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Vanessa Blanco, patient advocate for the Mesothelioma Prognosis Network
Written By Vanessa Blanco
Mesothelioma Prognosis Network logo
Reviewed By Dr. Susan E. Lawrence

U.S. servicemen and women have faced many perils for the sake of defending our country. Sadly, some of these dangers come home with them, haunting them long after their retirement from the armed forces. Military asbestos exposure is one of the most insidious of these dangers.

Mesothelioma is infamous for its long latency period. For many elderly veterans, the diagnosis traces back to asbestos exposure that happened when they were young soldiers or sailors. The U.S. military used to rely heavily on asbestos-containing materials for building bases and insulating ships.

As a consequence, veterans are more likely to develop mesothelioma than other Americans. Veterans make up less than 10 percent of adults in the U.S., but they file almost 30 percent of all mesothelioma claims.

If you developed mesothelioma because of military asbestos exposure, you are entitled to benefits provided by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. These benefits include cancer treatment, monthly disability checks and survivor benefits for dependents.

It doesn’t matter if you were diagnosed with mesothelioma after you were discharged from the military — the key is that the asbestos exposure happened during active duty. Your eligibility depends on documenting the link between your diagnosis and your active-duty service.

VA benefits are available to veterans of the five branches of the military as well as commissioned officers of the U.S. Public Health Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

How to Get VA Benefits for Mesothelioma

VA benefits are available to all veterans discharged “under conditions other than dishonorable.” Mesothelioma is on the VA’s list of potentially service-connected medical conditions. But for a VA claim to be approved, you have to prove your asbestos exposure mainly happened during military service.

Filling out the paperwork for a VA claim can be complicated, especially when it is based on asbestos exposure that happened decades ago.

This is why we have a Veterans Department. Our specialized Patient Advocates are certified by the government to help you file a VA claim. They know how to avoid the pitfalls that all-too-often cause legitimate VA claims to be denied.

Our Veterans Department specialists can also explain the different types of benefits available to you. Even if your diagnosis is not service-connected, you could still benefit from the VA health care system and other sources of financial compensation for mesothelioma.

Need Help Paying for Treatment?
Find out if you qualify for financial assistance to help cover medical costs, lost wages and other expenses.

VA Hospitals Partnered with Mesothelioma Treatment Centers

Many veterans assume they can only receive VA health care at their local clinic. But veterans who need specialized care can actually access treatment anywhere in the VA health care system. The VA can even cover the cost of traveling to a major medical center for cancer treatment.

There are a few VA hospitals across the country that collaborate with top mesothelioma treatment programs:
  • The VA Boston Healthcare System works with the International Mesothelioma Program at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
  • The VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System has ties with UCLA’s Comprehensive Mesothelioma Program.
  • The Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center in Houston partners with the Lung Institute at Baylor College of Medicine.

For service-connected mesothelioma, the VA provides cancer treatment free of charge. For non-service-connected cases, veterans with low income may still qualify for free or low-cost health care.

100 Percent Disability Compensation for Cancer Patients

Service-connected mesothelioma is considered 100 percent disabling. This means it qualifies for the maximum monthly disability compensation amount. This benefit starts at $2,973.86 for an individual and increases with their number of dependents.

In addition, Special Monthly Compensation is available for veterans who need professional caregiving services.

Dependency and Indemnity Compensation for Military Spouses

Dependency and Indemnity Compensation is a monthly benefit for the dependents of anyone who dies from a service-connected injury or illness. A death from service-connected mesothelioma qualifies for this benefit. The basic rate is $1,283.11, and it rises with the number of dependents.

To receive Dependency and Indemnity Compensation, dependents need to file a VA claim after the death of their loved one. Eligible dependents include surviving spouses and school-age children.

This process is simple if the veteran was already receiving disability compensation for mesothelioma. If the veteran did not have a disability rating, then the claim must include evidence linking their cancer diagnosis to military asbestos exposure.

Why Do So Many Veterans Get Mesothelioma?

From 1935 to 1975, the military valued asbestos as a fireproofing material and used it extensively in tanks, aircraft and ships. Because asbestos construction materials were cheap and durable, they also found their way into buildings on military bases.

Many of the worst asbestos-exposure sites in U.S. history were naval shipyards active during World War II and the Cold War.

Military Jobs with Historically High Risk of Asbestos Exposure

  • Insulators
  • Shipbuilders
  • Construction workers
  • Vehicle mechanics
  • Boiler technicians
  • Machinist mates

Many service members were exposed to asbestos even if they did not directly work with asbestos materials. Maintenance work routinely filled the enclosed spaces of Navy vessels with toxic asbestos dust, which marines and sailors inhaled as they worked, ate and slept.

Asbestos Exposure in Navy Ships and Shipyards

The Navy used enormous amounts of asbestos products on warships from the 1930s to the 1970s.

Navy medical officers warned against the dangers of asbestos as early as the 1940s, but their concerns were long ignored. Because of this, service members continued to risk asbestos exposure when repairing or decommissioning ships as late as the 1990s.

The most dangerous asbestos products used by the U.S. Navy include:
  • Boiler Insulation: Sailors had to use furnace cement containing 15% asbestos to insulate and repair boilers and other high-temperature engine equipment. Mixing the cement contaminated the ship’s ventilation system with asbestos dust.
  • Pipe Insulation: Asbestos-insulated steam and water pipes were once inescapable throughout Navy ships. The pipe insulation was made of an outer layer of tar and an inner layer of soft felt made of up to 50% asbestos.
  • Gaskets and Sheet Packing: Asbestos gaskets and sheet packing were used in pumps and valves for steam pipes and heating, cooling and bilge systems. When replacing gaskets on machinery, sailors often had to scrap the old gasket material off, releasing asbestos fibers into the air.
  • Fireproofing and Safety Gear: Warships were thoroughly fireproofed with asbestos products, and military firefighters and gun turret operators wore equipment made of asbestos cloth.