Mesothelioma is a pernicious type of cancer that is brought on by exposure to asbestos. Veterans are often considered most at risk of developing the disease because the United States military frequently used asbestos products on their bases, ships, and in many other applications. In fact, 30% of the people diagnosed with mesothelioma are veterans.
Despite having knowledge that asbestos could cause a wide array of illnesses, the armed forces collectively continued using asbestos in building materials until the 1970s or 80s. Because of this, service members who experienced exposure to asbestos and incurred a disease while in the military may be eligible for compensation through a benefits program developed by the United States Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA).
What Are Mesothelioma Veterans’ Benefits Claims?
If you developed mesothelioma or any other asbestos-related disease as a result of exposure during your military service, then you can file a claim with the VA to receive some compensation.
There are two main types of mesothelioma veterans’ benefits claims:
- Disability compensation – Claims are filed by the patients themselves, and they also receive compensation directly
- Dependency and Indemnity Compensation – Claims are filed by surviving family members (a spouse, child, parent, sibling, etc.) of a veteran who passed away as a result of service-connected mesothelioma
In some cases, the VA will approve claims that qualify for special monthly compensation. This form of compensation pays out more per month for veterans who require special assistance or care or for specific disabilities like the lack of an arm or leg. These only occasionally apply to mesothelioma patients or their families.
The VA may also offer other benefits and programs for:
- Health insurance
- Dental care
- Vehicle allowance
- Potential hospitalizations
Standard mesothelioma VA benefits are typically paid out on a monthly basis. For many patients, these benefits often act as a supplement to or substitute for an earned monthly income. This, of course, can go a long way in providing stability as mesothelioma costs start to pile up.
How do You File a Mesothelioma Veterans’ Claim?
If you believe you were exposed to asbestos while serving in the military and were later diagnosed with mesothelioma, then you may be able to file a mesothelioma veterans’ benefits claim. First, you will need to meet various eligibility requirements in order to receive compensation successfully.
Some of these eligibility requirements include:
- Having left the military on good terms (e., no dishonorable discharge)
- Having been verifiably exposed to asbestos during service
- Having a certified medical diagnosis of mesothelioma (or other asbestos-related illness)
If you meet those eligibility requirements, you will then be tasked with compiling evidence to verify that you were exposed to asbestos while on active duty.
This usually involves providing documentation identifying:
- The location you served or were based and how long you were there
- Marine vessels on which you were stationed
- Your occupation during your time in the military
- A medical diagnosis of mesothelioma
- Details that suggest the disease could reasonably be connected to asbestos exposure in the service
Between the 1930s and 1970s, the U.S. military used asbestos in abundance because it has natural fireproofing capabilities. Asbestos often remained in buildings and other installations until the 1990s or later. If you served between the 1930s and the 1970s, it is almost a guarantee that you were exposed to asbestos to some degree. The likelihood of exposure has gone down since then, but it is still a possibility.
Because mesothelioma can take up to 50 years to develop, many veterans who have long since retired to civilian life are still at risk. It may also be difficult for some veterans to remember where they served, which can make compiling evidence even harder.
It could be useful to consult a mesothelioma legal team to help find the evidence you need to receive your hard-won compensation. No one is legally allowed to charge you money for assistance in filing a mesothelioma veterans’ benefits claim.
To file a claim, you have a few options:
- Get assistance from a VA-accredited claims agent or a Veteran Service Officer (VSO)
- Go to a nearby VA office and fill out the requisite forms
- Mail-in “VA Form 21-526EZ—Application for Disability Compensation and Related Compensation Benefits” through the United States Postal Service
- Use eBenefits on the VA’s website
What is the Process for VA Claims for Mesothelioma?
After a claim has been filed, it will go to the VA’s claims department and undergo a review. The VA should send you a letter after they have received your claim. Obviously, claims that are filed via the internet will reach the VA faster (about an hour) than sending in the claim through standard mail (around a week or more).
If the VA decides that you need to include more evidence, they will send your claim back and identify other details and documentation that you need to supply. They may do this multiple times if sufficient evidence and documentation are not provided. A mesothelioma lawyer or accredited VA representative can help you gather all important evidence and documentation to support your claim. In this case, they may file what is known as a “Fully Developed Claim,” which requires no further evidence and may expedite the process.
After all evidence has been submitted, a VA representative will propose a decision based on all the documentation provided. In certain instances, they may request that claimants go to a VA hospital or clinic to receive an exam to verify their medical diagnosis of mesothelioma. The proposed decision then goes under further review. If the claim is approved, an award will be assigned to the claimant.
A packet containing the decision and all the information about the review will be sent to you through the mail. This is how you will find out whether or not you were approved.
How Much Disability Compensation is Provided by the VA?
The amount of compensation you will receive is dependent on a few factors. Not every veteran gets the same amount of compensation for every asbestos-related claim.
Some factors that play a role include:
- The severity of the disease
- Whether the evidence clearly showed that asbestos exposure occurred during military service
- 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 requires routine assistance from someone else to perform daily functions
Most mesothelioma claims that are approved get 100% of the claim requested because the disease is so severe. This amounts to an average of about $3,000 per month, but, in many cases, the benefits can be larger.
If your claim is denied because of insufficient evidence or because the VA thought that asbestos exposure occurred more prominently before or after your service, then you may still be able to apply for a VA pension. If you are 65 years of age or older, served at least 3 months in the military, and have an eligible household income, then you may qualify.
VA pensions are not technically designed for veterans with disabilities, but they can offer some assistance.
Other Forms of Mesothelioma Compensation
If you are a veteran, you are not limited to mesothelioma VA benefits in terms of compensation. You may also be eligible for several other legal and benefits claims. Veterans’ benefits also don’t often cover all the costs associated with mesothelioma. Treatments can be costly with prices for one round of chemotherapy ranging from $35,000 to $50,000. If you do not have insurance or your insurance does not cover you, you can be stick with a huge medical bill.
Some avenues you can take to offset those costs include:
- Asbestos trust funds
- Workers’ compensation claims
Both lawsuits and asbestos trust funds will likely require the services of a qualified mesothelioma lawyer. Lawsuits essentially bring cases against asbestos product manufacturers or employers who used asbestos-containing products. The goal of a lawsuit is to prove that those manufacturers or employers are liable for the diseases caused by asbestos exposure and their associated costs.
Asbestos lawsuits usually last between 1 and 3 years, and they often end in settlements. Indeed, most mesothelioma patients will settle for a lower amount of money rather than drag the suit into a trial. The average lawsuit settlement award is around $1.3 million. If you do take it to trial and get a successful verdict, then the average payout is about $2.5 million.
It can take quite some time before you ever actually see that money, however. Companies have become adept at filing appeals to delay payment for months and even years.
Asbestos trust funds are different in that they involve companies that have already acknowledged asbestos liability. During bankruptcy proceedings, many former asbestos product manufacturers were legally obligated to set aside money for future claimants. Currently, there are around 60 trusts in the United States with a grand total of over $30 billion available to claimants.
If you make a claim against an asbestos bankruptcy trust, it is likely that you will receive your award faster than a lawsuit settlement or verdict if the trustees approve the claim. In general, however, only a portion of asbestos trust fund claims are actually paid out. The average payout amount is about 25% of the initial claim request. So, if you file a $500,000 claim against a trust, you will likely only receive about $125,000 of that. This is to ensure that future claimants will also have an opportunity to receive compensation.
You can also file a workers’ compensation claim. These are benefits claims that are similar to mesothelioma veterans’ benefits claims except that they put the onus on an employer and not the armed forces (although blame is not assigned in either case). Each state has its own workers’ compensation program that typically offers a monthly form of income if claims are approved. Lawsuits and asbestos trust funds tend to pay out more, however.
All of these options require evidence and documentation to prove that asbestos exposure occurred and that mesothelioma was diagnosed. It is possible to file any one of these claims while also filing others. For instance, some mesothelioma patients may file a mesothelioma veterans’ claim while filing a lawsuit against another company and making a claim against an asbestos trust.
Awards you receive may affect other compensatory benefits, however. Some states allow previous awards to factor into lawsuit settlement amounts. So, if you receive disability benefits from the VA, a lawsuit award might deduct the amount you have already been paid.
Which Veterans Were Most At Risk?
Asbestos still exists in some military installations and occupations, but it has largely been phased out. Virtually all members of the military were at risk of asbestos exposure between the 1930s and 1970s. Members of the Navy and the Marines were often at the highest risk.
Asbestos use in ships and shipyards was extremely high. Many marine vessels were packed with the substance in an attempt to elude fire dangers. This was especially true in boiler rooms, engine rooms, and pump rooms where heated equipment would often use asbestos insulation to keep cool. Unfortunately, those rooms were often poorly ventilated, increasing the chance of inhaling microscopic asbestos fibers.
Vessels that posed a high risk included:
- Aircraft carriers
- Amphibious warships
Service members in the Army, Air Force, and Coast Guard were also at risk of developing mesothelioma. Buildings and vehicles on military bases and on the battlefield were often filled with asbestos materials. Mess halls, sleeping quarters, barracks, and other edifices all contained asbestos to some degree. Certain occupations also posed a higher risk of asbestos exposure for veterans.
High-risk occupations included:
- All those who worked in engine rooms or boiler rooms on ships
- Insulation workers
- Flooring Installers
- Anyone involved in a demolition crew
Asbestos abatement measures have taken large strides in removing asbestos from most military applications. But, some current service members are still at risk. If they are serving overseas, they may be susceptible to asbestos exposure in countries where the substance is still used prominently.
If you have mesothelioma, it’s important to seek treatment as soon as you can. Once you have done that, look into compensation options like mesothelioma veterans’ benefits.