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Veterans Comprise the Largest group of Mesothelioma Victims

Aug 03 2017

By Brian Basham, Mesothelioma Veterans Center

Mesothelioma is a rare cancer caused by the inhalation or ingestion of asbestos fibers. 

Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibrous mineral that can be used to manufacture parts that are extremely good insulating materials and possess characteristics ideal for fire protection.

Until the 1970’s, asbestos was widely used as the main ingredient in insulating materials, and any application where heat and fire resistance were needed. 

Common uses of asbestos were:

  • Steam Pipe Insulation
  • Valve Packing
  • Gaskets
  • Boilers
  • Brake Shoes and Pads
  • Wire Conduit Insulation
  • Floor Tiles
  • Ceiling Tiles
  • Fireproof Drywall
  • Roofing Shingles
  • Siding
  • Concrete
  • Attic Insulation
  • Fire Blanket
  • Fire Proof Clothing
  • Hair Dryers
  •  Clothing Irons

The most common symptoms of mesothelioma are shortness of breath, dry cough and chest/abdominal pain.  However, these symptoms are similar to far more common diseases such as COPD, emphysema and chronic bronchitis.  As such, many mesothelioma patients are often misdiagnosed or their doctor fails to order additional tests to distinguish mesothelioma from these other ailments.  A more detailed list of symptoms for each type of mesothelioma can be found at Mesothelioma Symptoms.

Mesothelioma can take decades after asbestos exposure to develop, with the median for all cases occurring approximately 30 years after initial exposure.  However, there are documented cases where the time from initial exposure to manifestation of disease was over 60 years. 

Mesothelioma only affects the mesothelium; the lining of vital organs. 

  • There are two main types of mesothelioma:         

o   Pleural Mesothelioma affects the lining of the lungs called the pleura and comprises approximately 75 percent of all mesothelioma diagnoses.

o   Peritoneal Mesothelioma affects the lining of the abdomen called the peritoneum and comprises approximately 20 percent of all mesothelioma diagnoses.

Veterans account for almost 30 percent of all mesothelioma diagnoses in the U.S. each year.  They are the single largest group affected by mesothelioma.

Because of the abundant use of asbestos in shipbuilding, Navy and Coast Guard veterans are at the greatest risk for developing mesothelioma.  However, all branches of the military used asbestos, so veterans who served in the Army, Air Force and Marine Corps are also at risk. 

VA Benefits available to veterans with mesothelioma include Disability Compensation, Pension and Aid & Attendance.  Surviving spouses of veterans who have passed away as a result of mesothelioma may be eligible for Dependency & Indemnity Compensation (DIC), Survivor Pension and Aid & Attendance. 

VA Disability Compensation:  Disability Compensation – abbreviated “compensation” by the VA – is a monthly monetary benefit paid to veterans with a service related disability.  For mesothelioma to be considered service related, the veterans must convince the VA that he/she had more exposure in the military than in their civilian jobs.  If approved, the veteran is awarded a 100 percent disability rating and paid at least $2,915/mo. 

VA Pension:  Pension is paid to wartime veterans with mesothelioma as long as their income does not exceed the income threshold.  To be considered a wartime veteran, they must have served for at least 90 days on active duty with at least one of those days during a period of war.  Because Pension is means tested, the amount a veteran receives once approved is variable depending on their income.   If the veteran’s income is below the threshold, veterans are paid the difference between their income and the applicable threshold.

Aid & Attendance (A&A):  For veterans who are either housebound or require the assistance of another person to perform basic daily tasks such as bathing and dressing, additional pay can be added to the veterans Disability Compensation for mesothelioma.  In the case of a veteran applying for Pension, the income threshold is simply higher for veterans in need of Aid & Attendance.  Therefore, a veteran whose income was too high to qualify under the basic limit may qualify under the higher A&A limit when their disease begins to limit what they can do on their own.

Dependency & Indemnity Compensation (DIC):  DIC is a monthly monetary benefit paid to the surviving spouse of any veteran who died from a service related disability.   If the veteran was receiving disability compensation for his mesothelioma before passing away, DIC is easy to get approved.  But even if the veteran never filed a disability compensation claim, the spouse can still qualify for DIC if she can provide sufficient information to convince the VA that her spouse’s mesothelioma – and thus his death – was service related.  DIC currently pays about $1,257 per month. 

Survivor Pension:  Like veteran’s Pension, surviving spouses of wartime veterans can receive Pension, if their income is under the income threshold, which varies depending on whether the spouse is housebound or in need of Aid & Attendance. 

VA Health Care:  Most veterans shy away from using the VA’s Health Care system, unless they have no alternative, or if private insurance premiums or co-pays are cost prohibitive.  However, the VA currently has two Mesothelioma Treatment Programs setup in the US; one is operated by Dr. Abraham (Avi) Lebenthal at the Boston VA Hospital and the other is run by Dr. Robert Cameron at the VA Hospital in Los Angeles. 

Both doctors are accomplished mesothelioma surgeons operating primarily out of their respective civilian hospitals.  Each doctor has dedicated some of their time each week to working out of the local VA hospital, in order to provide veterans with mesothelioma an opportunity to see one of the country’s leading mesothelioma experts free of charge through the VA. 

If you have any questions about mesothelioma treatment options, leading specialists, or VA benefits and how to qualify for them, feel free to call me at 877-404-9992.  I can also be reached by email at brian@mesotheliomaveterans.org

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