Asbestos Use 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.
The navy in particular began stockpiling asbestos in the years leading up to World War II. This mineral was especially useful in shipbuilding applications, and the military wanted to have enough to build new ships before the inevitable entry into the war. On ships there was 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. Any sailor working below deck before about 1990 is at risk.
Mesothelioma occurs after inhaled asbestos fibers cause damage to internal tissues. Not everyone exposed in this way will develop the cancer, but in those who do the symptoms don’t become apparent immediately. The cancer begins most often in the pleural tissue around the lungs and can eventually spread to more distant areas of the body. Mesothelioma is aggressive and most often terminal.
Asbestos Illnesses Recognized by the VA
Mesothelioma is most often associated with asbestos exposure, but it is not the only disease that asbestos can cause. 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
- 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 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. This is 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. SMC is a 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.
- Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC). Surviving spouses of veterans who died because of a service-related disability like mesothelioma can also file a claim for 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. 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 Claim with the VA
To file for benefits you must contact the VA and fill out the appropriate forms. To streamline the process it helps to have updated medical records and a diagnosis of mesothelioma or other asbestos illness. It will also strengthen your case to have a doctor or specialist who has already determined your illness was likely caused by asbestos exposure. 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, so you should also have your service records available.
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 or an active service member, you have rights to compensation if that service caused a disability or serious illness. 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.
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.