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:
- Boilermakers, steamfitters and plumbers
- Construction workers
- Electricians and insulators
- Engine and propulsion specialists
- Hull maintenance technicians
- Mechanics and machinists
- Welders and metal workers
Mesothelioma Justice Network 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
United States Coast Guard veterans can apply for benefits through theDepartment of Veterans Affairs. Eligible Coast Guard veterans are entitled to these benefits and compensation.
In order to be eligible for VA benefits, veterans must meet two primary requirements:
- Honorable Discharge: Applicants must have been honorably discharged.
- Disability During Active Duty: Applicants must have developed their disability due to 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: Eligible veterans can receive a guaranteed monthly payment for their disabilities they incurred during their service time.
- Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC): Spouses and dependents of veterans who have passed away due to active duty reasons can also receive monthly payments.
- Special Monthly Compensation (SMC): Coast Guard veterans with special medical needs can receive monthly compensation for their unique circumstances.
- Additional Special Circumstances: In certain situations, veterans need additional support, which can come in the form of payments from the VA for additional special circumstances.
Coast Guard Veteran Benefit Claim Types
Depending on your situation, you will need to file the appropriate claim type through the VA. The VA’s claim types include:
- Pre-Discharge Claims: You can apply for a pre-discharge claim within 180 days of being honorably discharged.
- Pre-Service Claims: If you joined the Coast Guard with a pre-existing condition and it worsened due to active-duty reasons, you can file a pre-service claim.
- In-Service Claims: In some cases, you may have developed an injury during active duty but can remain in active service. For these situations, you will file an in-service claim.
- Post-Service Claims: In the case of mesothelioma or other asbestos-related diseases, veterans can file post-service claims because they developed a latent active-duty injury.
- Special Claims: There are occasional situations that fall outside of the above claim types and wil require you to file a special claim.
Other VA Benefits for Coast Guard Veterans
The VA helps disabled Coast Guard veterans readjust after their service-related injuries and illnesses. They have a compassionate approach to ensuring Coast Guard veterans are cared for in the long-term.
Eligible veterans can apply for extended VA benefits, including:
- Disability Pensions
- Preventive Healthcare Services
- Personal Health Programs
- Education and Training
- Home Loans
- Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment
- Mental Health Assistance and Counseling
- Survivors Benefits
- Burial and Memorial Services
If you meet the eligibility criteria for receiving VA benefits as a Coast Guard veteran, then you have a few options for how to file your claim.
You can file your VA benefits claim in any of the following ways:
- Apply online through the VA’s eBenefits portal
- Visit a VA branch and apply in person
- Have a VA Accredited Claims Agent help you with your claim
- Hire a Veterans Advocate lawyer who can file the claim on your behalf
Claiming VA benefits isn’t the only recourse U.S. Coast Guard veterans have for obtaining compensation for asbestos-caused diseases. Like civilian victims, USCG veterans can sue negligent asbestos product manufacturers. 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.