The VA (Veterans Affairs) has released a finding indicating its medical staff— doctors, nurses and other health care workers—typically miss the opportunity to discuss legal options and potential compensation with patients suffering from malignant pleural mesothelioma. The study was conducted by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System and Stanford University, and was published in a recent edition of The American Journal of the Medical Sciences.
Patients who are not aware of their options are left in the dark at a fragile time. Malignant pleural mesothelioma is a peculiar small cell cancer that develops in the lining of the lung as a result of previous asbestos exposure— most often on the job. But since it has historically been nearly impossible to detect mesothelioma until advanced stages (often with terminal prognoses) patients often have little time to get their affairs in order. They could use the help of knowledgeable caregivers.
The United States treats asbestos like a double-edged sword. Regulations are fairly stringent, but the U.S. still imports asbestos and allows its use in residential roofing materials as well as other construction products. This would indicate that the U.S. believes asbestos is ‘safe’ in ‘controlled’ environments— but no type of asbestos is safe in any environment. Period. Even brief exposure may prove lethal many decades later.
Both the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) advocate fairly tough regulations, but the U.S. has not banned asbestos. To date 55 other nations (including 25 in the European Union) have passed this crucial ban— which still accounts for only 25 percent of the world.
Early diagnosis has presented a persistent fly in the ointment with regard to treatment of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases. Therefore life expectancy for those diagnosed is usually brief because the disease suddenly presents itself out of nowhere in the advanced stage when treatment is generally not effective. Because most mesothelioma diagnoses are advanced and negative, patients must not delay in seeking compensation for injury especially if exposure occurred on the job. In no uncertain terms, time is of the essence.
A new study in the Palo Alto, CA, VA system determines that health care workers, medical staff and caregivers are wont to record work histories of malignant pleural mesothelioma patients for future assistance in pursuing legal action; they are wont to counsel patients about legal implications of their disease; and wont to discuss pursuing assistance for paying medical bills for treatment or taking care of their families if their lives are cut short.
The study observes 16 patients (15 of them men) over a span of 11 years— beginning one year before diagnosis and ending one year after diagnosis— to see if patients’ electronic medical records were accurately keeping track of their histories for asbestos exposure. The patients’ EMRs routinely asked for the following information: any job titles from the patients’ past; specific job duties; histories of exposure to asbestos; education or information provided to the patients about the link between asbestos and malignant pleural mesothelioma; referrals to a claims board or for legal counsel; and education that patients might qualify for compensation related to their mesothelioma diagnosis.
- On-the-job exposure was documented in 12 of the patients’ records (two other patients were presumably exposed ‘secondhand’ when the fibers were carried home by family members directly exposed at work).
- Education and counseling re: possible legal action or monetary compensation was found in the record of only one patient.
- In 15 records no mention was recorded of even casual patient education about mesothelioma as an occupational cancer or as a condition that could warrant legal action and compensation.
We are not discounting the possibility of unrecorded discussions or encouragement or counseling, but such meager documentation is unsettling because it implies lack of exchange— especially given that 90 percent of pleural mesothelioma cases in males mostly result from occupational exposure, according to the VA report.
Though fewer cases develop from indirect exposure, there is always an exception to the rule. For example, we have discussed the Eternit trial (see Dust: The Great Asbestos Trial) in Italy where some 2,200 workers, family members and residents in four northern Italian towns died from asbestos exposure at or nearby cement fiber plants. A percentage of these deaths was caused by secondhand asbestos inhalation/ingestion.
“Timely discussion of management options, including opportunities for compensation, is critical,” says the VA research study.
Only a limited amount of time is allowed by law to file a legal complaint— in some states just two years after diagnosis. We urge you to learn more about your legal rights/options.
Contact the law firm of Baron and Budd, the sponsor of Mesothelioma News, to speak to an attorney about your legal options at 1.866.855.1229.