Veterans that have developed mesothelioma as a result of their service in the U.S. military are eligible to file a claim for disability from the VA. The disability benefit comes in the form of financial compensation and starts at $2,906 per month, but is higher for married veterans, and/or veterans in need of Aid & Attendance of another person to perform basic daily tasks.
Mesothelioma Disability Claim Overview
In order to file a disability claim with the VA, a veteran must first meet the eligibility criteria. To be eligible, veterans must have been discharged under other than dishonorable conditions. The VA must also consider veterans at least 10 percent disabled in order for them to be eligible to receive any disability pay. Veterans approved for mesothelioma are almost always awarded a 100 percent disability rating which equates to at least $2,906 per month, but is higher for veterans with dependent, and those in need of Aid & Attendance of another person to perform basic daily tasks.
There is also a medical component to the eligibility process. Veterans must have direct medical evidence of mesothelioma provided by a physician. This usually requires you to submit a pathology report from a biopsy that definitively diagnoses you with mesothelioma. There are times when a doctor may conclude that a veteran has mesothelioma, but does not feel a biopsy is justified. In these cases, other medical evidence may be sufficient to get approved, such as the results of a cytology (fluid biopsy) that shows the presence of malignant mesothelial cells, or CAT scan, MRI and/or PET scan reports. In these cases, it is usually best to get a doctor to write the VA a letter on the veteran’s behalf, explaining why the preponderance of the medical evidence is sufficient to justify a mesothelioma diagnosis, and why the biopsy is not warranted. You must also be able to establish a link between your mesothelioma and your time in service.
Because asbestos exposure causes mesothelioma, and asbestos use was widespread in the military until the late-1970s, military records can generally establish a link. However, getting the VA to concede your military exposure, in and of itself, is insufficient to get approved. You must also convince the VA that you did not have more exposure to asbestos in your jobs before and after your military service.
Therefore, it is imperative that you write a detailed exposure summary to accompany your claim. In your summary, you must provide the VA with details about your military exposures, and include information about the kind of work you did before and after the military. Veterans successful in convincing the VA that at least 50% of their asbestos exposure occurred in the military will be approved.
If you are eligible to file a mesothelioma disability claim with the VA, you can do so in three ways:
- Online through the eBenefits program
- In person at your VA Regional Office
- With a VA accredited representative who can work directly with you and assist you in preparing your claim and submitting it to the VA
History of U.S. Military Mesothelioma Use
In order to be eligible to file a mesothelioma disability claim, you have to have been exposed to the asbestos while serving in the U.S. military. Because the U.S. military used asbestos extensively for decades, you could have easily been exposed to asbestos while serving your country and not even be aware of the exposure. Convincing the VA that you were exposed can prove to be a different matter altogether, however our VA Accredited Claim Agent has years of experience in assisting veterans in identifying their military exposures, and in detailing those exposures in the veteran’s exposure summary.
All branches of the US military—the Navy, Marines, Army, Air Force, and Coast Guard—used the hazardous material for its heat resistance. Asbestos was placed in insulation, piping, ceiling and flooring tiles, electrical wiring, and other infrastructure. It was also commonly used aboard ships, transport vehicles and aircrafts.
Knowing where you served and which job you worked during your service will help you establish a link to qualify for your claim. Some jobs had more asbestos exposure risks than others, including construction workers, mechanics and sailors who worked in shipyards. However, the Asbestos Section of the VA Benefits Manual (M21-1MR) makes it clear that mesothelioma causing exposure may be “brief and/or indirect.” Therefore, there is no minimal level of exposure in the military that you must have experienced in order to qualify.
Mesothelioma Disability Compensation
VA Disability Compensation is completely tax-free. The benefit is awarded on a per-month basis, and the precise financial amount depends upon the level of the veteran’s disability. Veterans must be considered at least 10 percent disabled by the VA in order to receive disability pay. Veterans suffering from mesothelioma are almost always rated at 100 percent disability.
The disability benefit is designed to compensate veterans for the loss of their ability to work, and for the illnesses they’ve developed as a result of their military service. However, age, employment status and your current financial situation have no bearing on whether you are approved, or in the determination of how much you will receive in disability payments.
How To File a Disability Claim With the VA
There are two ways for veterans to file a disability claim with the VA:
- Traditional Claim: Traditional claims are process through the “standard” processing rules which require the VA to “develop” the veteran’s claim. Development is the process whereby the VA gathers all necessary documentation to adjudicate the claim. This process takes time with the average claim taking approximately 8 months to adjudicate.
- Fully Developed Claim (FDC): Claims processed through the FDC program (introduced by the VA in 2010) are processed using the VA’s expedited claims processing rules. In order to submit a FDC, the veteran (and his veteran service rep) must submit all supporting documentation with the claim. Claims filed through the FDC program take on average only 4 months to adjudicate.
After meeting the eligibility requirements, veterans can file on their own, or seek the assistance of a VA Accredited representative to assist them in filing. An accredited representative can ensure that you submit the appropriate forms, supporting documentation and a detailed exposure summary to support your claim.
Traditional claims submitted to the VA are processed through the standard processing rules. This means that the VA has a legal duty to “develop” the veteran’s claim. Under these rules, the VA is required to request copies of the veteran’s civilian medical records, and request additional documentation from the veteran to support his/her claim.
This documentation may include medical release forms, copies of a marriage license or divorce decree, nexus letters from the veteran’s doctor, and/or answers to questions about the veteran’s exposure history from the military and civilian jobs held before, and after the military.
Because this “development” of the claim takes time, typical time for a decision on a traditional claim is between 8-12 months, but can be longer if the VA has a difficult time gathering any of these records.
In 2010, the VA announced the implementation of a new processing method called the “Fully Developed Claim” (FDC). In order to submit a FDC, the veteran must submit all necessary forms, documentation, civilian medical records, and an exposure summary with their initial claim for disability compensation.
Because the VA does not have to “develop” the claim, it bypasses the often time-consuming “development” stage and is therefore expedited through the system. FDCs typically take half the time to process than a similar claim adjudicated through the standard processing rules with the average time taking only 4 months.
“While it’s true that any illness diagnosed while you are still on active duty is automatically considered service related, many vets assume that a disease diagnosed years after their service is not considered service related by the VA. While it will not be automatically assumed that your mesothelioma was caused by your military service, you can still get approved as long as you can convince the VA that at least 50% of your occupational exposure occurred in the military. I can help you to make that case by assisting you in writing a detailed exposure summary to accompany your VA Disability Claim.” – Retired LCDR Carl Jewett