of Mesothelioma Victims are Veterans
Of all the conditions that can be caused by years of asbestos exposure, mesothelioma is the most dreaded. Veterans suffer from mesothelioma at higher rates than most other demographic groups. Up to 30 percent of mesothelioma cases diagnosed are in military veterans. This is a type of cancer that affects the lining of the lungs, and it is often aggressive and deadly.
Because mesothelioma spreads and grows quickly and because it takes decades to develop and show signs, most veterans getting this diagnosis have little to no hope of remission or curing the illness with treatment. Most cases are already advanced to later stages at the time of diagnosis and therapies are used largely to extend a patient’s life and to make him or her more comfortable. Curing mesothelioma is extremely rare.
Veterans Exposed to Asbestos in all Branches of the Military
The higher than average rates of mesothelioma in veterans is explained by the fact that the military relied heavily on asbestos in many settings, buildings, vehicles, aircraft, and especially ships. The low cost and availability, as well as its ability to fireproof and resist heat made asbestos an idea material for many uses.
The Navy, the Army, the Air Force, Marines and the Coast Guard all utilized asbestos in nearly every form of transportation, in all electrical wiring, in housing and insulation and a number of other applications from the early 1900s all the way through the middle of the 1970s.
Those who served during the years that asbestos was in use were surrounded by the toxic substance on a regular basis, and this is why the mesothelioma rate is so high among this population. Making matters worse, many servicemen left the military but continued working in the similar occupations as civilians, exposing them to asbestos again.
The use of asbestos was discontinued by the military in the mid-1970s, after it became widely known that the popular material was linked to a variety of health risks. Because mesothelioma has such a long latency period, many of the veterans who served during the Korean War and the Vietnam War are only just beginning to show symptoms of the disease.
Certain types of military work put veterans at the greatest risk of asbestos exposure:
- Working with insulation
- Working in shipyards and on ships
- Roofing and flooring installation
- Vehicle repair and maintenance
- Building military equipment
What is Secondary and Continued Exposure to Asbestos
One of the many great tragedies of the extensive asbestos exposure that military members and veterans experienced is that their families were also put at risk. Anyone who lives in a home with someone who is daily exposed to asbestos on the job is also exposed.
This is called secondary exposure, and many family members of veterans have suffered because of the asbestos fibers that came home with them after a day on the job. The fibers cling to clothing and enter the air in the home where anyone can inhale them and suffer the same consequences as the person with primary exposure. This has especially been a risk for military members stationed on bases with their families in on-base housing.
Another issue with asbestos in the military is that many retired veterans continued to work in the same field as they did while in active service. This means that for many, the exposure to asbestos continued in their second careers, like plumbing, construction, or boiler work.
The development of mesothelioma is usually not seen in workers until decades after exposure to asbestos began. This means that these workers were often unaware at the time they left the military that they were at risk for mesothelioma and that their risk continued in civilian jobs. By the time it came to light, it was too late for many.
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Ship and Shipyard Asbestos Exposure
One of the most asbestos-rich environments in the U.S. military was on ships and in shipyards in the Navy. Nearly every part of each ship had some kind of asbestos-containing material, from the ceilings to the fireproof gear worn during fire drills.
Not only were the engine and boiler rooms insulated with the material, but so were the areas between decks, in the navigation rooms, and even in sleeping quarters and mess areas. Veterans tell stories of asbestos dust raining down on them – even the paint on the walls contained asbestos.
Navy veterans have the highest rates of asbestos-related illnesses of all military veterans because they experienced more exposure generally. The highest-risk areas of battleships include the pump rooms, engine rooms, and boiler rooms. Navy men and women who worked in these areas have experienced the most exposure to asbestos. This is because of the content of asbestos in these parts of the ships, but also because ventilation in the below decks areas was poor and workers breathed in a lot of asbestos fibers as a result.
The years of exposure to asbestos that so many military men and women endured can potentially cause a number of health conditions. One of these is mesothelioma, the aggressive type of cancer that most often attacks the linings of the lungs and that is nearly always fatal.
Mesothelioma is a terrible disease, but there are other asbestos-related illnesses that veterans may develop after service. They may have asbestosis, a chronic lung condition, lung cancer, larynx and pharynx cancer, gastrointestinal cancer, urogenital cancers, or bronchus and other types of cancer.
Some of these illnesses can be cured, many can only be treated. For instance, asbestosis is a chronic lung condition that causes scarring in the lungs, chest pain, coughing, and shortness of breath. The damage that has been done to the lungs, however, cannot be reversed or fixed. Veterans living with asbestosis can be treated for the symptoms, but will live with the condition forever as it progresses and gets worse.
What are some available Veterans’ Benefits for Mesothelioma
Living with mesothelioma is terrible and also costly. There are a number of benefits available to veterans who have been diagnosed with mesothelioma or other asbestos-related diseases. Mesothelioma has been recognized by the VA as a service-connected condition. Those who have been impacted are entitled to VA Health Care, Disability Compensation, and Dependency & Indemnity Compensation.
The availability of VA Health Care is determined by a number of factors, specifically on the veteran’s income level and whether the condition is service-related. If mesothelioma disability status is determined, a veteran is able to be treated at any VA facility, some of which are staffed by noted mesothelioma specialists.
Among these renowned physicians serving veterans are Abraham Lebenthal, M.D. of the Boston VA Healthcare System and Brigham & Women’s Hospital, and Robert Cameron, M.D. of the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System and the UCLA Medical Center.
Abraham Lebenthal, M.D.
Boston VA Healthcare System and Brigham & Women’s Hospital
Robert Cameron, M.D.
VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System and the UCLA Medical Center.
Disability compensation is a monthly benefit the VA offers to those with a proven service-related disability. The amount a veteran is entitled to receive varies based upon diagnosis and degree of disability. Mesothelioma has been determined to be 100 percent disabling, which means that a mesothelioma diagnosis generally entitles a veteran to the maximum monthly benefit.
Additional factors such as number of dependents may also impact the benefits available. The maximum monthly benefit to which veterans with mesothelioma are entitled begin at nearly $3,000 and can be increased if there are dependents in the family, such as minor children.
Dependency and Indemnity Compensation
This monthly benefit is provided to the surviving spouses of veterans who have died from a service-connected condition. It can be provided for the spouse of a veteran who died from mesothelioma.
Benefits for DIC are $1,195 per month and can be provided for spouses of veterans who were already receiving disability benefits, but also for those who were not. The surviving spouse may need to provide evidence of asbestos exposure, the illness, and how that contributed to the death.
Clinical Trials for Veterans
In addition to receiving medical treatment, veterans may apply to participate in a variety of clinical trials that are funded by drug companies, mesothelioma treatment centers and the National Institutes of Health, all of which study experimental treatments to evaluate safety and effectiveness.
Contact us today at 1-800-692-8608 for more information about the latest clinical trials and eligibility requirements. Space is very limited so contact us as soon as possible.
VA Health Care
Any military members struggling with asbestos-related illnesses are eligible for health care services through the VA. Every case is different and there are several factors used to determine eligibility. These include income level, and there are different scales used to adjust incomes and to decide if a veteran can receive health care with or without a co-pay.
Special monthly compensation, SMC, may be available for veterans so disabled by asbestos illnesses that they need specialized care. This designation generally refers to someone who cannot live independently, is bedridden, or cannot leave the house. The typical amounts of SMC awarded to veterans disabled because of asbestos exposure are between $250 and $650 per month.
Are there any Veterans Facilities Specializing in Mesothelioma Treatment?
Veterans facing a mesothelioma diagnosis have a long battle ahead. Treatments are being developed and tested all the time through clinical trials. Although it is nearly impossible to cure this disease, some people do go into remission and others see a significant increase in life expectancy thanks to the best and most aggressive treatments.
Some of the most advanced mesothelioma treatments being offered now through the VA are at facilities in Boston and Los Angeles. For those veterans that can travel to either of these locations, the level or service and health care offered is the best. The VA does not always alert veterans to these options, though. This is why it is so important that individuals are aware of the health care options available to them.
What’s happening to Raise Awareness Among Veterans?
Asbestos is an area of serious concern for anyone who served or is serving in the U.S. military. It is essential that all veterans and active service members are aware of asbestos, the risks of having been exposed to it, and their rights in being provided safety gear and training or compensation and healthcare.
Awareness of symptoms and early signs is also important. Because mesothelioma’s early symptoms so closely resemble other, more benign illnesses, they are often ignored, allowing the illness to progress further and become more and more difficult to treat.
The symptoms that veterans should be on the lookout for include fatigue, a persistent cough, weight loss, fever and night sweats. Many veterans, and even their physicians, may mistake these symptoms for the flu, a virus, or even bronchitis or pneumonia. It is essential that veterans make their physicians aware of their history of asbestos exposure in order to give themselves the best chance for early diagnosis.
Page Edited by Patient Advocate Dave Foster
Dave has been a mesothelioma Patient Advocate for over 10 years. He consistently attends all major national and international mesothelioma meetings. In doing so, he is able to stay on top of the latest treatments, clinical trials, and research results. He also personally meets with mesothelioma patients and their families and connects them with the best medical specialists and legal representatives available.