If you served in the armed forces and you have developed mesothelioma, you may be able to file a claim for VA disability benefits. The VA disability claims for veterans with mesothelioma can even be easier than some other diseases, because the VA accepts that mesothelioma can be a service-related illness. With that being said, the claims process can be a somewhat complicated set of tasks.
Submitting VA disability claims is not as simple as filling out a form. You need to provide documentation about your service and your asbestos exposure. The thought of wrestling with the VA to get benefits may seem like too much for you to handle. You’re already struggling to manage mesothelioma treatments and the life changes that come with your diagnosis. But the process is worth it. A successful claim filing can result in monthly benefits of $3000 or more.
You don’t have to file a claim on your own. A VA claims specialist can help you through the VA disability claims process.
How Do Veterans Get Mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma is caused by exposure to asbestos. All branches of the military used asbestos products until the 1970s and sometimes well after the 1970s. You are most at risk if you served between the 1930s and the 1970s. However, the military didn’t remediate asbestos on its bases and some Navy ships until the 1990s and used brakes and other products containing asbestos well after the seventies, so you might have worked around asbestos in the military during later years as well. Veterans have a higher rate of mesothelioma than the general population.
Mesothelioma is a cancer of an organ lining. It is very slow to develop. Even though you were discharged from the armed forces decades ago, mesothelioma diagnosed much later could be due to your military service.
The Veterans Administration suggests that you get checked for mesothelioma if you worked in the military in any of these areas:
- Demolition (knocking down old buildings)
You might also have been exposed to asbestos, according to the VA, if you worked with products that contained asbestos. These include flooring, roofing, cement sheet, pipes, insulation, and friction products (such as clutch facings and brake linings).
If your military service didn’t involve any of the possible exposures listed above, you might still have mesothelioma because of your military service. If you served in the Navy, for example, you could have come into contact with asbestos on your ship. Naval veterans have a particularly high risk of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases.
Who Can File VA Disability Claims?
To apply for VA benefits for mesothelioma, you have to document that you are eligible. You will need to show the VA that:
- You have a verified mesothelioma diagnosis. Mesothelioma can be difficult to diagnose. You’ll need thorough testing to determine that is what’s making you sick before you go to the VA.
- You were honorably discharged. Only veterans with honorable discharges are eligible for VA mesothelioma benefits.
- You were exposed to asbestos during your military service. Your VA claims specialist can help you gather the information you need to prove that you worked around asbestos during your service.
- It is determined that your asbestos exposure in the military was 50% or more of your lifetime exposure to asbestos. If you held a job after you left the military where you worked with asbestos, the VA will factor this into its consideration. This additional asbestos exposure doesn’t necessarily disqualify you for VA benefits. But, to file a successful VA disability claim, you’ll need to document that 50% or more of your asbestos exposure happened during your time in the armed forces.
If you have pleural (lungs) or peritoneal (abdomen) mesothelioma, you are eligible to receive full disability benefits from the VA, as long as you meet the other requirements. The VA may not give full disability to veterans with pericardial (heart) or testicular (testes) mesothelioma.
VA benefits can include tax-free monthly compensation. You can also get free healthcare through a VA medical center. As a mesothelioma patient, you have the right to get treatment from one of the mesothelioma specialists at the VA.
If you were not in the military but you are the surviving spouse, child, or parent of a veteran who died from mesothelioma, you could qualify for Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC). You can apply for tax-free monthly compensation from the VA.
Steps of the VA Disability Claims Process
In addition to VA disability claims forms, you’ll need to gather evidence for your disability claim. This will include documentation of your condition from your doctor and your DD-214 separation paperwork from the military. You might need to request a copy of your official military personnel file, to show where your military service brought you into contact with asbestos.
The VA may also ask for information about your jobs after your service, to determine if you had other asbestos exposure that could have caused or contributed to your mesothelioma. You can also provide statements from family, fellow service members, and others to support your claim.
If you’re applying for DIC benefits, you will need to provide much of the same evidence that the veteran would need to gather. You’ll have to show that your loved one was diagnosed with mesothelioma, was honorably discharged, and was exposed to asbestos during military service. In addition, the VA has specific forms for each type of surviving family member.
To qualify for DIC as a surviving spouse, you cannot remarry until you are 57 years old or older. Surviving children can receive DIC if they aren’t included in the DIC benefits for their surviving parent. To be eligible for DIC, the surviving child must be unmarried and under 18, or under 23 and enrolled in school.
Once your VA disability claim is granted, your monetary benefits will be retroactive. You’ll receive checks for your benefits, going back to the month you filed your claim.
VA Disability Appeals
Sometimes valid VA disability claims are denied, due to mistakes on the part of the VA. If your claim for VA disability or DIC benefits is denied, you have the right to appeal.
Like the initial paperwork, an appeal can feel overwhelming. You have too much stress in your life already. But the appeals process is also worthwhile, because the VA does sometimes reverse its decisions. If you win your appeal, you’ll get your VA benefits starting from the month you first filed. These funds can go a long way to reducing your stress when you’re dealing with mesothelioma.
And, like the initial claims process, you don’t have to file a VA disability appeal on your own. A VA claims specialist can help you navigate the process. MRHFM provides VA claims help to qualified veterans with mesothelioma at no charge. It’s our way of thanking you for your service and giving something back to our community.