Mesothelioma & Veterans

Mesothelioma & Veterans Benefits

In the United States there is considerable resistance in Congress to the idea of single-payer, universal health care as a right of citizenship. However, two such systems are in place already, one of which is the Veterans Health Administration. Properly funded, this system works quite well for those who have served in uniform and certainly deserve the benefits they have earned. This includes no-cost treatment for injuries and illnesses that resulted from duties completed in service. However, those who suffer from asbestos-related cancer - such as mesothelioma - face resistance from a government agency that does not always recognize these illnesses as service-related.

Historical Background

The Veterans Administration was founded under the Hoover Administration in 1930 in order to coordinate government services for war veterans - which at the time included those who had fought in the World War I, the Spanish American War and the Civil War. In 1989, this was replaced by a cabinet-level department known as the Department of Veterans Affairs, now headed by General Eric Shinseki (USA, Ret.). This department also covers things such as educational benefits, home loans, pensions and other issues in addition to health and medical care. The Veterans Health Administration is the subdivision that deals with veterans' medical services.

VHA Triage

Because of the increasing demand for health care services, due not only to combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan but also to of the aging veteran population, the VHA has developed a priority system consisting of eight major categories as well as several sub-categories.

The criteria that determine what conditions, injuries and patients get priority is fairly complex and is based not only on the seriousness of the condition and the circumstances involved in the illness, but also on the veteran's income and assets. Therefore, a veteran with substantial resources and a non-life threatening condition that is only partially due to service duties will receive a lower priority rating than one who has a low income and may be suffering from a debilitating sickness due to radiation exposure during an atomic test.

As long as the condition is at least 50 percent service-connected, the veteran patient is entitled to no-cost treatment and low-cost prescriptions (currently, $8 for a 30-day supply).


Although as many as 30 percent of all mesothelioma patients are former servicemen and women, the VHA rarely recognizes mesothelioma as a "service-related illness." A main reason for this rationality is that it can be extremely difficult to determine where and how someone was exposed to asbestos. The disease normally has a very long latency period. Many patients do not demonstrate symptoms until 20 to 50 years after initial exposure to asbestos. If the veteran ever worked at any of the dozens of occupations that placed people at risk for asbestos disease since leaving the service, the issue becomes even more complicated. It has been well established that the length and concentration of the exposure as well as other toxins in the environment, such as tobacco smoke and exhaust fumes, can greatly increase the chances that one will develop asbestos cancer.

To make matters worse, the Navy has been hesitant to keep records and statistics on asbestos exposure, even though 25 percent of all mesothelioma patients are veterans of the Navy, Coast Guard, Marines or Merchant Marine. Veterans who suffer from this form of cancer must often fight to have their condition recognized as "service-related."

What to Do

If you are a veteran diagnosed with mesothelioma, two resources are available that may provide assistance:

Contact a veteran's advocacy group. These organizations are run by veterans themselves, and can often be of great assistance in filing your claim with the VHA.

Contact a lawyer with experience in asbestos litigation. Legally, it is the manufacturer of the asbestos products, not the end-user that bears liability. The reason is that the asbestos industry was aware of the dangers of its product for many decades and chose to suppress this information. By identifying the vessels on which you served or the types of equipment you worked with during service, it is usually possible to determine which companies manufactured and sold the products, or their successors.

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