Mesothelioma is an aggressive form of cancer that can grow undetected for years. By the time it becomes symptomatic it may be too late for treatment. Most mesothelioma cases arise in members of the U.S. Armed Forces because asbestos, the sole cause of mesothelioma, was used extensively by every branch of the military for about 70 years. This long history of asbestos use has resulted in thousands of VA mesothelioma claims being awarded.
In This Article About Mesothelioma VA Ratings:
- Disability Rating for VA Mesothelioma Claims
- What is Mesothelioma?
- Can Mesothelioma Ever Be Cured?
- How Does Mesothelioma Kill You?
- Other Cancers Caused by Asbestos Exposure
- VA Compensation Rate for Asbestos
- Tests for Lung Health to Rate Asbestosis
- Supporting a Service Connection for VA Mesothelioma Claims
- The Timing of Your Asbestos Exposure Affects your Claim
- How were Veterans Exposed to Asbestos?
- The Risk of Mesothelioma Navy Veterans Face
- Supporting a Service Connection
- Other Compensation Mesothelioma Sufferers Can Seek in Addition to VA Mesothelioma Claims
Disability Rating for VA Mesothelioma Claims
The VA’s rating schedule for lung cancer does not differentiate among different types of cancers. All VA lung cancer claims, including VA mesothelioma claims, are rated at 100% for the duration of the illness and treatment plus six months after treatment ends.
For lung cancers that can be treated, the disability rating is reevaluated at the end of the six-month period. If the veteran is cancer-free, any remaining lung problems are rated based on the symptoms they present at that time. If the cancer recurs or metastasizes, the 100% rating continues.
What is Mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that occurs when asbestos fibers become embedded in the pleura or the peritoneum. These lead to genetic mutations in the lungs. These genetic mutations cause the growth of cancerous tumors.
Can Mesothelioma Ever Be Cured?
Usually not. Unfortunately, mesothelioma is difficult to treat because it is usually discovered only after it has advanced significantly. Once mesothelioma is diagnosed, the median survival time ranges from 15 months to 22 months. Since treatment is usually not an option, most VA mesothelioma claims that are granted will also be eligible for a permanent and total disability rating.
How Does Mesothelioma Kill You?
Mesothelioma impedes your ability to breathe. As a cancer, it metastasizes and spreads throughout your body. Eventually, the cancer and breathing difficulties become more than your body can bear.
Other Cancers Caused by Asbestos Exposure
Asbestos fibers can increase the risk of cancer anywhere they can become lodged. Besides mesothelioma, asbestos exposure has been proven to increase the risk of lung, larynx, and ovary cancer. There is evidence that stomach, pharynx, and colorectal cancers may also be linked to asbestos exposure.
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 Compensation Rate for Asbestos
Mesothelioma is the worst-case outcome for asbestos exposure. However, mesothelioma only occurs in between 2% and 10% of asbestos exposure cases.
It is much more likely that someone exposed to asbestos will develop asbestosis. Asbestosis is not cancer, but lung disease. Asbestosis is a serious lung disease that can lead to mesothelioma. However, many people with asbestosis live decades after being diagnosed with the disease.
Asbestosis occurs when asbestos fibers become embedded in the alveoli of the lungs. Like Gulf War lung disease and silicosis, these fibers cause scarring and stiffening of the lungs. This makes breathing difficult. It can also depress the immune system, leading to many other health problems. Like mesothelioma, asbestosis cannot be cured.
The VA disability rating for asbestosis is 10%, 30%, 60%, or 100% based on three tests used to measure lung health.
Tests for Lung Health to Rate Asbestosis
1. Forced Vital Capacity Test for Lung Capacity
Forced vital capacity (FVC) measures your lung capacity or loss of lung capacity. During the test, you take a deep breath and exhale into a device that measures the volume of air.
Asbestosis is a restrictive lung disease. This means that you will be unable to take deep breaths, and the volume of air that you exhale during an FVC test will be lower than normal.
2. Diffusion Capacity of the Lung for Carbon Monoxide Test: DLCO (SB)
Diffusion capacity of the lung for carbon monoxide by the single breath method (DLCO (SB)) is a test designed to measure lung function. Normally, lungs inhale oxygen so the blood can absorb it. During the DLCO (SB) test, you inhale a test gas containing carbon monoxide, hold it in your lungs for ten seconds, then exhale the test gas.
Carbon monoxide is absorbed by the blood much more easily than oxygen. Well-functioning lungs will absorb most, if not all, carbon monoxide. Lungs scarred and stiffened by asbestos fibers, by contrast, are unable to exchange gases. The carbon monoxide content of the exhaled gas will tell doctors how efficiently your lungs function. Veterans with asbestosis have DLCO (SB) test results that show a lower gas exchange than normal.
3. The Maximum Exercise Capacity Test
The maximum exercise capacity test measures your oxygen needs during physical activity. During the test, you walk on a treadmill or cycle on a stationary bike while your oxygen consumption is measured. The test result is your peak oxygen consumption.
Asbestosis reduces both lung capacity and lung function. As a result, your peak oxygen consumption while performing strenuous tasks will be lower than normal.
Supporting a Service Connection for VA Mesothelioma Claims
VA disability benefits claims must include a service connection to be granted. This is satisfied by showing that the disability manifested during service, was worsened by service, or was caused by service. Because mesothelioma is usually diagnosed decades after contact with asbestos, the most common service connection arises from a showing that asbestos contact occurred during service.
Mesothelioma can only be caused by asbestos. This means that once mesothelioma has been diagnosed, the only step to establishing a service connection is to search military service records for exposure to asbestos.
The Timing of Your Asbestos Exposure Affects your Claim
Asbestos was used extensively by every service branch from around the 1900s until about 1970. During this time, you could have been exposed to asbestos dust by just being in military installations, navy and coast guard vessels, or armored vehicles. Even after the U.S. military ceased using asbestos in new construction, these buildings, vessels, and vehicles remained in use. Consequently, service members continued to be exposed to asbestos long after 1970.
Moreover, asbestos fibers remain embedded in your tissues forever, and it can take decades before any symptoms appear. Most veterans who develop mesothelioma only show symptoms 10 to 50 years after exposure to asbestos.
How were Veterans Exposed to Asbestos?
One-third of people diagnosed with mesothelioma is a veteran. There are four possible sources of asbestos exposure for veterans:
- Environmental exposure: Asbestos is fire resistant and was used as a construction material for firewalls. When it is first used in construction, it is fluffy, like fiberglass insulation. As asbestos ages, it becomes brittle and can crumble. Although fibers can be inhaled in either form, crumbled asbestos dust can disperse through the air. You could have been exposed to asbestos in army tanks, naval vessels, and buildings on base without even realizing it.
- Duties: Asbestos products were used because of their ability to resist heat and fire. Gloves for artillery and gun turret operators, as well as firefighting gear, were often made from asbestos. Auto parts like clutch facings and brake linings were also made from asbestos. As a result, veterans who operated artillery pieces or gun turrets, trained or worked as firefighters, or repaired vehicles were likely to be exposed to asbestos dust. Similarly, electric wires and pipes were often embedded in asbestos-lined walls or bulkheads. Veterans who worked as electricians, plumbers, and pipefitters on Navy ships, Coast Guard vessels, or on-base were probably exposed to asbestos depending on the age of the ship, vessel, or building.
- Decommissioning and demolition: When the U.S. military stopped using asbestos in construction in 1970s, it still had many buildings and vessels that contained asbestos. When buildings containing asbestos were demolished, and vessels containing asbestos were decommissioned, asbestos could be released into the air even when precautions were taken. In fact, some decommissioned navy vessels used asbestos so extensively that they were used for target practice and sunk into the ocean rather than scrapping them due to the cost of asbestos abatement and the fact that scrap metal companies would not buy asbestos-contaminated scrap metal.
- Combat and deployment: The U.S. was not the only country to use asbestos as a building material. If you were deployed to other countries, you could have been exposed to asbestos in combat zones where buildings had been damaged or demolished. In fact, this represents one of the major sources of risk of mesothelioma Vietnam veterans, Gulf War veterans, and Afghanistan veterans face. You also could have been exposed while working in buildings or vessels built in other countries that contain asbestos.
The Risk of Mesothelioma Navy Veterans Face
Navy veterans suffered higher rates of asbestos exposure and mesothelioma than veterans from other service branches. There are many reasons mesothelioma poses such a high risk to navy veterans.
- Direct exposure: A higher percentage of navy veterans worked in jobs that had close contact with asbestos. Nearly every system in navy ships used asbestos. Asbestos is light and fireproof, so it was a perfect insulator. Asbestos does not transmit heat, so it was used to line boilers, steam pipes, fuel lines, and plumbing. Asbestos is non-conductive, so it was used to insulate and protect electrical and electronic systems. Nearly every sailor and officer on board a ship could have been exposed to asbestos.
- Enclosed spaces without ventilation: Navy veterans spent a lot of time below deck. Even veterans who had duties on deck sleep and eat below deck. Asbestos dust stirred up below deck could be carried throughout the ship on the hair, clothing, shoes, and skin of sailors and officers. This could expose service members who were not even working near asbestos.
- Working with asbestos: Even navy personnel who were not assigned to navy vessels were exposed to asbestos. Mechanics, machinists, and other service members who worked in shipyards and navy bases either worked directly with asbestos while repairing ships or were exposed to asbestos released during repairs.
Supporting a Service Connection
Because mesothelioma can only be caused by asbestos exposure, the VA will generally grant a service connection for VA mesothelioma claims if you can show that your service exposed you to asbestos. If you served as an officer, sailor, or marine on a navy vessel built before asbestos was phased out, you may be eligible for a service connection. Similarly, if you worked around asbestos in motor vehicles and tanks, a service connection may be proven.
However, even without these special circumstances, veterans may be able to support a service connection for VA mesothelioma claims just by showing that they served during a time that the U.S. military used asbestos and they had no other contact with asbestos during their lifetimes. This is because asbestos was used in most buildings, from barracks and mess halls to airplane hangars and garages.
The most likely ground for denying a service connection for VA mesothelioma claims is that you were exposed to asbestos at some time other than during your military service. For example, if you worked as a miner, auto mechanic, construction worker, or firefighter after your service, the VA may take the position that you were exposed to asbestos during your civilian life rather than during your service.
Under the VA’s standards for reviewing claims, you only need to establish that it is more likely than not that you were exposed to asbestos during your military service. If your post-service career also exposed you to asbestos, you will need medical evidence that your exposure to asbestos during your service was likely the cause of mesothelioma. Absent such medical evidence, the VA can reject a service connection.
Why is this so? Under the VA’s rules, any reasonable doubt is resolved in favor of the veteran. This means that when the evidence is evenly balanced, the VA must decide in the veteran’s favor. However, if the evidence against in-service exposure is not counterbalanced, the VA mesothelioma claim will be denied.
For example, suppose VA records or VA interviews show that you may have been exposed to asbestos after your discharge during construction work, and your private doctor’s opinion states that your mesothelioma was caused by asbestos exposure during your navy service. In this case, the evidence is evenly balanced, and the VA is supposed to grant your VA mesothelioma claim. In other words, you are usually not required to rebut the VA’s evidence. Rather, you will just submit additional evidence to balance or outweigh the VA’s evidence.
Here is a video of one of our Veterans Disability Lawyers teaching you how to use our VA Disability Combined Ratings Calculator.
Other Compensation Mesothelioma Sufferers Can Seek in Addition to VA Mesothelioma Claims
You have probably seen television ads for mesothelioma lawyers. These lawyers have training and experience suing asbestos manufacturers that concealed the dangers of their products. Lawsuits for mesothelioma and asbestos exposure have generated damages awards in the tens of millions or even hundreds of millions of dollars. However, if you choose to file a lawsuit, you should be aware that you will likely be on your own during the lawsuit. In other words, there is no U.S. Navy asbestos settlement or lawsuit you can join. Asbestos companies can drag out the litigation to pressure you into a settlement before you ever see a jury.
Asbestos manufacturers that have gone bankrupt have established trust funds for payment of asbestos exposure claims. The trust fund payouts are not as large as a damages award from a lawsuit. However, trust fund payments can be processed in a matter of months rather than the years spent on a lawsuit.
You do not have to choose among these options. Veterans can file VA mesothelioma claims, file a trust fund lawsuit against bankrupt asbestos manufacturers, and file a lawsuit against solvent asbestos manufacturers. You may receive compensation from some, or all, of these sources.
VA mesothelioma claims are some of the more straightforward claims the VA processes because they involve a single disability rating of 100%, and a service connection is easy to prove with the right service history. Contact a VA attorney to discuss VA mesothelioma claims and other mesothelioma compensation regardless of where you are currently located and whether you were deployed.