Help With VA Benefits

As many as 30 percent of all patients who've been diagnosed with mesothelioma in the United States are military veterans eligible for disability payments and medical care through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

Applying for these benefits and proving eligibility, however, can be a complicated process. That's why the Veterans Assistance Network was created. The Veterans Assistance Network is an organization started by veterans for veterans, dedicated to helping veterans receive the aid to which they are entitled.

Mesothelioma and Occupational Asbestos Exposure

Mesothelioma is a cancer that attacks the membranes lining the lungs, abdomen and pericardial sac. Between 2,000 and 3,000 cases of the disease are diagnosed in the U.S. every year, and medical scientists have linked almost all of them with occupational asbestos exposure.

Until the late 1970s when OSHA and the EPA began regulating exposure levels, asbestos was widely used by the military. Asbestos was also used in hundreds of civilian industrial applications from steel mills to electrical power lines, as well as in construction and automobile manufacturing.

When asbestos-containing materials were hammered, sawed or reshaped at a job site, they released clouds of dust into the air that contained asbestos microfilaments. When people inhaled this dust, these microfilaments lodged in their lungs, creating chronic inflammations that, over time, had the potential to develop into mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases.

Mesothelioma is characterized by a very long latency period. The interval between the initial asbestos exposure and a subsequent mesothelioma diagnosis can be anywhere from between 20 and 50 years. What this means in terms of the mesothelioma patient population is that many of the veterans and other individuals being diagnosed with mesothelioma today were first exposed to the toxic mineral in the 1960s and 1970s.

Mesothelioma and VA Benefits

The VA recognizes both pleural and pericardial mesothelioma as service-related diseases. A veteran who is applying for VA benefits based on a mesothelioma diagnosis must present medical documents attesting to that diagnosis, signed by a physician who is qualified to make that diagnosis.

Additionally, in order to qualify for benefits, a veteran must be able to prove conclusively that his or her occupational asbestos exposure took place during active duty. This can be challenging since asbestos was also widely used on civilian job sites. The primary reason the Veterans Assistance Network was formed was to assist veterans in demonstrating their eligibility here. The evidence presented to support this claim must be very specific. The VA will cross reference all claims against records of actual service and will also look for possible sources of asbestos exposure both before and after the veteran's term of military service.

If the VA approves a veteran's benefits application, he or she will receive both disability compensation and medical care. Disability compensation is calculated according to a rating determined by a VA benefits specialist, expressed as a percentage. Disability payment amounts vary between a minimum of $123 a month for a veteran with a 10 percent rating and no dependents, to a maximum of $2,673 for a veteran with a 100 percent disability rating. Mesothelioma is generally given a 100 percent ranking.

The amount of disability compensation will not be decreased if a veteran is awarded a monetary settlement from a lawsuit or an asbestos company's bankruptcy trust.

It usually takes the VA between six and eight months to come to a decision about a claim, depending upon the state the claim is filed in. However, there are ways to expedite the claims process and the Veterans Assistance Network is familiar with all of them.

In some situations, the veteran's spouse or other dependents may also be eligible for ongoing benefits.

Mesothelioma-related benefits will be denied if the veteran left military service with a dishonorable discharge.