About 3,000 Americans receive a mesothelioma diagnosis each year. And of them, an estimated 30% are military veterans. This aggressive, incurable form of cancer is primarily attributed to asbestos exposure. And in most mesothelioma cases, the resulting disease is deadly. Only 7-9% of those diagnosed live five years or longer. Read on to see why veterans account for 1 in 3 mesothelioma cases.
Mesothelioma Cases and Asbestos
Chances are, that if you have served in the military, you’ve been exposed to asbestos. Your chances are highest if you served from the 1900s to the mid-1970s. Asbestos used to be recognized for its heat resistance and fireproofing capabilities. As a result, all forms of military transportation had products with asbestos inside. The brake pads, cement pipes, and the insulation inside many carriers were riddled with it.
And if you were serving in the military after the mid-1970s, you’re still in danger. It took years for the military to replace all of the asbestos products filling their carriers. Serving in Iraq or other countries near Iraq may have also increased your exposure to asbestos as well. Many of the older buildings were damaged and the contaminant was released.
The VA lists the following occupations that were hazards for asbestos:
- Shipyard work
- Insulation work
- Demolition of old buildings
- Carpentry and construction
- Manufacturing and installation of products such as flooring, roofing, cement sheet, pipe products
- Servicing of friction products such as clutch facings and brake linings
Treatment for Veterans
The US Department of Veteran Affairs calls mesothelioma “The quiet killer you don’t see coming.” It’s cancer that forms in the lining of the lungs and the abdomen. The disease is difficult to diagnose — and is often misdiagnosed. It’s a rare form of cancer, and many doctors think it is something else since it is so rare. This can be deadly to the veteran since mesothelioma moves slowly. When warning signs appear it may be too late.
There is also no cure for the disease. Even if there is early detection.
Dr. Robert Cameron runs the mesothelioma center at the West Los Angeles VAMC. He says, “We can’t cure it, but if we catch it soon enough, we can manage it. It can be managed like other chronic diseases, such as high blood pressure or diabetes.”
While there is no cure for this cancer, there is help from the VA. The VA has specialized treatments for mesothelioma cases. They include surgeries and radiation including cryoablation and immunotherapy. And if you don’t live near the best mesothelioma centers, they’ll help you get there. Travel is available for veterans who want to go to the Boston VA or the Los Angeles VA system. These two facilities offer the best mesothelioma treatments.
In order to qualify for benefits, however, you must show that your asbestos exposure occurred while you were serving in the military. And you must have a disease or disability as a result of the exposure. Note that exposure to asbestos will not qualify you for disability benefits.
Benefits for Veterans Diagnosed with Rare Fatal Lung Cancer
If you have a diagnosed mesothelioma disability, the VA has a duty to help you. They will provide medical care and travel to another VA healthcare system if your facility does not treat mesothelioma cases.
Disability compensation is also available. The benefit amount is based on the veteran’s level of disability. (The VA uses a disability scale ranging from zero to 100%. The higher your score, the more compensation you receive.) The VA considers mesothelioma as a 100% disability. This would qualify you for the maximum monthly benefit, starting at $2,915.55. Depending on your number of dependents, that number could increase.
And if you require an aid or another individual’s help, you may qualify for Special Monthly Compensation (SMC). This would allow you to pay the individual for their assistance. A surviving spouse can also qualify for benefits if their spouse died due to mesothelioma. The spouse would need to fill out a Disability and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) claim in order to receive benefits.
Depending on the branch of the military you served in, your exposure could vary. Below are some things to know about your chances of asbestos exposure, based on your branch of military service.
Navy Mesothelioma Cases:
- Navy vets are the most likely to suffer from asbestos exposure on military carriers
- The Navy used asbestos widely in the ship infrastructure — for everything from fire protection to insulation
- Where you worked on the ship matters especially sailors working on insulation, piping, or in boiler rooms
- Navy vets who served between 1930-1980 have the highest risk of developing mesothelioma
- The Navy did not start protecting sailors with breathing protection until the late 1970s
Army Mesothelioma Cases:
- The military used asbestos to insulate and fireproof nearly all of their buildings, barracks, and transport systems before they realized the dangers of it
- Army service members who operated heavy machinery or artillery often were equipped with gloves and suits laced with asbestos to prevent burns to their body
- It can take up to 50 years for mesothelioma to develop after exposure
- Iraq war veterans may have been exposed to asbestos since nations in the Middle East still use asbestos in buildings and other infrastructure
Mesothelioma Cases in the Air Force:
- The military used asbestos in barracks, ground vehicles and aircraft until the mid-1970s
- Most Airmen veterans who fought in WWII or the Korean and Vietnam wars were exposed to asbestos at some point
- Aircraft mechanics have the highest risk for asbestos exposure because they worked on aircraft components containing asbestos
- Asbestos helped protect key components of the aircraft from excess heat
- The following Air Force positions likely had higher exposure risk than others:
- Aviation Fire Control Technician
- Jet Engine Mechanic
- Aircraft Handler
- Electronic Technician
Mesothelioma Cases Among Marines:
- Marine veterans who served on Navy vessels have the highest risk of asbestos exposure
- Naval ships have poor ventilation, which allowed asbestos to circulate through tightly enclosed areas of the ship. Marines working in these conditions have an increased risk of the disease
- Various tanks used by the Marines contained asbestos — particularly one used in the 1960s called the M60 Patton tank, which used asbestos for fireproofing
- Asbestos linings were in all Marine barracks
Coast Guard Mesothelioma Cases:
- Because of the size of this branch, few mesothelioma cases are diagnosed. However, Coast Guard vets have a high risk of developing the disease because of heavy use of asbestos on military ships
- The most at-risk jobs in the Coast Guard include construction and demolition, mechanics that repaired ship components, and shipyard workers
- Any ship built for the Coast Guard prior to 1970 used asbestos
- Exposure to asbestos for Coast Guard members can occur virtually anywhere on a ship
You May Qualify for Legal Assistance
Any lung disease or mesothelioma cases developed from service-related asbestos exposure are eligible for compensation. Consider speaking to an attorney about getting the benefits that are rightly yours.
If you find the VA’s claims process confusing, you’re not alone. Our VA-accredited lawyers can help you with your initial claim paperwork, or fight to win you benefits when you appeal. You can also schedule a confidential, in-person meeting to get VA claim advice that applies to your specific situation. And if our lawyer helps you win benefits, you’ll pay a small, one-time fee. It’s the best way to get the most VA benefits you deserve faster. A lawyer can also help you avoid making basic mistakes on your claim paperwork that would normally result in denial.
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Mandy Voisin is a freelance writer, blogger, and author of Girls of the Ocean and Star of Deliverance. As an accomplished content marketing consultant, mom of four and doctor's wife, Mandy has written hundreds of articles about dangerous drugs and medical devices, medical issues that impact disabled Americans, veterans' healthcare and workers' compensation issues since 2016.