Mesothelioma is an extremely invasive form of cancer that forms within the protective membrane (known as the mesothelium) that covers internal organs, such as the lungs, abdomen, and heart. Doctors usually diagnose this type of cancer into more specific categories, depending upon which region of the protective membrane it affects.
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In this Article About Mesothelioma:
- Types of Mesothelioma
- U.S. Veterans and Asbestos Exposure
- VA Rating for Mesothelioma
- Living With Mesothelioma
- Mesothelioma: Causes and Effects
- About Mesothelioma VA Disability Applications
- Other Conditions Like Mesothelioma
- Appealing a Mesothelioma VA Disability Decision
Types of Mesothelioma
Pleural mesothelioma is the most commonly diagnosed form, and it affects the lungs; however, peritoneal mesothelioma (or cancer within the abdominal tissue) is also common. Pericardial or tunica vaginalis mesothelioma (cancer of the tissues that line the heart and testes respectively) are far rarer and have symptoms that differ from mesothelioma that affects the lungs and abdominal tissue.
U.S. Veterans and Asbestos Exposure
While anyone can have this aggressive cancer, unfortunately, there are a shocking number of veterans with mesothelioma—around 30 percent of all diagnosed patients. This is because the exclusive cause of mesothelioma is asbestos exposure. While agencies strictly monitor the use of this carcinogen today, for over 70 years, every branch of the United States military used asbestos for different purposes.
In this video, one of our certified VA disability lawyers discusses how asbestos exposure during military service can lead to health issues later in life:
VA Rating for Mesothelioma
This led to an immense demand for veterans’ compensation for mesothelioma with a VA rating of 100 percent throughout the course of treatment and for six months following. As there is no cure for this particular form of cancer, most veterans’ benefits for mesothelioma resume at the initial rating when the attempted treatments fail to provide a cancer-free diagnosis.
One of our VA disability lawyers talks about how veterans with lung conditions get permanent ratings in this video.
Living With Mesothelioma
Typically, veterans with mesothelioma experience a significant disruption of their daily lives long before they receive a diagnosis. Doctors struggle with this particular disease because it is difficult to detect mesothelioma, in any form, until it has already reached an advanced stage.
For instance, with mesothelioma, Navy veterans who were exposed to asbestos on a ship in the 1970s may not show any signs of illness until 20 to 60 years later. Those who served in the 70s may not experience symptoms for another decade, even if they currently have mesothelioma.
Because of the extremely long latency period associated with asbestos exposure, it’s usually not the first thing people suspect when the initial symptoms of the disease form. Instead, veterans with mesothelioma may believe that they have a common cold, allergies, or even a stomach bug, depending on which form of cancer they are battling.
Over time, these seemingly explainable symptoms fail to dissipate and gradually become worse. At this point, patients usually seek medical treatment for a nagging cough, shortness of breath, stomach pains, or a general sense of not feeling well. They rarely expect a cancer diagnosis.
By then, they likely cannot breathe adequately and experience debilitating pain that makes it impossible to work as they once did. This also affects their personal lives as they can no longer enjoy activities with family or friends. While their medical team may attempt to treat these symptoms, the treatments yield no promising results, which eventually fuels more in-depth examinations.
Initially, doctors may misdiagnose mesothelioma until a chest x-ray or a CT scan of the chest or abdominal area leads to the discovery of a tumor. Afterward, they may perform a biopsy and then a range of tests to determine the extent of the mesothelioma cancer.
Many veterans receive a devastating prognosis with a life expectancy of just 4 to 18 months after diagnosis. Because of this, many who search for the best mesothelioma attorneys, U.S. Navy veterans included, seek compensation to support their families throughout their illness and after.
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Mesothelioma: Causes and Effects
While veterans with mesothelioma are often unaware that their cancer is directly linked to their time in service, this is often the cause of their illness. Throughout all branches of the United States military, products and housing spaces containing asbestos were used from the early 1900s until the 1970s.
Manufacturers were aware of the harmful effects of asbestos but did not make their findings known to the government at this time. Unfortunately, the discovery wasn’t made until the late 1970s, although exposure continued for several years afterward as the government worked to remove all the asbestos materials.
Although all service branches during this time period may have been exposed to asbestos through the environment or through materials used for these specific duties, the most significant exposure involved those who served in the U.S. Navy.
Mesothelioma, Navy veterans have learned, has taken the lives of many of their former shipmates. Asbestos was used as a lightweight and fireproof form of insulation on the ships, and it also lined electrical systems, boilers, fuel lines, and plumbing systems. While those who worked in shipyards as mechanics or machinists experienced high rates of exposure, most Navy veterans spent a significant amount of time on ships and below deck. Thus, it’s possible for any Navy service member who served during this time to develop mesothelioma as a result of their exposure.
Essentially, at the time of exposure, asbestos fibers are sometimes inhaled through the lungs or ingested in the abdomen. The fibers become stuck, which causes inflammation and scarring to the cells and the DNA within the mesothelium. Over decades, this causes the formation of cancerous tumors which results in a series of symptoms.
As asbestos fibers can be inhaled or ingested, the symptoms that a Navy veteran with mesothelioma may experience will vary. Those who inhaled asbestos fibers into their lungs will typically experience symptoms like coughing, chest pains, and shortness of breath. If these fibers were instead ingested, sufferers will experience abdominal pain, weight loss, and fluid in the abdomen.
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Symptoms of Mesothelioma
Symptoms that affect veterans with both forms include fever, sweating, swelling, and blood clots. Because these symptoms can mimic other illnesses, the condition is often misdiagnosed and not detected until it is in the advanced stages. As the cancer progresses, it often metastasizes and spreads throughout the entire body rapidly, leaving little chance for survival after doctors finally make an accurate diagnosis.
About Mesothelioma VA Disability Applications
When a veteran with mesothelioma is unable to work, it can drastically alter their lifestyles. They may be unable to afford basic necessities like housing, food, and medications.
Often, they turn to VA disability compensation to cover these costs and to receive VA disability health benefits like geriatric care and caregiver benefits. To file a VA disability claim for mesothelioma, the veteran must meet eligibility requirements.
According to the VA, veterans must have served on active duty, active duty for training, or inactive duty training and have a disability rating for the condition connected to their service. Likewise, they must have also either gotten sick or injured while serving in the military, had an illness or injury prior to joining the military that was made worse by serving, or have a disability that was related to active-duty service that was not discovered until after the veteran ended their service.
The VA Disability Application Process
From there, the veteran will need to complete an application. As part of this application process, they must gather any evidence that they have, such as VA medical and hospital records or supporting statements. Veterans may submit this application online, by mail, or in person. They can work with an accredited representative to aid them in completing their VA disability application.
Typically, it takes the VA around 134 days to complete a VA disability claim. During this time, veterans may need to send additional documentation or attend exams scheduled by the agency.
Service Connecting Your Mesothelioma
Because the sole cause of mesothelioma is asbestos exposure, typically veterans only need to provide military service records to prove they were exposed to the mineral during their service dates.
This is especially true for those who served on a navy vessel prior to the dates that asbestos was phased out but can apply to anyone who served in the military during a time that asbestos was utilized by the government.
Essentially, a veteran only needs to prove that is more likely than not that they were exposed during their service to be granted a service connection and receive the 100% disability rating from the VA. If a veteran worked in an industry (like mining, construction, or automotive) where they may have been exposed to asbestos after their service, this may cause a claim to be denied without sufficient evidence.
One exception to this rule is those veterans with mesothelioma who qualify under the PACT Act. All respiratory cancers are considered presumptive conditions for those qualifying Gulf War and post-9/11 veterans who were exposed to burn pits and toxins. Because the condition is presumptive, you do not need to prove your mesothelioma is service connected.
The Nexus Letter is like the missing link to a successful VA disability compensation claim. In this video, one of our veteran’s disability lawyers explains the importance of the Nexus Letter.
Other Conditions Like Mesothelioma
Although Mesothelioma is linked to asbestos exposure, it is still a relatively rare diagnosis with less than 2,500 cases in the United States each year.
More commonly, those who are exposed to asbestos (whether during military service or through other means) suffer from a condition known as asbestosis.
While they have the same cause, they are drastically different. Asbestosis is non-cancerous and strictly affects the lungs and respiratory system. Unlike mesothelioma, it is a chronic condition that responds to treatment. Although neither condition is curable, those who are diagnosed with asbestosis versus mesothelioma have a much greater prognosis, and with proper treatments, can live for many decades longer.
Other Related Diseases
While asbestosis is like mesothelioma in its cause, mesothelioma is often initially misdiagnosed as one of many other illnesses. Some of the most common conditions that can be confused with mesothelioma prior to a diagnosis are chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (or COPD), the flu, lung cancer, asthma, and emphysema for those who suffer from pleural mesothelioma.
Those who have peritoneal mesothelioma commonly receive diagnoses like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), hernias, gallstones, ovarian cancer, or other forms of abdominal cancers. These conditions are generally much more common than mesothelioma, and the symptoms can be the same. Doctors can make an accurate diagnosis of mesothelioma when the symptoms continue during treatment for misdiagnosed conditions. This leads to more thorough testing, biopsies, and appointments with pathologists who specialize in mesothelioma cases.
Appealing a Mesothelioma VA Disability Decision
Veteran’s compensation for mesothelioma is much more than monetary payments. It provides peace of mind and desperately needed medical care. In the event that a mesothelioma VA disability claim is denied, Woods and Woods, The Veteran’s Firm, is here to fight aggressively for the VA benefits our veterans need and deserve. With a large staff to handle claims and attorneys with a proven track record of success since 1985, we are proud to serve those who have served us.
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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