How and When Did the Military Use Asbestos?
Asbestos is a mineral that the military used extensively from the 1930s through the 1970s. The military used it in everything from bases to vehicles to shipyards and ships. Asbestos is useful in so many ways because it adds strength to materials, resists fire and heat, and is cheap and abundant.
The Navy began stockpiling asbestos in the years leading up to World War II. This mineral was especially useful in shipbuilding, and the military needed enough to build new ships before the inevitable entry into the war.
On ships, asbestos made its way into many components:
- Insulation around pipes
- Insulation in the boiler and engine rooms
- Pumps, valves, and gaskets
- in flooring, in fireproof panels
- 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.
Veterans Have Higher Rates of Asbestos Disease
Nearly one-third of mesothelioma diagnoses made each year are in veterans. The high use of asbestos in the military accounts for this fact.
Those veterans who worked around or directly with asbestos are at the greatest risk for developing mesothelioma decades after their service ended. These include Navy veterans working in boiler rooms and those who repaired or built ships in shipyards. Any sailor working below deck before about 1990 is at risk of later asbestos illnesses.
Mesothelioma occurs after inhaled asbestos fibers cause damage to internal tissues. Not everyone exposed in this way will develop 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.
What Are VA Claims, and Should I File One?
A VA claim is an application veterans complete to seek benefits for service-related injuries, illnesses, and disabilities. The VA offers different types of benefits from compensation to veterans to healthcare and even benefits for family members.
Mesothelioma and other asbestos illnesses require costly treatments. You may face other expenses as well: travel costs, lost wages and lost earnings for dependents. If you are eligible for compensation, you should seek it to help defray these costs.
Is Mesothelioma a VA Disability?
Yes, the VA considers mesothelioma a disability. If a veteran becomes ill later because of asbestos they encountered during service, they have a service-related disability. The VA also recognizes other illnesses related to asbestos exposure.
Which Asbestos Illnesses Does the VA Recognize?
Mesothelioma is most often associated with asbestos exposure, but it is not the only related disease. There are several conditions and symptoms that the VA recognizes as being caused, at least in part, by asbestos:
- 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 potential contributing factors; however, they are also associated with asbestos exposure, so the VA recognizes them in asbestos claims.
A veteran making a claim must make a case, with the assistance of a doctor, that asbestos is as likely a possible cause as other factors.
Types of Claims Veterans with Mesothelioma Can Make
For veterans diagnosed with asbestos conditions, coverage for health care is of primary importance. The VA hospital system has mesothelioma specialists, especially at the facilities in Boston and Los Angeles. Available types of compensation include:
- Disability Compensation: The VA views cancers caused by asbestos to be completely disabling. Veterans diagnosed with mesothelioma are usually 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 compensation.
- Special Monthly Compensation: This 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. Family members who care for these veterans may claim special monthly compensation as well.
- Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC): Surviving spouses of veterans who died because of a service-related disability like mesothelioma can file a claim for DIC monthly 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.
- Healthcare. The VA also offers veterans healthcare at their facilities. While not a claim for compensation, this is a benefit to which you are entitled. The best VA hospitals for mesthelioma treatment are in Los Angeles and Boston.
How Much VA Compensation Can I Get for Mesothelioma?
The VA awards compensation amounts depending on degree of disability. You will receive a disability rating for your illness that determines your claim amount. The VA considers mesothelioma 100% disabling.
The disability rating varies for other illnesses or symptoms, like pleural plaques or pleural effusion. For example, 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.
The 2022 VA disability rate for a 100%-disabling illness like mesothelioma is $3,332.06 per month. This amount is for a veteran without a spouse, children, or parents. The rate goes up for veterans with these family members.
Do I Quality for VA Compensation?
There are three main qualifications to get compensation from the VA for mesothelioma or another asbestos illness:
- You can prove you were exposed to asbestos during service.
- You have a documented asbestos-related diagnosis.
- You did not receive a dishonorable discharge.
How Do I Know if My Illness Was Caused by Asbestos During Active Service?
The VA reports specific jobs that put veterans at particular risk of developing an asbestos-related illness. If you worked in any of these roles, monitor your symptoms and get screened for cancer and lung conditions:
You should also be concerned about asbestos if you worked around or handled flooring and roofing materials, cement sheets, pipes, insulation, or clutches and brakes in vehicles. All of these contained asbestos in the past.
How Do I Prove Asbestos Exposure During Military Service?
To prove that you encountered asbestos while serving in the military, you need some documentation and a summary of exposure. Your service records will show when you served, the locations, and your jobs and roles, which indicate the likelihood of exposure.
Write a detailed asbestos exposure summary that includes:
- Military branch, time of service, and location of service
- Any bases or ships to which you were assigned
- Your role in the military, including all jobs, duties, and areas of specialty
- Materials you encountered that included asbestos
- They types of activities or jobs you did with asbestos materials
- Any training or lack of training you received for working with or around asbestos
The more detail you provide, the better. Assume the person reading the application has no idea how you could have been exposed.
How to File a Claim with the VA
To file for benefits, you must contact the VA and fill out the appropriate forms. Here are some tips to help make the process easier and to get better, faster results:
- Have updated medical records and a diagnosis of mesothelioma or other asbestos illness ready to provide with your claim.
- It will also strengthen your case to have a doctor or specialist who has already determined your illness was likely caused by asbestos exposure.
- Have your service records available to prove your exposure occurred while you were in the military.
How long it takes to get an answer on your claim depends on various factors, but it 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 a right to compensation if that service caused a disability or serious illness. By making a claim through the VA for mesothelioma or another asbestos illness, you access your rights to fair compensation. Get started soon to make sure you get an answer and start getting your benefits as soon as possible.
How Long Will it Take to Get Compensation from the VA?
The time it takes to receive compensation depends on individual factors related to your claim. According to the VA, the average time it takes to receive a decision on a claim is 150 days.
The VA may need more or less time depending on the type of claim, the complexity of your illness, and whether or not they need to get more information.
Can a Lawyer Help Me Make a VA Claim for Mesothelioma?
Making a claim can be confusing. Mistakes may lead to delays in compensation the government owes you. It’s a good idea to work with an experienced asbestos lawyer or another type of accredited representative to make your claim. They can answer your questions, help you navigate the claims process, and give you a better chance of getting compensation sooner.Get Your FREE Mesothelioma Packet
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.