Today, there are over 25 million United States military veterans living across the nation and around the world. That includes ex-service people from all branches including the Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marines and Navy. These figures also take in dedicated members of the military reservists in each branch, as well as individual state National Guards.
Every brave individual who volunteered to risk their lives protecting U.S. citizens and interests deserves life-long gratitude. That’s why all military veterans deserve pensions, healthcare benefits and disability compensation from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
Asbestos Exposure and VA Benefits
There are very few World War II veterans still with us. Vets from the Korean conflict and Vietnam war are slowly passing away, but their absence is replaced by soldiers, sailors and Air Force veterans who served in Afghanistan, Iraq and other foreign countries. Military personnel who stayed home to defend American soil also deserve their just benefits. Many vets were disabled from combat injuries or domestic accidents.
One of the largest threats posed to veterans’ health—even decades after leaving the armed forces—is asbestos exposure which can lead to life-threatening disease such as mesothelioma.
Every military department used asbestos-containing materials (ACM) during a peak period from the 1930s to the 1980s. Asbestos was once considered the “miracle material” for manufacturing military equipment and constructing armed forces buildings.
Asbestos is fire-resistant, making it the ideal protectant in Navy, Marine and Coast Guard vessels as well as Air Force planes. The Army made their fair use of asbestos in mechanized vehicles like tanks and armored personnel carriers. Asbestos was an excellent insulator, strong, lightweight, non-conductive, non-corrosive and chemically stable. Additionally, asbestos was economical and plentiful.
Asbestos Exposure Health Hazards in the Military
By the 1980s, health issues from asbestos exposure were indisputable. Asbestos is a silicate mineral naturally occurring in 2 main forms. One is serpentine asbestos with long, flexible or serpent-like glassy fibers. The other type is amphibole asbestos that has hard, spiky fibers. Both are light and become easily airborne when mined, cut, sanded or handled when old and friable. When asbestos fibers are inhaled, these microscopic shards embed in the lung lining.
Asbestos fibers can’t be expelled or decomposed. They permanently remain in the body and cause scar tissue to build. Asbestos damage takes a long time to manifest as diseases. Roughly a 10 to 50-year latency period passes before mesothelioma develops. Rarely do any symptoms present until the disease is well established.
Eventually, the U.S. military stopped using ACM and began abating asbestos from all equipment and buildings. Unfortunately, the health damage was done for many veterans, and their only recourse was turning the VA for disability and healthcare benefits.
Benefits for United States Military Veterans
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is tasked with 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’re eligible.
Various other government agencies also receive veteran benefits including 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.
Veteran benefits vary a great deal. Benefits are classified as entitled benefits and eligible benefits. Some primary benefits are automatically supplied from serving the country while some veteran may be entitled to additional compensation and care benefits under special circumstances.
There are 3 main U.S. veteran benefits:
- Automatic benefits like post-service pensions and medical plans
- Disability compensation for duty-related injuries and illnesses
- Healthcare benefits to support long-term living requirements
Many American veterans suffered diseases related to on-duty asbestos exposure. Most asbestos-related diseases like mesothelioma develop long after a service person is discharged and integrated back to civilian life.
Many vets suffering long-term diseases left military service after a short enlistment and aren’t eligible for automatic benefits because they didn’t reach pensionable service time.
Eligibility for Veteran Disability Benefits
Leaving a military branch with short service doesn’t make veterans ineligible or not entitled to disability compensation or supportive healthcare benefits. That’s especially true for veterans with mesothelioma or other serious asbestos-related health problems.
There are 3 main criteria for veteran benefit eligibility:
- Service Proof: Applicants must prove they had the required military service to make them eligible. That involves showing service certificates for enlisting and discharge dates, the military branch and the posting locations. Applicants must be honorably discharged. Any dishonorably discharged service person is not eligible for VA benefits under any circumstances.
- Disability Proof: Applicants must also prove their disability exists. In asbestos exposure cases this proof must show a disabling disease like mesothelioma, lung cancer, asbestosis or a pleural disorder. Simply being exposed to asbestos without some resulting disability is not enough to claim benefits. Proof usually comes from a physician diagnosis backed up by medical evidence like records, X-rays and biopsies.
- Causation Proof: Applicants have a final burden of proof to show their existing disability was, in fact, caused by asbestos exposure while in military service. This can be tricky for service people who long left the military and worked at other civilian jobs where asbestos exposure might have occurred. In mesothelioma cases, circumstantial evidence showing a high likelihood that initial asbestos exposure occurred in their military service. Assistance form an experienced mesothelioma attorney can be the vital link for supporting this proof.
Specific Veteran Disability Benefits
United States veteran disability claims are divided into specific classifications and claim types. Types and classifications differ according to the individual circumstances. It’s not often that veteran disability claims are identical so VA administers them according to what eventual compensation and long-term healthcare requirements will be needed.
This requires careful consideration and analysis within the VA process. It’s vital that veteran disability claimants provide as much information as possible when submitting a claim.
Experienced mesothelioma attorneys know what the VA needs to smoothly and fully process these four main disability benefit categories.
- Disability Compensation (DC): This is the standard monthly compensation paid by VA to an entitled veteran. Unlike regular pension draws, 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 compensate 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 disability is before setting on a monthly amount.
- Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC): This financial benefit is for a veteran’s dependent survivors like a spouse, children or special needs relations. It applies to veterans who were killed on active duty or later died from duty-related illnesses. Mesothelioma developed from asbestos exposure during military service applies to DIC applications.
- Special Monthly Compensation (SMC): This compensation is over and above basic disability compensation. This 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 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 Department of Veterans Affairs processes many disability claim applications. They have these different claim types to help streamline their service and ensure veterans get the best possible attention in the shortest period.
To aid classifying compensation and adjudication claims, VA isolates claims into five distinct types.
- 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 their military branch.
- Pre-Service Claims: Occasionally, veterans enter their military service with a pre-existing disease or condition. If it becomes aggravated during military service, then 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: Often, disabilities clearly arise from service activities and they fall into this type. Some active-service members with disabilities may receive additional compensation but keep on 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, diseases symptoms developed in 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 Healthcare Benefits
The Department of Veterans Affairs offers more benefits to injured or ill veterans than financial compensation and disability pensions. VA helps all disabled veterans adjust to life in or outside the United States military after suffering service-related injuries and diseases. Mesothelioma is one of many disabling diseases that VA recognizes.
Eligible claimants may be entitled to these other veteran healthcare benefits:
- Burial and memorial services
- Disability pensions
- Education and training
- Home loans
- Insurance policies
- Mental health assistance
- Personal health programs
- Preventative healthcare services
- Survivors benefits
- Transition Assistance
How to Apply for Veterans Benefits
It’s important veterans—no matter how long they served in the military—to understand their eligibility for benefits. Applying to the Department of Veterans Affairs 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.
This is how 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
If you’re a United States military veteran who developed mesothelioma from asbestos exposure during your active service, you’re eligible to apply for VA disability compensation and other healthcare benefits.
Filing a VA benefits claim can be a daunting task for veterans diagnosed with mesothelioma. VA-accredited claims agents can help veterans review their work history and help them file their claims so they can receive the full amounts they’re entitled to.
Contact Mesothelioma Help Now to speak to our Patient Advocates and VA-accredited claims agents.