Beginning in World War II, thousands if not millions of U.S. servicemen were exposed to potentially lethal levels of airborne asbestos. In shipyards and in boiler rooms, in sleeping quarters and in mess halls, asbestos was ubiquitous. Because so many ships and other facilities were outfitted with asbestos (for insulation and other purposes), servicemen — especially those in the Navy — were more likely than other workers to be exposed to the cancer-causing mineral. Studies have suggested that soldiers and sailors in the U.S. armed forces have thus far accounted for up to 30 percent of patients diagnosed with lethal asbestos-related diseases such as asbestos lung cancer (mesothelioma) and asbestosis.
To make matters worse, it has been very difficult for former servicemen to prove that their exposure to asbestos occurred while in the service. The frequency with which soldiers moved from one location to the next and the scarcity of documentation to trace these movements has made it next to impossible for many veterans to receive service-connected disability compensation for their ailments. However, like anyone who contracts mesothelioma and other horrible diseases due to asbestos exposure, veterans and their families are eligible to file personal injury claims against the manufacturers of products laden with asbestos. To learn more, read the information below as well as our article on veterans’ asbestos diseases, and speak with a mesothelioma attorney as soon as possible.
Asbestos in the Military
Asbestos is a mineral that when broken up can fill the air with microscopic particles that are easily inhaled. These particles inbed in the lining of the lungs, heart and/or abdomen, eventually leading to lethal illnesses, namely asbestosis and mesothelioma. Asbestosis and mesothelioma treatments do little to slow the progression of these aggressive diseases. Mesothelioma is especially lethal; most patients die within a year. (To learn more about your or your loved one’s mesothelioma prognosis, including information on pleural mesothelioma life expectancy, peritoneal mesothelioma life expectancy and pericardial mesothelioma life expectancy, refer to our pages devoted to these topics.)
Contributing to the inefficacy of mesothelioma treatments is the fact that asbestos-related diseases have an extremely lengthy latency period, meaning that they take a long time to develop. Mesothelioma symptoms first appear 15 to 50 years after initial exposure.
The military’s widespread use of asbestos in the 20th century can be chalked up to its affordability and its various applications. In the U.S. armed forces, asbestos was widely used in boiler rooms and engine rooms. It was also used in the production of products and buildings as well as submarines and other vessels. In the 1970s, as evidence of the deadly effects of asbestos inhalation increasingly came to light, regulations were passed to limit the use of asbestos, and exposure to the dangerous mineral began to taper off.
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)
The Department of Veterans Affairs, or VA, is one of the largest agencies of the federal government. The VA is tasked with running a vast system of benefits for veterans, their families and their survivors. One of these benefits is compensation for disabilities, including illnesses and diseases contracted or made worse by conditions that existed during a veteran’s time in service.
Veterans who believe they were harmed or disabled while in service must file for disability benefits and undergo a physical examination at a VA facility. A veteran’s compensation is assessed based on a disability percentage, as determined by the examining physician. Typically, a report is then sent to a regional office for further assessment.
There are special programs designed to treat veterans with service-related ailments, including gulf war syndrome, agent orange exposure and asbestos-related conditions. Unfortunately, the VA is notorious for its denial of disability compensation for malignant mesothelioma and asbestosis. Because these diseases take so long to manifest, it can be extremely difficult to show that they were caused by exposure to asbestos during service. As a result, many veterans have turned to mesothelioma lawyers to explore their legal options.
Filing an Asbestos Exposure Lawsuit
Manufacturers and distributors of products, including products that contain asbestos, are required by law to protect workers and consumers from harm. When a product leads to injury, illness or death, those harmed are within their rights to file suit against the companies that made the product, as well as those that distributed it. Over the past few decades, more and more veterans have successfully pursued personal injury claims against the companies responsible for their asbestos diseases. In addition, family members of veterans who have perished as a result of pleural mesothelioma and other diseases have been able to obtain substantial monetary compensation by filing wrongful death lawsuits. To learn more about your legal rights, contact a mesothelioma attorney today.
Determining Benefits — The VA Manual
Thousands of veterans have struggled to obtain service-connected disability compensation related to asbestos exposure. This despite guidelines purportedly designed to ensure that veterans receive just compensation.
As might be expected, those tasked with approving or denying asbestos-related VA claims are first instructed to determine if service records and other factors show a veteran was exposed to asbestos during service, and whether a relationship exists between the exposure and the claimed disease. Importantly, however, the guidelines go on to state, “As always, resolve reasonable doubt in the claimant’s favor.”