Every American should be grateful to their military veterans. These brave women and men volunteered to serve their country at home and abroad to protect United States citizens’ land, liberty and lives.
Many military service people were injured or killed during conflict. However, many veterans suffered delayed health diseases after being exposed to hazardous substances during their service. Now they’re rightfully eligible to receive benefits and compensation through the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Compensating Veterans for Asbestos Exposure
Asbestos was once viewed as the miracle material. Asbestos fibers were non–combustible, non-corrosive, excellent insulation, lightweight, strong and chemically stable. Asbestos was also readily available, easy to work with and cheap to buy. That made asbestos the perfect material for military use where high heat, friction, and strength were issues. Thousands of military ships, vehicles, airplanes, and buildings were full of asbestos products despite how dangerous asbestos exposure was to military personnel.
Asbestos exposure is a leading cause of latent health problems. Every United States military branch used asbestos products extensively from the 1930s through to the mid-1980s when information on asbestos health hazards was too big to ignore. Many veterans developed diseases like asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma after experiencing airborne asbestos exposure.
Whether active-duty or retired, veterans with asbestos-related diagnoses are eligible for VA compensation to cover medical expenses and provide them income support.
With over 25 million veterans are currently living in America, this demographic makes up approximately 8% of the population. But there’s something extremely disproportionate about the numbers of veterans suffering asbestos-related diseases compared to civilians. Veterans account for over 30% of mesothelioma cases, which is why accessibility to financial support is so critical for this group of Americans.
VA Benefits for Veterans With Asbestos-Related Diseases
Asbestos exposure is an increasingly large issue that the VA encounters due to the length of time asbestos diseases take to present symptoms and receive an accurate diagnosis. In response, the VA has established specific claims processes for veterans with asbestos-related diseases across its branches.
The Department of Veterans Affairs administers benefits for all United States military branches.
If you served in any of these branches, you are likely eligible for VA benefits:
National Guard veterans also qualify for some benefits. So do certain members of the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration, the Coast and Geodetic Survey, the Environmental Science Service Administration and commissioned officers of the Public Health Service.
The VA responds to health problems related to asbestos exposure among all US veterans. However, benefit eligibility varies with individual cases, as a particular disease, like mesothelioma, are considered more severe and earn a higher compensation amount. It’s important to contact a VA representative to discuss your circumstances so you can receive the maximum amount possible.
Who Can File for VA Benefits?
Veterans can apply for benefits long after their active service ended and there is no statute of limitations for benefit applications.
The standards for qualifying for VA benefits are simple:
- An applicant must show they were enlisted or commissioned in one of the recognized service branches.
- A veteran applicant must also have been honorably discharged—either released with a regular service pension or into civilian life after limited service.
- Applicants must also show their disability was service-related.
With asbestos-related claims, proving that exposure occurred during active service is a circumstantial situation.
To demonstrate that your disability (diagnosis) developed as a result of your time spent in the military, your claim must prove the following:
- A qualified medical practitioner has diagnosed you with a disease or impairment that was caused by asbestos exposure.
- As the applicant, you must show your service duties and locations were consistent with known asbestos-exposure hazards. The VA has identified certain high-risk military occupations.
- There is a balance of probabilities that shows that your long-term disability was due to asbestos you were exposed to while on duty.
High-Risk Military Occupations and Products
When the VA processes benefits claims, they follow guidelines on which military service areas were the highest risks for asbestos exposure. While most service duties had the potential for asbestos contamination, certain occupations were much more likely to experience airborne asbestos fiber conditions.
According to the VA guidelines, service occupations with the highest asbestos exposure risk were:
- Shipyard workers, repair specialists, and refitters
- Boilermakers, pipefitters, and welders
- Seafaring personnel working in engine, boiler and propulsion rooms
- Millwrights, machinists, and fabricators
- Automotive and heavy equipment mechanics
- Aircraft technicians and flight crews
- Armored vehicle operators and support personnel
- Carpenters, construction and demolition workers
- Insulators, drywallers, and painters
The VA also recognizes certain products with asbestos-containing materials (ACM) placed service personnel at higher risk for developing disabling diseases. Usually, these products went hand-in-hand with high-risk occupations.
But direct-handling of these products wasn’t the only way veterans risked asbestos exposure. Some veterans suffered secondary asbestos exposure simply from being in the vicinity of airborne asbestos fibers. Many of these veterans were seriously contaminated.
The highest risk ACM products included:
- Insulation, soundproofing and fireproofing materials
- Welding rods and protective welding clothing
- Pipe and duct wrap
- Cement powder and masonry mortar
- Friction products like brake pads and clutch plates
- Roofing, flooring, and wallboard construction materials
- Paint, adhesives, and sealants
Types of VA Benefits for Veterans
Veteran disability benefits fall into different classifications and claim types. How VA classifies and processes each claim depends on the particular circumstances. Each situation differs to some degree and requires careful analysis. It also depends on the claimant providing as much detail and evidence to support their claim as possible.
Disability claims include compensation for medical expenses, income assistance as well as a host of other financial aid and support services. Extended aid is a specialty healthcare service whereas financial aid has four general categories.
- Disability Compensation: This is a 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 10-100% 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 homecare 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 like total unemployability from stress-related disorders like PTSD and motor skill function loss. In asbestos-related claims, special compensation covers breathing assistance apparatus, extensive medical treatment and hospitalization.
Veteran Benefit Claim Types
Because there are so many veteran disability claims covering a wide scope of contributing factors, VA administration isolates claims into specific types. This aids classification and determining how fair and equitable compensation payments are made.
The the main VA claim types are:
- 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.
How to Apply for VA Benefits
Veterans who qualify for any type of benefit claim are eligible to apply to the Department of Veterans Affairs for financial compensation and health care assistance. The main requirements are proof of service and evidence of a disability related to military service.
Here are your options for filing a VA benefits claim:
- Online using the VA eBenefits webpage
- Attending a VA office and applying in person
- Working with an accredited third-party assistant
- Retaining a law firm’s representation
At the Mesothelioma Justice Network, we have third-party, VA Accredited Claims Agents on staff to help you file your claim and get the compensation you deserve. Learn more about working with a VA Claims Agent.
Working with a Mesothelioma Law Firm
In addition to your VA benefits, you can also file claims as a civilian to seek additional compensation for your medical costs and other expenses. However, it’s important to know that military veterans cannot sue the United States government or the specific military branch for asbestos-related disabilities incurred while on duty.
There is nothing preventing veterans from collecting VA benefits while pursuing or receiving compensation from other sources. Veterans with asbestos-related disabilities are wise to retain legal representation to help gain due and proper compensation.
Legal compensation options include:
- Accessing trust funds from bankrupt asbestos companies
- Filing personal injury lawsuits against negligent asbestos manufacturers and supplies
- Filing wrongful death lawsuits if you’re the family member of deceased veterans who had an asbestos-related disease
Law firms specializing in asbestos litigation are also knowledgeable of what benefits are available through VA and work to get their clients the maximum compensation available. Many law firms retain VA Accredited Claims Agents on staff to support their veteran clients.
Filing claims can be a stressful and confusing process for many veterans, especially those already ill. Retaining an attorney specializing in asbestos cases is cost-free for veterans and will bring the maximum compensation possible. Contact our Justice Support Team today to learn more about your compensation options as a veteran.