VA Benefits for Mesothelioma
Between World War II and 1970, the use of asbestos was widespread in the U.S. military. This means that many veterans and civilian employees of the U.S. military were subjected to exposure to the dangerous substance that has been linked to mesothelioma, asbestosis, lung cancer and other respiratory illnesses many years later.
Often called “asbestos cancer,” mesothelioma is highly aggressive and is resistant to many standard cancer treatments, with most cases diagnosed 30 years or more after exposure. The latency period can sometimes be as long as 50 years.
Personnel who may have been exposed to asbestos includes occupants of base housing constructed prior to 1970 and all assignments, both military and civilian, on or near military shipping installations, including Navy or Merchant Marine shipyards.
For military personnel between the 1940s and 1970s, the nature of their work put them at the greatest risk for developing mesothelioma or asbestosis. Some jobs required military workers to cut asbestos-laden materials, releasing deadly fibers into the air. Other workers were in enclosed spaces, such as ship interiors, where loose asbestos fibers circulated freely. For this reason, nearly 30 percent of all mesothelioma cases are veterans.
Important: Many of the cases involving military personnel have only recently come to light because of the potentially long latency period (10-50 years) between first exposure and development of the disease.
Veterans exposed to asbestos during active duty who are diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease are eligible for service connection benefits. Applications for these benefits are handled through the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA).
When deciding a claim for service connection for mesothelioma, the VA administrator must determine whether records demonstrate the veteran was exposed to asbestos during service. If the veteran was exposed to asbestos before or after service, the claim is much less likely to be successful.
Some specific groups of veterans receive service connection benefits without having to provide evidence of exposure. This is termed a “Presumptive Service Connection,” which means the military automatically accepts that your illness is a direct result of your military service.
For veterans who served in Vietnam in the years from 1962 to 1975 and have been diagnosed with mesothelioma, the VA presumes that the circumstances of his or her service caused the condition, and disability compensation can be awarded.
While VA medical claims may sound straightforward since the asbestos cancer has been approved as connected to service, the actual process of filing and pursuing a claim with the VA is quite convoluted and confusing. Some claims take months to process and decisions are slow in coming. There are reportedly some 600,000 claims in process in the VA system, and they are expected to take years to process. This is not good news for veterans battling the incurable cancer. The number of cases is expected to continue to rise as long as there are veterans alive who served before 1970.
There are many agencies dedicated to helping veterans navigate the complicated VA claims process. Visit this page for contact information for the VA and for a listing of state veteran service organizations.