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Veterans who were exposed to asbestos during their service, and who became ill as a result of that exposure, have resources available to them through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The VA provides resources including compensation and health care, but veterans must file a claim first. The VA also provides free resources that help veterans navigate the system and file a claim with the best chance of being successful.

From all branches of the military, but especially in the U.S. Navy, veterans are now suffering from asbestos-related illnesses. Mesothelioma is the most devastating and deadly of these, but some veterans are also struggling with lung cancer and asbestosis because of how widely-used asbestos was in the decades before the 1970s. If you are a U.S. veteran with an asbestos disease, you can file a claim to get benefits through the VA.

Asbestos in the Military

Asbestos is a mineral that the military used extensively from the 1930s through the 1970s. Asbestos use dates back much earlier than that, but it was during these years that it was used for so many applications throughout the military, from bases, to shipyards, to ships. Asbestos is useful in so many ways because it adds strength to materials, it resists fire and heat, and it is cheap and abundant.

It was before the onset of World War II that the Navy in particular started stockpiling asbestos for use on ships. For decades Navy ships were laden with asbestos in the insulation around pipes, in the boiler and engine rooms, in the pumps, valves, and gaskets, in flooring, in fireproof panels and in fireproof protective gear. It wasn’t until the 1970s that the health risks associated with asbestos became well known enough that its use was finally regulated and restricted.

Asbestos and Mesothelioma in Veterans

Breathing in small fibers of asbestos has the potential to cause a number of health issues, most infamously mesothelioma. The fibers lodge in tissues inside the body and damage cells, which may lead to the development of cancer. Those veterans who worked around or directly with asbestos, like Navy veterans working in boiler rooms and those that repaired or built ships in shipyards for instance, are at the greatest risk for developing mesothelioma decades after their service ended.

Asbestos Illnesses Recognized by the VA

Mesothelioma may be the illness most often associated with asbestos exposure, but it is not the only one. Many veterans have suffered from other illnesses too and there are several conditions and symptoms that the VA recognizes as being caused, at least in part, by asbestos. These are the conditions that veterans may claim if filing for compensation and other benefits:

  • Two types of mesothelioma, pleural and peritoneal
  • Lung cancer
  • Cancer of the bronchus, larynx, or pharynx
  • Cancer of the gastrointestinal tract
  • Asbestosis
  • Fibrosis in the lungs
  • Pleural plaques
  • Pleural effusion

For many of these conditions, excluding mesothelioma and asbestosis, there are many factors that can contribute to them. However, they are also associated with asbestos exposure so the VA recognizes them in asbestos claims. The veteran must make a case, with the assistance of a doctor, that asbestos is as likely a possible cause as other factors.

Types of VA Compensation Available to Veterans

In filing a claim for service-related and asbestos-related illnesses, veterans have several different types of compensation they can seek. For those ill with these terrible conditions, coverage for health care is of primary importance. The VA hospital system has specialists in mesothelioma, especially at the facilities in Boston and Los Angeles.

Disability compensation is also a common benefit for veterans to seek for service-related illnesses. The VA views cancers caused by asbestos to be completely disabling and eligible for full disability compensation. For non-cancerous illnesses like asbestosis and pleural plaques, tests are done to rate the degree of disability and to determine how much a veteran is owed in compensation.

Special monthly compensation is a special type of disability compensation that is typically awarded to veterans who are homebound or bed-ridden. They are disabled to the extent that they cannot take care of themselves and require assistance, either in the home or by living in a facility. Family members who care for these veterans may claim special monthly compensation.

Surviving spouses of veterans who died because of a service-related disability like mesothelioma can also file a claim for dependency and indemnity compensation, or DIC.  DIC provides a monthly form of compensation. Spouses are eligible for DIC whether or not the veteran had already been receiving disability compensation. If the veteran was not, the spouse must make the case for the veteran dying of a service- and asbestos-related illness.

Amounts of Disability Compensation Awarded

The amount if disability payment a veteran may receive from the VA depends on the level of disability. Asbestos-related cancers are considered 100 percent disabling, so these veterans are eligible for the full amount, around $2,800 per month. For other illnesses, a lung function test may be done to determine the percentage of disability with the lowest being ten percent, and compensation of only a couple hundred dollars each month.

How to File a VA Claim for Mesothelioma

To file for benefits you must contact the VA and fill out the appropriate forms. It is important that you have updated medical records and it helps to have already had a doctor diagnose you and determine if your illness could have been caused by asbestos exposure. You will also need to show your military records. The VA will want to see that you were exposed to asbestos during your active service and that your illness is considered to be related to that exposure.

How long it takes to get an answer on your claim depends on various factors, but typically is between six and eight months. If your claim is denied you have up to one year to appeal the decision. If you are simultaneously filing a lawsuit, for example against a manufacturer of asbestos materials that you worked with during service, it will not affect your disability claim.

As a veteran of the U.S. Military, and an active service member, you have rights to compensation if that service caused you later disability. Exposure to asbestos has the potential to cause particularly debilitating illnesses and too many veterans have suffered from these because of their service to the country. By making a claim through the VA for mesothelioma or another asbestos illness, you are accessing your rights to fair compensation. Get started soon to make sure you get an answer and start getting your benefits as soon as possible.

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