VA Treatment Hospitals

Mesothelioma is a malignant cancer that causes tumor proliferation in the mesothelial tissues lining the pleural, peritoneal and pericardial cavities. The disease has been conclusively linked to occupational asbestos exposure. Nearly 30 percent of all mesothelioma patients in the United States were first exposed to asbestos while they were serving in the U.S military.

Mesothelioma has a very long incubation period, ranging from 20 to 50 years. Many veterans who were first exposed to asbestos in the 1960s and the 1970s are only now being diagnosed with the disease. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) will provide disability compensation and medical care to eligible veterans who have been diagnosed with mesothelioma. The Veterans Assistance Network was formed to help veterans negotiate the benefits application process.

Asbestos and the Military

The U.S. military used asbestos because it provided low cost but extremely effective insulation against heat, flames, electrical current and most forms of chemical corrosion. All military branches used asbestos but the Navy made the most extensive use of it due to the ever-present threat of fire at sea. Asbestos insulation was used to offset the huge amounts of heat generated by heavy machinery in a ship's engine and boiler rooms. Asbestos was incorporated into the caulking, vinyl, ceiling tiles, paint and cement used to build mess halls, galleys and sleeping quarters so that a carelessly tossed cigarette butt wouldn't accidentally ignite a fire. Ships are cramped environments with poor ventilation. When these asbestos-containing materials started to age, they released needle-sharp, asbestos microfibers into the air that the men onboard ship inhaled. These microfibers initiated inflammatory responses within the lungs which, over time, progressed into a variety of asbestos-related diseases, including malignant mesothelioma.

The Army, Air Force, Marines and other military branches also used asbestos as a construction material as well in vehicle brake pads and clutch plates, airplane engines and the machinery used to make and repair planes. Hundreds of thousands of servicemen and servicewomen were exposed to asbestos while on active duty in the military.

Mesothelioma and the VA

In order to become eligible for VA benefits, a veteran who has been diagnosed with mesothelioma must prove that his or her asbestos exposure occurred during active service. Additionally, the veteran must have a definitive document from a qualified doctor that states his or her mesothelioma was caused by asbestos exposure rather than by another factor. Veterans must also have copies of their discharge or separation papers, relevant marriage and birth certificates, and medical reports attesting to the mesothelioma diagnosis.

To initiate the claims process, a veteran must undergo a physical examination at the nearest VA center. The examining physician will then send his or her findings to a compensation specialist at a VA Regional Office who will determine that veteran's degree of disability in terms of a percentage.

VA Treatment Hospitals

Veterans can choose to receive care at any of the 153 medical centers, outpatient clinics and associated facilities within the VA healthcare system. VA medical centers offer state-of-the-art treatment for a wide variety of illnesses including mesothelioma. Two VA hospitals operate mesothelioma programs that have achieved international renown.

The University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) operates the Comprehensive Mesothelioma Program under the auspices of the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System. Dr. Robert Cameron, the program's director, is a surgeon specializing in the pleurectomy/decortication operation that removes pleura riddled with mesothelioma tumors, thereby allowing the lungs to reexpand once again. Another renowned thoracic surgeon, Dao Nguyen, is based at the Miami VA Healthcare System. Dr. Nguyen is a pioneer in pleural mesothelioma treatments that utilize molecular therapy,

Other cancer treatment centers within the VA network include the Albany VA Medical Center associated with the Upstate New York VA Healthcare Network, the Manhattan Campus of the New York VA System, the San Francisco VA Medical Center, the Dallas VA Center and The Puget Sound Healthcare System.

In addition to providing clinical care for patients, many VA hospitals are also research centers conducting clinical trials that explore new ways of combating mesothelioma.