Mesothelioma and Veterans

Thousands of military members were exposed to asbestos during their service, causing high rates of mesothelioma among veterans. Mesothelioma symptoms generally do not appear until 20-50 years after asbestos exposure, meaning veterans who served up until the 1980s may be at risk today. U.S. military veterans with mesothelioma may be eligible for various VA benefits, including VA health care and VA disability compensation.

Walter Mesothelioma Testimonial Video Thumbnail

View Summary: Walter, a victim of mesothelioma, shares the story of his journey in the Navy, diagnosis with mesothelioma, and filing of an asbestos claim. View Transcript.

The word mesothelioma I didn’t know anything about. When I turned 70 I started getting pneumonia, but then as time went on they kept getting closer and closer and closer together [the occurrences] and I asked the doctor, I said, I wanna know why.

And they sent me downstairs to get a chest X-ray and the X-ray made it back before I got back up there.

He says, we’re gonna go inside and take a look. He come up right to my bedside after the operation and showed me the pictures they took on the inside of the lung and he pointed out the cancer.

I really can’t explain it. I got a knot in my stomach, you know. But he told me then that there was no cure for it.

I was impressed by the Navy – seeing my uncle in that Navy uniform, you know – take pictures of him. So I just decided when I come outta school that I was gonna join the Navy.

I was very proud of that uniform. I was a boiler tender when I went aboard my first ship and started doing my first job. They told me — I asked them what the material was made out of and they told me it was asbestos.

It didn’t kill anybody on the spot that’s for sure, but it took years later when it started catching up with us. But, my understanding [is] that the powers-that-be knew.

I didn’t wanna sue my government and I damn sure didn’t wanna sue the Navy cause they’re still feeding me. I wasn’t suing the government, I wasn’t suing the U.S. Navy, I was suing the manufacturer.

It was only 2 or 3 days and he was here [the lawyer]. He came and seen me, talked to me personally. He knew what kind of a man I was and how involved I was with my job in the Navy. Felt very comfortable with them. I was watching the way they handled it, they did good.

[It was] positive thinking, there was nothing negative about it, it was positive. They were prepared, they could go back to day 1, and I appreciated that. There was no guessing about it, they had the paperwork to back them up.

It was a hands-on approach I guess, and that’s what drew me. Cause that’s the way I do things – a hands-on approach. They damn well earned it.

Legally edited and fact-checked by: Eric P.W. Hall (Capt RIANG)VA-Accredited Attorney
Mesothelioma Veterans Guide
Get a Free Veterans PacketGet information on treatment, doctors, and VA Benefits.
Get a Free Veterans Packet

VA Benefits for Veterans With Mesothelioma

Due to the military’s widespread use of asbestos between the 1930s and early 1980s, veterans today have higher rates of mesothelioma than the general population.

A graphic of a veteran with text that reads: "Veterans account for 1-3 mesothelioma cases each year".

Once praised for its fireproofing and insulation capabilities, asbestos is now known to cause deadly diseases like mesothelioma. Manufacturers of asbestos-based products knew these dangers for decades but hid the truth from the military and the general public.

By the time the risks of asbestos were well-known, thousands of service members had already been exposed.

If you served in the military and suffer from an asbestos-related illness like mesothelioma, you may qualify for financial and medical benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

Need help filing for VA benefits?
VA-Accredited Attorney Capt RIANG Eric Hall can help you file for free.
Fill out the form below

Secure Submission

VA Disability Compensation

VA disability compensation typically pays out over $3,000 each month if you’re a veteran with mesothelioma. More money may be available if you are married and/or have dependent children.

In order to receive disability benefits, you must have proof of diagnosis (such as a note from a physician) and show that your cancer is service-related.

Our team of VA-accredited attorneys can help you gather the proof you’ll need to get this compensation.

Learn more with a free veterans packet.

VA Pension

You may be able to receive a VA Pension if you meet a certain income limit and other criteria.

If you served before September 8, 1980, you need to have logged at least 90 days of active duty with at least 1 day during wartime. If you served after September 7, 1980, you must have served 2 full years or your full period of active duty, with at least 1 day of service during wartime.

Your annual family income must be under $138,489 (as of December 1, 2021) to qualify.

Finally, you must meet at least 1 of the following VA pension requirements:

  • Be older than 65
  • Be permanently disabled
  • Receive Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and/or Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
  • Reside in a nursing home due to your disability

To see if you qualify, reach out to our patient advocates and mesothelioma lawyers.

How to File a VA Claim

Filing for VA benefits is a multi-step process. Thankfully, it’s relatively easy for veterans with mesothelioma to file a claim with help from our team. Find the steps to file a VA mesothelioma veterans claim below.

1. Connect With Our TeamThe Mesothelioma Veterans Center has patient advocates, fellow veterans, and skilled attorneys on staff to help you gather the information to file a VA claim.

Our team can pinpoint when and where you were exposed to asbestos while you served using data we’ve collected from helping other veterans.

2. Gather EvidenceA VA mesothelioma veterans claim must have evidence to support it, or it could be rejected. This evidence includes a proof of diagnosis as well as a link between the diagnosis and military service.

One key piece of evidence is known as a nexus letter. This is a letter from your doctor that says your cancer stems from military asbestos exposure. Additional evidence could be service records or information showing you were exposed to asbestos-based products while you served.

“The nexus letter is important. If you can provide it when you initially apply, it makes the VA’s job a lot easier.”

Eric Hall, Capt. RIANG & VA-Accredited Attorney

3. File the ClaimOnce the proper information has been gathered, you will need to fill out VA Form 21-526EZ. This claim can be filed in person, online, or by mail. The form will ask which disabilities you have and how they’re related to military service.

After the form has been filled out and its supporting evidence has been collected, you are ready to file your mesothelioma veterans claim with the VA.

4. Review of the ClaimOnce the claim has been submitted, the VA will review it and then decide if you can collect the benefits you requested based on the evidence provided.

The VA may award the benefits, or they may ask you to submit more information. In some cases, the VA may deny a veteran from getting VA benefits. In this case, an appeal can be filed to try and overturn the decision.

It typically takes the VA several months to make a decision on a claim. To speed up the process, a senator or congressperson can be contacted. This can be very helpful considering mesothelioma is a fast-moving cancer and every day counts.

Mesothelioma Veterans GuideGet a FREE Veterans Packet

Get information on:

  • Top Treatment
  • Best Doctors
  • Improving Prognosis

Get a Free Veterans Packet

Asbestos Exposure in the Military

An aviation mechanic works on a plane, not realizing he may be at risk of asbestos exposure

Your risk of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases depends on your military branch and the jobs you held while serving. Those who served in certain branches and roles were exposed to more asbestos than others. See how each branch used asbestos below.

U.S. Navy

The Navy used more asbestos-based products than any other branch of the Armed Forces. As a result, U.S. Navy veterans represent the largest group of service members diagnosed with mesothelioma.

Navy veterans were often exposed to asbestos if they served on ships or worked in shipyards.

Get your Free Navy Ships Guide to learn more about asbestos on military ships and your options if exposed.

Navy Ships & Shipyards

Starting in the 1930s, the government mandated that the Navy build all Navy ships with asbestos as a fireproofing substance. Most ships had poor air circulation, so stray asbestos fibers could linger in the air for hours and be inhaled unknowingly by service members.

Veterans who worked in Navy shipyards also had a high risk of asbestos exposure. Navy vessels were built, repaired, and dismantled in shipyards. These activities sent asbestos fibers flying into the air, allowing service members to inhale the fibers.

Below, see the number of U.S. Navy shipyards per state.

Map of naval shipyards per state

U.S. Coast Guard

The Coast Guard also used an abundance of asbestos to build its vessels. The Coast Guard used asbestos to make its ships fireproof.

U.S. Coast Guard veterans who worked in boiler rooms, engine rooms, and other areas aboard military ships faced long-term exposure to asbestos.

U.S. Air Force

The Air Force relied on asbestos-based products to prevent military aircraft from catching on fire. U.S. Air Force veterans who worked as pilots and mechanics were at risk of long-term asbestos exposure as a result.

Asbestos could be found aboard Air Force planes in:

  • Brakes
  • Cockpits
  • Clutches
  • Electrical wiring
  • Engines
  • Gaskets
  • Insulation
  • Valves

Air Force bases and vehicles like trucks also contained large amounts of asbestos.

U.S. Army

Asbestos-containing products used by U.S. Army veterans include vehicle parts like brakes and the construction materials used to make bases (such as cement and paint).

Asbestos exposure is still a risk for some soldiers serving overseas today as well.

“Asbestos is a material that was once used in many buildings and products. If you served in Iraq or other countries in the Middle East and Southeast Asia, you may have had contact with asbestos when old buildings got damaged, releasing toxic chemicals into the air.”

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)

U.S. Marine Corps

Marines spent a lot of time in buildings constructed with asbestos. They also served on battlegrounds where buildings containing asbestos products were destroyed, which released asbestos fibers into the air.

Further, U.S. Marine Corps veterans who served aboard Navy ships or worked in shipyards may have been exposed to high levels of asbestos.

Did you or a loved one develop mesothelioma after serving in the U.S. Marine Corps? Call (877) 450-8973 to get help immediately.

Secondary Asbestos Exposure in the Military

You didn’t need to work directly with asbestos to be put in danger — families who lived on military bases may also have been at risk of secondary asbestos exposure.

Service members that worked around asbestos unknowingly brought home stray fibers on their hair, clothing, or equipment. The fibers could then be inhaled by family members and loved ones.

Military Jobs With Asbestos Exposure Risk

Certain jobs came with a higher risk of military asbestos exposure than others. In these roles, service members frequently used asbestos-based products and/or worked in places where stray fibers could easily be inhaled.

Some jobs with the highest risk include:

  • Aircraft and vehicle mechanics
  • Boiler operators
  • Carpenters
  • Construction workers
  • Demolition specialists
  • Enginemen
  • Floor and roof installers
  • Heating system workers
  • Hull technicians
  • Insulation workers
  • Machinist mates
  • Plumbers
  • Seabees
  • Shipfitters/pipefitters
  • Shipyard workers
  • Welders

That said, even service members who did not hold a high-risk job may have been exposed to asbestos through secondhand exposure or by inhaling fibers that had been lingering in the air after a day’s work.

See which jobs had the highest risk of asbestos exposure in our free veterans packet.

Asbestos Exposure After Military Service

For many service members, the risk of asbestos exposure did not always stop after their military careers ended. Veterans often found jobs similar to the ones they held while in the service, adding to their exposure history.

Below, learn how one veteran was exposed to asbestos after his military service.

Connie’s Mesothelioma Journey
Military BranchMarines
Civilian JobElectrician
DiagnosisAsbestosis

After serving in World War II, veteran and hero Conrad “Connie” Bauer worked as an industrial electrician, using asbestos-based electrical products for roughly 30 years. He later developed asbestosis, an incurable lung disease, due to his post-military exposure.

 

Asbestos Removal by the Military

Although the military no longer uses asbestos during the construction of new bases, vehicles, planes, or ships, many buildings and ships built before the 1980s still contain asbestos.

While the military went to great lengths to remove asbestos in the 1980s, some products were left behind due to costs and time constraints.

“During my twilight tour in the Navy as the Executive Officer at a shore duty installation, our building underwent a major overhaul. However, before work could begin, the contractor had to have much of the building tested for asbestos. I was floored when I received the report that showed that our building had asbestos in the floor tiles, drywall, joint compounds, heating system, and even in the window caulk. And this was as recent as 2008.”

Retired Senior Veteran

Fortunately, the risk of asbestos exposure from older structures is low if the material is left undisturbed.

Mesothelioma Veterans GuideGet a FREE Veterans Packet

Get information on:

  • Top Treatment
  • Best Doctors
  • Improving Prognosis

Get a Free Veterans Packet

Veterans Mesothelioma Treatment

Outside of financial benefits, veterans may be able to access top mesothelioma treatments and work with specialists through the VA. Learn more about getting treatment after a mesothelioma diagnosis.

VA Health Care System

A doctor points to an ipad while speaking to an older male patient.

Through the VA Health Care System, you can receive free or low-cost medical treatment from some of the world’s top doctors at VA mesothelioma cancer centers. You can access this care by applying for VA Health Care benefits.

As of 2021, you can work with mesothelioma doctors based out of Los Angeles or Boston if you have VA Health Care. The VA may also cover your travel expenses to see a mesothelioma specialist if you live far away from these locations.

Top VA mesothelioma doctors include:

  • Dr. Avi Lebenthal

    Dr. Avi Lebenthal is a veteran of the Israeli army and treats mesothelioma veterans through the VA Boston Healthcare System. He specializes in treating pleural mesothelioma. He also treats civilian patients at Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston.

  • Dr. Robert Cameron

    Dr. Robert Cameron has decades of experience treating pleural mesothelioma patients. Today he treats veterans at the West Los Angeles VA Medical Center. Visit the UCLA Health website to learn more about Dr. Robert Cameron.

Disclaimer

The Mesothelioma Veterans Center has no affiliation with and is not endorsed or sponsored by Dr. Robert B. Cameron. The contact information above is listed for informational purposes only. You have the right to contact Dr. Cameron directly.

Accessing Veterans Mesothelioma Compensation

If you are a U.S. veteran, we thank you for bravely serving our country and encourage you to pursue VA benefits for mesothelioma.

Whether you need aid and attendance from a caregiver, monthly disability compensation to make ends meet, or medical treatment for mesothelioma, VA benefits can be very helpful.

You can also explore legal options like mesothelioma lawsuits or asbestos trust fund claims to potentially get more money.

  • Legal claims, also known as mesothelioma lawsuits, allow veterans to pursue financial compensation from companies that made and sold asbestos-based products. Lawsuit settlements award an average of $1 million.
  • Asbestos trust fund claims allow people to access money from bankrupt manufacturers of asbestos-based products, which set aside money into trusts. Over $30 billion is currently in asbestos trust funds today.
Did you know?

No legal action is taken against the government or any branches of the military. Further, you can file a VA claim, legal claims, and asbestos trust fund claims at the same time.

Let us help you file for VA mesothelioma benefits and other forms of compensation today. Our team — including fellow veterans, patient advocates, and law firms with a national reach — is standing by.

Mesothelioma Veterans: Common Questions

Find answers to common questions about mesothelioma and the military below.
Top Question

How many veterans have mesothelioma?

About 3,000 people are diagnosed with mesothelioma each year, and veterans with mesothelioma make up around 30% of all cases.

Between 1999 and 2017, there were over 45,000 deaths from mesothelioma, meaning that more than 15,000 veterans died from mesothelioma during that time.

Who can file a mesothelioma VA claim?

Veterans with mesothelioma can file a VA claim and pursue benefits. In some cases, family members of the affected veteran may also be able to file a claim on their behalf.

Additionally, certain benefits like disability and identity compensation (DIC) can pass on to surviving spouses if a veteran with mesothelioma passes away.

What do I need in order to file for VA mesothelioma benefits?

To file a veterans benefits claim, you’ll need information that shows:

  • You served in the military when asbestos was widely used
  • You used or worked around asbestos-containing products in your military role
  • Medical records and documents showing you were diagnosed with mesothelioma

While you may not have this information readily available, our team of Patient Advocates can help you gather all the necessary documents and forms and file your VA benefits claim.

Are there time limits to file a VA mesothelioma claim?

No. VA mesothelioma claims are considered “post-service claims” since this cancer develops decades after a veteran served — and these claims can be filed at any time.

Time is particularly of the essence if you have mesothelioma as this cancer can severely limit your lifespan. Don’t wait — see if you can file a claim today.

Are VA claims the same as mesothelioma legal claims?

No. Legal claims are filed against asbestos-based products that are still in business, while VA claims are filed with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Legal claims award much more compensation than VA benefit claims typically do, and no branch of the military is sued as part of this process.

Speak to a member of our team to see how filing VA claims and legal claims can benefit you.

Will having private insurance affect my ability to get VA benefits?

You can still access VA compensation and other benefits, even if you don’t use VA Health Care for mesothelioma treatment.

Reach out to our team at (877) 450-8973 if you have any other questions about mesothelioma or VA benefits.

Veterans Support Team
Eric P.W. Hall (Capt RIANG) PhotoReviewed by:Eric P.W. Hall (Capt RIANG)

VA-Accredited Attorney

  • Fact-Checked
  • Legal Editor

Eric P.W. Hall (Capt RIANG) is an attorney, a former Sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps, and a legal advisor at the Mesothelioma Veterans Center. Today, Eric continues to serve as a Captain in the Rhode Island Air National Guard where he is Deputy Staff Judge Advocate, upholding his dedication to his country and fellow veterans. Eric considers it his duty to help his veteran family and strives to help them navigate the VA and receive the benefits they so bravely earned.

Christopher Dryfoos PhotoWritten by:

Contributing Author

Christopher Dryfoos is a journalist and member of the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA). As the grandson of the U.S. Navy’s first forensic pathologist, he aims to help veterans with mesothelioma access needed care.