 

The VA administers all US Coast Guard veteran benefits. The VA classifies compensation types to help determine different criteria for benefits.

The main compensation types are:

  • Disability Compensation: This is the standard tax-free monetary compensation plan where claimants receive monthly guaranteed income supplements for disabilities resulting from active-duty hazards like asbestos exposure.
  • Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC): DIC is paid to surviving spouses and child dependents of US Coast Guard veterans killed by active duty causes. That includes asbestos-related disease deaths.
  • Special Monthly Compensation (SMC): Coast guard vets with special requirements are entitled to additional monthly compensation.
  • Additional Special Circumstances: Additional compensation is available for special circumstances where veterans required extra special care and aid.

Coast Guard Veteran Benefit Claim Types

Coast Guard veteran disability claims cover a wide scope of contributing factors. Therefore, the VA divides up claim types into:

  • 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 Benefits for Coast Guard Veterans

The VA helps disabled Coast Guard veterans readjust to life after suffering service-related injuries and illnesses. They have a compassionate approach to ensuring Coast Guard veterans are cared for in the long-term.

Extended healthcare benefits available through the Department of Veterans Affairs 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

Every United States Coast Guard veteran remains eligible for compensation and healthcare assistance after discharge as long as the initial cause was somehow related to military service. That includes service personnel discharged before pension eligibility and 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 Mesothelioma Law Firm

Department of Veteran Affairs compensation and health care benefits aren’t the only recourse U.S. Coast Guard personnel have for asbestos-caused disease cases. Like civilian victims, USCG veterans can sue negligent asbestos product manufacturers and suppliers. Civilian claims don’t affect any benefits or compensation paid by the VA.

For more information on filing a personal injury or VA claim, contact our Justice Support Team today.

View Author and Sources
Sources
  1. US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health. “Mortality Among Shipyard Coast Guard Workers: A Retrospective Cohort Study”, Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2078389/ Accessed on January 2, 2018
  2. Mesothelioma Veterans Center, “Mesothelioma in the Coast Guard”, Retrieved from https://www.mesotheliomaveterans.org/veterans/military/coast-guard/ Accessed on January 2, 2018
  3. 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
  4. Department of Veterans Affairs, “Compensation – Asbestos”, Retrieved from https://www.benefits.va.gov/COMPENSATION/claims-postservice-exposures-asbestos.asp Accessed on January 2, 2018
  5. Department of Veterans Affairs, “I am a Veteran” Retrieved from https://va.gov/opa/persona/index.asp Accessed on January 2, 2018
  6. Department of Veterans Affairs, “Exposure to Hazardous Materials – Asbestos” Retrieved from https://www.vets.gov/disability-benefits/conditions/exposure-to-hazardous-materials/asbestos/ Accessed on January 2, 2018
  7. VA/Vets.gov website, Veterans Disability and Healthcare Benefits”, Retrieved from https://www.vets.gov/ Accessed on January 2, 2018
  8. Military.com, “Asbestos Illness Related to Military Service” Retrieved from https://www.military.com/benefits/veteran-benefits/asbestos-and-the-military-history-exposure-assistance.html Accessed on January 2, 2018
  9. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, “Asbestos Fact Sheet” Retrieved from https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxfaqs/tfacts61.pdf Accessed on January 2, 2018

Last modified: April 4, 2018