VA Benefits and Asbestos Exposure

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Until the late 1970s the long-term results of asbestos exposure were not well known by most people. Because of its versatility as a non-flammable, non-conductive insulator, asbestos was widely used during World War II and the Korean War by the military. Veterans who served during this time were often exposed to asbestos on a regular basis, particularly those who served onboard Naval vessels and those who worked in the shipyards.

Before the dangers were realized, asbestos was used in virtually every part of a ship’s interior including the fire and engine rooms, boiler room, navigation room, mess hall, and sleeping quarters. While living and working in the poorly ventilated interior of a ship, it was virtually impossible to escape contamination.

Malignant Mesothelioma InformationAsbestos is a naturally occurring fibrous substance that is resistant to fire, heat and chemicals and that does not conduct electricity. When the substance is undisturbed, it is fairly harmless. However, when the fibers are handled or disturbed tiny particles can be released into the environment. These particles can be inhaled or swallowed and subsequently cause much harm. Over time, the particles can cause scarring in the lungs or abdomen and lead to a variety of health problems including asbestosis and mesothelioma. Asbestosis is irreversible and progressive, while mesothelioma, also known as asbestos cancer, is often incurable and generally considered fatal.

Asbestos-related illnesses often take 10 to 40 years or more to become evident from the time of original exposure. Between 1979 and 2001, over 43,000 Americans died from illnesses related to asbestos contact. This number is increasing as new cases develop from old exposures. More than 30 percent of Americans with these types of illnesses are veterans. Due to the long incubation period and the difficulty of proving exposure, only a third of those seeking legal recourse ever receive compensation for these asbestos-related pleural disease.

Veterans across the country are rallying to ensure their rights are protected in regard to asbestos-related disease. Depending on the type of illness that develops, veterans are now able to collect some or all of their benefits from the VA. The difficulty in collecting benefits arises from the burden of proof.

A veteran must first prove that their illness is asbestos-related and that the exposure occurred during the time of service and at no other time before or since. If the veteran cannot definitively prove that exposure was isolated to the time of service, the government requires that the veteran recover damages from the asbestos companies. Since asbestos was so widely used previous to the late 1970s, it can be difficult to determine what product was responsible for contamination and which company produced it.

Asbestos Legal ResourcesCurrently, asbestos-related illnesses are not considered “service-related” in the way that Agent Orange exposure is. Instead, it falls under a bracket of injuries incurred during service. For instance, if a veteran was a smoker during their time in the service but at no other time and develops lung cancer, they could be entitled to benefits under this same bracket of injuries incurred during service. Again, the veteran would have the burden of proof and be required to show that their exposure was limited to the time they were in the service. Because of these difficulties in showing proof of exposure, it is extremely important to enlist the service of a mesothelioma lawyer who is experienced in these types of cases.

Unfortunately, asbestos-related diseases, while treatable, are incurable. Although early detection provides the best opportunity for successful treatment, asbestosis and other asbestos-related diseases often go undiagnosed until it is too late. Symptoms of mesothelioma, as well as those related to asbestosis or even lung cancer, are similar to pneumonia in early stages, including shortness of breath, persistent cough, bloody phlegm, tightening or pain in the chest, difficulty swallowing, loss of appetite, weight loss and fatigue. Smoking also can increase the probability of asbestos exposure developing into lung cancer (50-90 times). Patients often are led to believe that smoking is the primary cause of their illness if they are unaware of previous exposure to asbestos. A lung biopsy is the most reliable procedure for detection of asbestos fibers and definitive diagnosis of an asbestos-related disease.

Asbestos Cancer TreatmentAs with other types of cancers, treatments such as chemotherapy, radiation and surgery are somewhat effective in controlling asbestos-related malignant mesothelioma and lung cancer. Depending on how advanced the disease is, physicians will use one or all of these methods to prevent the further spread of cancerous cells. In the case of asbestosis and asbestos pleural disease, which are the non-malignant forms of asbestos-related disease, treatment of the symptoms can make the patient more comfortable and prolong life but still cannot cure the cause. Treatments include oxygen therapy, bronchodilators, chest percussion, and other methods designed to remove fluid from the lungs and increase oxygen intake. All forms of asbestos-related diseases are progressive and incurable.


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