Mesothelioma is one of the most harmful and destructive cancer that is caused solely by asbestos exposure. Because the US military utilized asbestos frequently on their ships, bases, and other applications, veterans are considered some of the most at-risk individuals of developing the disease. Veterans comprise 30% of the people diagnosed with mesothelioma.
The armed forces continued using asbestos in building materials until the 1970’s or 1980’s despite knowing that asbestos caused a wide range of illnesses, including mesothelioma. For this reason, service members who were exposed to asbestos and developed a disease during their time in service may be eligible for compensation from the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) through their benefits program.
What Is A Veteran’s Benefit’s Claim For Mesothelioma?
You can file a claim with the VA to receive compensation for mesothelioma or other asbestos-related condition if you developed the disease as a result of exposure while you served in the military. There are two types of veterans benefits claims for mesothelioma:
- Disability compensation—this claim is filed by the patient, who receives their compensation directly.
- Dependency and Indemnity Compensation –this claim is filed surviving family members (spouse, child or children, parent, sibling, etc.) of a veteran who passed away from service-connected mesothelioma
The VA will approve some claims that qualify for additional special monthly compensation for veterans who need special care or assistance, or have specific conditions such as a missing leg or arm. These are not standard, and will only occasionally apply to a mesothelioma veteran or the family members.
The VA may also offer other benefits and programs for needs such as:
- Dental care
- Possible hospitalizations
- Health insurance
- Vehicle allowance
Regular VA benefits for mesothelioma are generally paid to the veteran monthly. These benefit frequently supplement a monthly earned income, or are a substitute. A veteran’s benefits can help provide financial stability as the costs for his or her mesothelioma begin to accumulate.
How Do I Go About Filing A Claim For Mesothelioma With The VA?
If you have been diagnosed with mesothelioma and believe it was due to asbestos exposure during your military service, you may be able to file a claim for mesothelioma veterans benefits. You must first need to meet various eligibility requirement to have a successful claim and receive compensation. These requirements include:
- Honorable separation from the military, i.e., not with a dishonorable discharge
- Have a verifiable exposure to asbestos during your time in service
- Have a certified medical diagnosis of mesothelioma or other asbestos-related illness
If you meet these requirements, your next step is to compile evidence that verifies your service-connected asbestos exposure during active duty. You’ll need to collect and provide documentation that identifies:
- All locations where you were stationed and based and the time period you were there
- Marine vessels where you stationed
- Your occupation during your active duty military service
- A confirmed medical diagnosis of mesothelioma
- Details that show that your illness could be reasonably connected to asbestos exposure during your military service
From the 1930’s through the 1970’s, the military frequently used asbestos
Between the 1930s and 1970s, the U.S. military used copious amounts of asbestos due to its natural fireproofing capabilities. Asbestos stayed in buildings and installations until at least the 1990’s or later. If you were in the military anywhere from the 1930’s through the 1970’s, you definitely had some form of asbestos exposure. Although the chances of exposure have decreased in recent years, it is still a possibility.
Many veterans who are long ago retired and back in civilian life still carry the risk of exposure due to the long-term latency. This can be as long as 50 years, which is why mesothelioma is frequently diagnosed in older males. Additionally, some veterans may have difficulty remembering where they served, which makes compiling evidence even more difficult.
Having a consultation with a mesothelioma legal team may be helpful in locating the evidence you need to receive your compensation. Remember that no one is legally allowed to bill or charge you anything for assistance with filing your mesothelioma veterans benefits claim.
You have a few options when filing your claim:
- Request assistance from a Veteran Service Officer (VSO) or a VA-accredited claims agent
- Visit a nearby VA office and fill out the required forms
- Mail the “VA Form 21-526EZ—Application for Disability Compensation and Related Compensation Benefits” to the VA through the United States Postal Service
Use the VA’s eBenefits page on their website
What Is The VA’S Process For Mesothelioma Claims?
After you file a claim, it is sent to the VA’s claims department for a formal review. The VA should notify you by mail after your claim is received. Claims submitted online through their website will reach the VA much faster than sending them your claim through standard mail, which will take a week or more.
If the VA needs more evidence they will return your claim and identify the rest of the documentation and details you need to provide. This can happen more than once if you fail to provide enough satisfactory documentation and evidence. An accredited VA representative or your mesothelioma lawyer can help you obtain all the evidence and documentation to adequately support your claim. Should you decide to enlist help, they will file what’s called a “Fully Developed Claim.” This means no additional evidence is needed and could help to expedite the claims process.
Once all the evidence is submitted, a VA representative will suggest a decision based on the provided documentation. In some cases, they may request that you have an examination at a VA hospital or clinic to support the mesothelioma diagnosis. The proposed decision will have another review. If the claim is approved, then you will be assigned an award.
You’ll then be notified of your approval or denial in a packet of documentation with the VA’s decision, as well as all the information about the review
How Much Disability Compensation Does The VA Provide?
There are several factors that determine the amount of compensation you’ll receive. The compensation amount differs for each veteran with a claim related to asbestos exposure. Those factors include:
- The seriousness of the disease
- Whether the evidence clearly demonstrated that the asbestos exposure occurred during military service and was definitely service-connected
- Whether the evidence clearly showed that service-related asbestos exposure was a major contributor to the development of the disease
- Lost wages and income due to the disease
- The number of dependents (if any) that the veteran has
- Whether the individual needs help or assistance from someone else to perform routine daily functions
Most claims for mesothelioma that are approved by the VA receive 100% of the claim because the disease is so bad at that point. On average, a veteran receives about $3,000 per month, but it can be larger in many cases.
Should the VA deny your claim for inadequate evidence, or because they believe your exposure occurred more prior to or after the end of your service, you can still apply for a VA pension. You’ll need to be 65 or older, have an eligible household income, and served at least 3 months in the military to potentially qualify.
Technically, VA pensions are not designed for veterans with disabilities. However, they may offer some financial assistance when you need it.
More Types Of Mesothelioma Compensation Available To Veterans
Veterans are eligible for more than just VA benefits for mesothelioma compensation, which frequently do not cover all the costs associated with the disease. As a mesothelioma patient, you may also be eligible for many other legal and benefit claims outside of those from the VA.
Mesothelioma treatments can be costly—one round of chemotherapy can cost from $35,000 to $50,000. Without insurance (or with insurance that doesn’t cover it), you may find yourself facing thousands of dollars in medical bills. There are some options for alleviating these costs, including:
- Asbestos trust funds
- Workers’ compensation claims
You will likely need help from a qualified mesothelioma lawyer for both lawsuits and asbestos trust fund claims. Lawsuits bring cases against the product manufacturers of asbestos, or employers who utilize products that contain asbestos. The objective of a lawsuit is to prove that the employers or manufacturers are liable for your illness that’s a direct effect of asbestos exposure, as well as all the associated costs you now bear.
An asbestos lawsuit usually lasts between one and three years, and frequently end with settlements. Many mesothelioma patients prefer to settle for a lower settlement rather than go to trial. While an average settlement award from a lawsuit is around $1.3 million, while a successful trial verdict yields an average payout of about $2.5 million.
Unfortunately, you may not see the money right away. These companies also have a team of defense lawyers working for them and will file multiple appeals to delay payment for months, and possibly years.
Asbestos trust funds are different, since the companies involved have already recognized their liability in asbestos exposure. Many may have declared bankruptcy but were legally obligated during the proceedings to set aside money for possible future claimants for mesothelioma. There are currently about 60 trusts in the US holding a total of over $30 billion available to claimants.
Making a claim against an asbestos bankruptcy trust means that you will likely receive compensation faster after the trustees approve your claim than you would a lawsuit settlement or verdict. Generally, only a portion of trust fund claims for asbestos are actually paid to patients, with the average payout about 25% of the initial request for a claim. If you decide to file a claim of $600,000 against a trust, you’ll likely receive $150,000, or 25%. The reason for this is so that future claimants will also be able to receive compensation as well.
Additionally, worker’s compensation is also an available option. These are benefit claims similar to veteran’s mesothelioma claims that shift the responsibility to an employer and not the military. In either case, there is no blame. Workers’ compensation works differently in each state, and the program generally offers a monthly benefit for approved claims. However, payouts tend to be larger from lawsuits and asbestos trust funds.
Each option requires considerable documentation and evidence proving that you were exposed to asbestos and mesothelioma was diagnosed as a result. You can file more than one claim at a time, such as filing a VA claim for mesothelioma and a lawsuit against a company while making a claim against an asbestos trust fund.
Be aware that any awards you receive may directly impact other compensation and/or benefits. Some states will allow prior awards to affect an amount you receive from a lawsuit settlement. That is, if you receive VA disability benefits, a lawsuit award may reduce the amount of the settlement by the money the VA has already paid you.
Which Veterans Were Primarily At Risk?
Although asbestos is still in some military occupations and on some installations, its use has been mostly eliminated. Nearly every military member who served between the 1930’s and the 1970’s were at risk for exposure to asbestos. The highest risk individuals were members of the US Navy and the US Marines.
Ships and shipyards saw a high amount of use for asbestos, and it was used in marine vessels to protect against the dangers of fires. Boiler rooms, pump rooms and engine rooms also used asbestos insulation to keep them cool but were frequently poorly ventilated. This increased the chance of service members inhaling the microscopic fibers from asbestos.
High-risk vessels include:
- Amphibious warships
- Aircraft carriers
Because buildings and vehicles on both the battlefield and on military bases also had considerable asbestos built in, Army, Air Force and Coast Guard members were also at risk for mesothelioma. Barracks, sleeping quarters, mess halls and other structures had some degree of asbestos.
Additionally, some occupations increased the risk of exposure for veterans, including:
- Individuals who worked on ships in engine or boiler rooms
- Insulation workers
- Flooring Installers
- Individuals assigned to a demolition crew
While asbestos abatement processes have removed a great deal of asbestos from most military uses, some service members are still at risk. Service members serving overseas may still be susceptible to asbestos exposure in countries where it is still prominently used or have not taken measures to remove asbestos from their facilities.
If you believe you have mesothelioma, or have been diagnosed with it, it’s vital to begin seeking treatment as soon as you can. After you’ve begun establishing a course of medical treatment, investigate the options for compensation such as the VA’s benefits for mesothelioma patients.