Every brave individual who volunteered to risk their lives protecting U.S. citizens and interests deserves lifelong gratitude. That’s why all military veterans deserve pensions, health care benefits and disability compensation from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
Asbestos Exposure and VA Benefits
Asbestos-containing materials were used by every military branch during a peak period from the 1930s to the 1980s.
Asbestos is fire resistant, which made it the ideal protectant in Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard vessels. The Army used asbestos in mechanized vehicles like tanks and armored personnel carriers, and the Air Force used asbestos in planes.
The military used asbestos because it was strong, lightweight, non-conductive, non-corrosive, chemically stable, and an excellent insulator. In addition, asbestos was very economical.
At one time, asbestos was considered a miracle material for manufacturing military equipment and constructing buildings for the armed forces. Unfortunately, asbestos is extremely harmful to human health and can go undetected for decades after initial exposure.
One of the largest threats posed to veterans’ health — even decades after leaving the armed forces — is asbestos exposure. Asbestos exposure can lead to life-threatening diseases such as mesothelioma.
Very few World War II veterans are still with us. Veterans from the Korean conflict and Vietnam are slowly passing away, but are being replaced by soldiers, sailors, and Air Force veterans who have served in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other countries.
Veterans have been disabled from combat injuries, domestic accidents, and exposure to asbestos. All of these veterans deserve VA benefits related to these injuries.
Asbestos Exposure Health Hazards in the Military
By the 1980s, health issues resulting from asbestos exposure were indisputable.
Asbestos occurs naturally in two forms. One is known as serpentine asbestos and has long flexible or serpent-like glassy fibers. The second type is called amphibole asbestos and has hard, spiky fibers.
Both forms of asbestos are light and can become airborne when mined, cut, sanded, or handled. When asbestos fibers are inhaled, the microscopic shards embed in the lung tissue and can migrate to the lung lining (pleura).
Asbestos fibers permanently remain in the body and cause scar tissue to build. However, damage from asbestos can take a long time to appear. Symptoms usually present 20-50 years after initial exposure. After this period, asbestosis, lung cancer, or malignant mesothelioma may develop.
Eventually, the U.S. military stopped using asbestos-containing materials and began abating asbestos from all equipment and buildings.
Unfortunately, the health damage was irreversible for many veterans, and their only recourse was turning the VA for disability and health care benefits.
Benefits for United States Military Veterans
The VA is responsible for administering veteran benefits.
The VA encompasses personnel both currently serving and past-serving in the following military branches:
The VA also provides benefits to each branch’s reserve members, regardless if they saw active service. National Guard members are covered by VA benefits if they are eligible.
Additional government agencies that receive benefits from the VA include commissioned officers of the Public Health Service, members of the Environmental Science Service Administration, the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration, and the Coast and Geodetic Survey Agency.
VA Benefits Options
Veteran benefits can vary and are classified as entitled benefits and eligible benefits. Some primary benefits are supplied automatically from serving the country. Additionally, some veterans may be entitled to additional compensation and care benefits under special circumstances.
Three major types of veteran benefits are:
- Automatic benefits, such as post-service pensions and medical plans
- Disability compensation for duty-related injuries and illnesses
- Health care benefits to support long-term living requirements
The widespread use of asbestos by the military means that many American veterans suffered diseases related to on-duty asbestos exposure. Most asbestos-related diseases like mesothelioma develop long after a service member is discharged and integrated back to civilian life.
Many veterans suffering from long-term diseases left military service after a short enlistment. In turn, they aren’t eligible for automatic benefits because they didn’t reach pensionable service time.
The exposure to asbestos may have resulted in mesothelioma and shouldn’t be ignored based on the length of service.
Eligibility for Veteran Disability Benefits
Leaving the military after short service doesn’t mean veterans are ineligible or not entitled to disability compensation or supportive health care benefits. This is especially true for veterans diagnosed with mesothelioma or any other asbestos-related health problems.
There are three ways to prove eligibilty:
- Service Proof: Applicants must show service certificates for enlisting, discharge dates, the military branch, and posting locations. This will prove they had the required military service to make them eligible. Applicants must also be honorably discharged. Any dishonorably discharged service person is not eligible for VA benefits under any circumstances.
- Disability Proof: Applicants must prove they have a disability. In asbestos exposure cases, this proof must show a disabling disease like mesothelioma, lung cancer, asbestosis, or pleural disorder. Proof usually comes from a physician diagnosis and is backed up by medical evidence such as records, X-rays, and biopsies. Exposure to asbestos alone is not enough to claim benefits.
- Causation Proof: Applicants have the final burden of proof to show their existing disability was caused by asbestos exposure while serving in the military. This can sometimes be tricky for service members who left the military a long time ago and worked at other civilian jobs where asbestos exposure might have occurred. Evidence showing a high likelihood that initial asbestos exposure occurred in their military service and not elsewhere is very important. An experienced mesothelioma attorney can be vital in getting the proof you need for approval.
Specific Veteran Disability Benefits
Disability claims for veterans are divided into specific classifications and claim types. The types and classifications may differ based on individual circumstances.
Veteran disability claims are rarely identical, so they are administered according to what compensation and long-term health care requirements will be needed.
The VA process includes a lot of consideration and analysis — this means that claimants need to provide as much information as possible when submitting a claim.
An experienced mesothelioma attorney will know what the VA needs to process these disability benefit categories.
These categories include:
Disability Compensation (DC)
This is the standard monthly compensation paid by the VA to an eligible veteran. DC is tax-free because it specifically relates to a service-related disability requiring extra money above regular living expenses.
For mesothelioma sufferers, this may provide compensation for expensive medical treatment, as well as pain and suffering. DC awards are rated on a scale from 10 to 100 and assess how severe a veteran’s disability is before determining a monthly amount.
VA Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (VA DIC)
This benefit is for a veteran’s dependent survivors like a spouse, children, or special needs relations. It applies to veterans who were killed during active duty or later died from duty-related illnesses.
Mesothelioma that developed from asbestos exposure during military service applies to VA DIC applications.
Special Monthly Compensation (SMC)
This compensation amounts to more than basic disability compensation. The benefit is designed to cover unusual or unique circumstances where disabilities are compounded by immobility requiring specialized equipment or assistance.
Mesothelioma claimants may be eligible for SMC for a breathing apparatus or travel expenses for leading-edge treatment.
Additional Special Circumstances
This fourth category covers individual disability cases that don’t fall into a standard slot. Hospitalization and experimental surgeries or treatments for mesothelioma patients may apply.
Veteran Disability Claim Types
The VA isolates claims into five distinct types. These types were created to streamline their service and ensure veterans get the best possible attention in the shortest amount of time.
The five types of claims, which help classify compensation and adjudication, are:
- Pre-Discharge Claims: Any active-duty veteran can file a disability claim within 180 days of their discharge date. This covers disabilities already known and makes claims processing easier to verify while the claimant is still in the military.
- Pre-Service Claims: Sometimes, veterans enter the military with a pre-existing disease or condition. If the condition becomes aggravated during military service, veterans can apply for pre-service claims when they had pre-exposure to asbestos before service that became compounded by more asbestos products after enlisting.
- In-Service Claims: This type of claim applies when disabilities clearly arise from service activities. Some active-service members with disabilities may receive additional compensation but continue working within the military.
- Post-Service Claims: This is the claim type most mesothelioma sufferers submit. They were injured during service, but, due to the decades-long latency period, disease symptoms did not develop until their post-service years.
- Special Claims: VA administrators use this claim type for unusual or unique claims where circumstances fall outside normal boundaries.
Other Veteran Health Care Benefits
The VA provides benefits to injured or ill veterans in addition to financial compensation and disability pensions.
After suffering service-related injuries or diseases, the VA helps disabled veterans adjust to life in or outside the military. Mesothelioma is one of many disabling diseases that the VA recognizes.
Eligible claimants may be entitled to these additional benefits:
- Burial and memorial services
- Disability pensions
- Education and training
- Home loans
- Insurance policies
- Mental health assistance
- Personal health programs
- Preventative health care services
- Survivors benefits
- Transition Assistance
How to Apply for Veterans Benefits
All military veterans are entitled to benefits, no matter how long they served. It’s important to understand that applying to the VA isn’t restricted to currently serving personnel or those about to retire.
Every United States service veteran is permanently entitled to make benefit and compensation claims long after they’ve been honorably discharged. For mesothelioma sufferers, that can be decades after retiring their uniform.
Here are ways to apply for VA benefits:
- Using the eBenefits application page on the VA website
- Applying in person at a VA field office
- Being represented by third-party accredited assistance
- Retaining a specialized law firm to process the claim
Specialized Law Firm Representation
If you’re a United States military veteran who developed mesothelioma from asbestos exposure during your active service, you’re eligible to apply for entitled VA disability compensation and other health care benefits.
However, filing a VA benefits claim can be a daunting task for veterans diagnosed with mesothelioma. As a result, many veterans turn to mesothelioma law firms for help.
The best law firms will have VA-accredited claims agents and mesothelioma lawyers to help veterans. They can review the veteran’s work and service history and file claims so veterans can receive the full amounts they’re entitled to.