Asbestos exposure can cause several health issues. Among those are asbestosis, mesothelioma, cancer, and other asbestos-related diseases. Navy and Coast Guard veterans are most at risk for asbestos exposure, but veterans in other branches of the military could have also been exposed to asbestos. If you think you have an asbestos-related disease caused by your time in service, let’s see if you have a service connection and are eligible for VA disability compensation benefits.
In this article about VA disability ratings for Asbestos-related illness:
- What is Asbestosis and Asbestos?
- Where Asbestos Was Used in the Military
- Asbestos Exposure Symptoms
- Military Ships and Asbestos
- Do Navy Ships Still Use Asbestos?
- Other High-Risk Asbestos Exposure Jobs
- How Asbestosis is Diagnosed
- Can Asbestosis Be Treated?
- Asbestos Related Diseases
- Asbestosis vs. Mesothelioma
- VA Disability Ratings for Asbestosis
- Permanent and Total (P&T) Rating for Asbestosis
- How a VA Benefits Attorney Can Help You
What is Asbestosis and Asbestos?
Asbestosis is a chronic lung disease that is caused by inhaling asbestos fibers and causes permanent damage. It is also considered a form of interstitial lung disease. Prolonged exposure to asbestos fibers can cause permanent scarring of the lung tissue and shortness of breath.
Symptoms can range from mild to life-threatening. However, symptoms of asbestosis don’t appear until 10 to 40 years after continuous exposure. The risk of getting asbestosis is related to the amount and duration of your asbestos exposure. The more asbestos exposure, the more likely you are to develop asbestosis later in life.
Asbestos is a group of six natural mineral fibers that can be found in soil and rock. These fibers are known for their chemical and fire-resistant properties as well as their strength. Because of these qualities, asbestos has mainly been used in the manufacturing and building industries. Asbestos has been used to provide insulation, absorb sound, strengthen plastic and cement, and fireproof textiles, buildings, and military vehicles.
Asbestos fibers can be gray, green, blue, brown, or white. The white asbestos fibers are called chrysotile and they are most commonly used in the United States.
Where Asbestos Was Used in the Military
Asbestos has been mined and used in North America since the late 1800s. During World War II, it started to become widely used. Asbestos can be found in many products. Here are some of the building and construction products it is found in:
- Floor tile and adhesives
- Soundproofing materials
- Patching and joint compound
- Electrical wiring casings
- Pipe, duct, and furnace insulation
- Asbestos and cement shingles, siding, and roofing
There are also many household products containing asbestos including:
- Some paints, plastics, adhesives, and coatings
- Automobile brake pads and linings, gaskets, and clutch facings
- Vermiculite-containing attic insulation and garden products
- Fireproof gloves, table pads, stove-top pads, and fire-resistant fabrics (such as curtains and blankets)
- Artificial embers and ashes used in gas-fired fireplaces
After the late 1970s, the United States started regulating asbestos use due to the harmful effects. These regulations require regular inspections to ensure asbestos materials are intact and undamaged. The law also bans asbestos use in situations where it could be released into the air (such as gas fireplaces), and establishes guidelines to ensure asbestos particles are not released during use.
In this video, one of our VA Disability lawyers talks about service-connecting your Persian Gulf syndrome to the symptoms in your lungs.
Asbestos Exposure Symptoms
As mentioned previously, signs and symptoms of asbestos exposure and asbestos-related diseases usually do not occur until 10 to 40 years after prolonged exposure. If you experience any of these symptoms and know you have had continuous exposure to asbestos at some point in your life, you should see your doctor:
- Loss of appetite
- Face or neck swelling
- Chest or abdomen pain
- Shortness of breath
- Significant weight loss
- Development of a cough or a change in cough patterns
- Prolonged hoarseness or difficulty swallowing
- Blood in fluid coughed up from the lungs
- Fingertips and toes that appear rounder and wider than normal (clubbing)
Here are some tips on your C&P exam from one of our VA disability lawyers.
Military Ships and Asbestos
The U.S. Navy used asbestos more than any other military branch. The Navy relied heavily on asbestos because of its attractive properties and it was cheap, always available, and stable to work with. Asbestos-containing products were widely used on almost every single Navy ship from the 1930s to the early 1980s.
Every sailor on a ship was exposed to asbestos at some point, but there were certain individuals at a higher risk based on their job. Below-deck engineers and sailors had more prolonged exposures compared to open-air personnel.
More of the highest-risk Navy ship jobs for asbestos exposure include boilermen, pipefitters, and Machinist’s Mates. Other high-risk occupations on a Navy ship are:
- Weapons specialists
- Gunnery technicians
- Engine room technicians
- Panel installers
- Tile setters
- Welders and steel fabricators
- Painters and insulators
- Hull maintenance specialists
According to the VA, certain Navy jobs had a “highly probable” or “probable” risk of asbestos exposure. These types of veterans are more likely to develop lung cancer, mesothelioma, or asbestosis. The list is composed of boiler technicians, shipyard workers, pipefitters, machinist’s mates and enginemen, and hull maintenance technicians.
The VA also states that any veteran who served in Iraq or other surrounding countries should be tested for asbestos exposure. The reason these veterans should get tested is that when old buildings were damaged or torn down, asbestos could have been released into the air and then breathed in.
If you are a Navy veteran and served on any U.S. naval ship and/or had any of these occupations, you were most likely exposed to asbestos. Though all ships contained asbestos, some had more than others. Aircraft carriers, auxiliary ships, submarines, battleships, destroyers, cruisers, frigates, minesweepers, cutters, amphibious ships, and patrol boats all contained large amounts of asbestos.
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Do Navy Ships Still Use Asbestos?
Yes, there are still U.S. Navy ships that have asbestos. According to the Navy Vessel Register (NVR), there are some ships still in use today built with asbestos products. These include:
- USS Blue Ridge
- USS Nimitz
- USS Mount Whitney
- USS Carl Vinson
- USS Dwight D. Eisenhower
However, in 2015, there were 21 tons of asbestos-based insulation removed from the USS Mount Whitney.
Coast Guard Veterans and Asbestos
Navy veterans are not the only veterans who were exposed to asbestos. Coast Guard veterans who had similar jobs as navy veterans are also most likely to have been exposed to asbestos. Asbestos products were used on Coast Guard vessels from the 1930s to about 1980. Because of this, Coast Guard veterans are also at risk for asbestosis, mesothelioma, and other asbestos-related diseases.
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Other High-Risk Asbestos Exposure Jobs
If you were not exclusively on a U.S. Navy ship but you had another high-risk occupation in the military, you still could have been exposed to asbestos. These other jobs include refinery and mill workers, railroad workers, asbestos miners, aircraft and auto mechanics, and building construction workers.
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The big deal about TDIU is that you can jump from a 70% rating to 100% without your conditions getting worse. Read more about it here.
How Asbestosis is Diagnosed
Your doctor will ask about your asbestos exposure and symptoms to become diagnosed with asbestosis or any other asbestos-related disease. You will then undergo a physical exam that includes chest X-rays, lab tests, and lung (pulmonary) function tests.
If for some reason your doctor recommends further testing, you might have to undergo a CT (computerized tomography) scan, lung or pleural biopsy (taking a small sample of lung tissue), or a bronchoscopy (passing a thin tube down your airway and in your lungs to get detailed images).
Can Asbestosis Be Treated?
Unfortunately, there is no asbestosis treatment to undo the damage of asbestos in the lungs. Most treatments focus on slowing the progression of the disease, preventing future complications, and relieving symptoms.
Breathing Therapy for Asbestosis
Breathing therapy and treatments are commonly prescribed to asbestosis patients. This might include supplemental oxygen to help you breathe easier. This is administered by a thin plastic tube with prongs that fit into your nostrils or a thin tube that connects to a mask worn over your mouth and nose.
There is also a rehabilitation program called pulmonary rehabilitation. This type of rehab program offers exercise and educational advice to manage your asbestosis. It includes relaxation and breathing techniques, educational tips to enhance overall health, and ways to improve exercise habits.
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If your symptoms are severe enough that treatments and therapy are not slowing the disease, you could be eligible for a lung transplant. A lung transplant would be the last option because it is the most invasive treatment.
Ways You Can Manage Asbestosis
Since asbestosis damage cannot be undone, there are several ways that it can be managed. For example, if you smoke, you need to quit as soon as possible. Smoking can increase the damage from asbestos and speed up the progression of asbestosis. There are also other steps that you can take to adequately manage asbestosis.
You can keep managing this disease by trying to implement the following into your life:
- Stay inside when pollen counts are high and when air pollution is severe.
- Get enough sleep every night and take short naps throughout the day as needed.
- Cover your mouth and nose with a scarf to prevent breathing in cold air in the winter months.
- Wash your hands often and get pneumonia and flu shots as recommended by your physician.
- Avoid breathing in traffic fumes, aerosol sprays, paint vapors, cleaning agent fumes, secondhand smoke, kerosene fumes, or smog. Avoid any other breathing pollutants that can trigger shortness of breath.
- Stay active by exercising regularly but be careful to not overexert yourself.
- Eat a well-balanced diet that regulates salt intake and drink a lot of water to stay hydrated.
Asbestos Related Diseases
The VA acknowledges cancers of the lungs, larynx, pharynx, gastrointestinal tract, bronchus, pleura or peritoneum, and urogenital system (except the prostate) as asbestos-related cancers. The VA also recognizes that asbestos exposure can create conditions like tumors, fibrosis, pleural effusions, and pleural plaques.
However, a doctor must write a medical nexus letter stating that your illness or disease was caused by asbestos exposure. Don’t take it for granted that the VA will assume mesothelioma or some of these other cancers are caused by asbestos. You want to show convincing evidence in your nexus letter. Depending on where you served, you still might need the help of a certified VA attorney like Woods and Woods to prove that you were exposed to asbestos during your service.
Malignant asbestos-related diseases include mesothelioma, laryngeal cancer, ovarian cancer, lung cancer, and bile duct cancer.
Nonmalignant asbestos-related diseases include asbestosis, pericardial effusion, atelectasis, pleural thickening, hyaline pleural plaques, peritoneal effusion, pleural effusion, and COPD.
Asbestosis vs. Mesothelioma
The main difference between asbestosis and mesothelioma is that asbestosis is not a form of cancer, and mesothelioma is cancer. They are both caused by asbestos exposure but asbestosis is limited to the respiratory tract and lungs and mesothelioma is usually present in the lungs and abdomen.
Mesothelioma treatment is challenging, and only 23% of patients survive for three years or more. Asbestosis is also an incurable disease, but treatment can increase survival for many decades. Mesothelioma treatment involves anti-cancer therapies and usually surgery. Treatment for asbestosis usually involves breathing treatments and in severe cases surgery.
Asbestosis and mesothelioma have similar symptoms that include loss of appetite and weight, shortness of breath, persistent dry cough, chest pain and tightness, and general weakness and fatigue.
Here one of our VA disability lawyers goes over the questions Woods and Woods, The Veteran’s Firm, is often asked about veterans’ disability claims and appeals.
VA Disability Ratings for Asbestosis
To be eligible for VA disability benefits for your asbestos exposure, you must have had contact with asbestos while serving in the military and did not receive a dishonorable discharge. Mesothelioma and lung cancers caused by asbestos are rated at 100%. Noncancerous illnesses, like asbestosis, can be rated anywhere between 0 to 100 percent. The rating is mostly based on the results of a pulmonary function test.
Permanent and Total (P&T) Rating for Asbestosis
Since asbestosis is terminal, this means it can qualify for a permanent and total disability rating from the VA. The good thing about permanent and total disability ratings is that it protects you from any future reductions.
The VA considers a disability permanent when it is certain that the veteran’s condition will not improve. On the other hand, a total disability rating means that the disability is given a 100% rating and is “totally” disabling.
Age is an important factor when it comes to deciding permanent and total disability. For example, if a 75-year-old veteran has a knee condition, it is likely the condition will not improve. If a 30-year-old veteran has the same condition, it might be considered temporary because the veteran is young enough to potentially improve his condition.
If you have questions about how to get a permanent and total disability rating for asbestosis, we can help you by giving us a call at (866)232-5777 or by filling out our contact form.
How a VA Benefits Attorney Can Help You
If you were exposed to asbestos during your time in service and believe you have an asbestos-related disease like asbestosis, you may be eligible for VA disability compensation. If you need help applying for VA disability benefits for the first time, contact us today and we will help you with the initial claim at no charge. You only pay if we win your appeal.
If you need help appealing a denied decision, our benefits appeals attorneys are experienced and will fight for you.
At Woods and Woods, the Veteran’s Firm, we’ve helped thousands of veterans with their VA disability applications and appeals. We’ve been adding staff and lawyers during the Covid pandemic to serve disabled veterans better in difficult times.
Call us today to discuss your VA disability appeal or your first application. The call is free and we won’t charge you a single fee until we win your case. We even pay for the postage for all of the documentation you send to our office. You can look for a VA disability attorney near you or call us and join the thousands of veterans living off of VA disability thanks to Woods and Woods.
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No, there are many lung conditions caused by asbestos that qualify for VA disability. You can only get a rating for one of them, so make sure you have a clear diagnosis from your doctor and a good medical nexus proving your experience in the service is linked to your illness.
You can apply for VA disability as much as you want, but it might be better to strengthen your case and appeal. Under the new AMA laws, you can appeal as many times as you want. You’ll want to find new evidence and strengthen your claim instead of re-applying over again. Call our office to see how to make your appeal strong.