Veterans of the Armed Forces who were exposed to asbestos during their service time may be eligible to pursue compensation through the Department of Veterans Affairs. Unfortunately, asbestos was used by all branches of the Armed Forces for most of the 20th century – specifically, between 1930 and 1980. Any veteran who served during World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and any other time during these years is at high risk for having been exposed to asbestos during their service.
Exposure to asbestos is now known to cause mesothelioma and other asbestos-related conditions. These conditions are devastating, life-changing, painful, and often result in death. Fortunately for veterans and their families, the VA has established programs and services that provide compensation to assist with the financial burdens caused by illness. Each of these programs has specific purposes and eligibility requirements, but in general, to access VA benefits, an eligible veteran must show the following:
- He or she served on active duty and was honorably discharged
- He or she has been diagnosed with mesothelioma or another qualifying illness
- He or she was exposed to asbestos during military service
Here, we will focus on the second point, and explain what medical conditions make a veteran eligible to receive VA program benefits.
Mesothelioma is the most common condition caused by exposure to asbestos. Mesothelioma is an aggressive form of cancer that develops in the mesothelium, a protective tissue that covers all of a person’s internal organs. The vast majority of mesothelioma cases occur in a person’s lungs when a tumor develops on the soft tissue lining the lungs. Otherwise, mesothelioma can occur on the linings of the abdominal cavity, heart, and testicles, but these cases are relatively rare. Symptoms of mesothelioma include the following:
- Dry cough
- Chest or abdominal pain
- Fever and night sweats
- Muscle weakness
- Shortness of breath
- Respiratory complications
Mesothelioma, like other cancers, is treated with surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and immunotherapy, depending on the specific case. The prognosis for mesothelioma patients depends on the progression of the disease and the patient’s overall health status. Mesothelioma is exclusively caused by exposure to asbestos and inhalation of asbestos fibers. All veterans who have been diagnosed with mesothelioma may be eligible to receive VA benefits and compensation.
In addition to mesothelioma, asbestos can cause other types of cancers in many different parts of the body. While the specific mechanisms of how asbestos causes cancer are still unknown, it is known that asbestos is highly carcinogenic. When a person inhales or ingests asbestos fibers, the body cannot remove the fibers, and they become stuck inside the body forever. In some parts of the body, the fibers’ presence is harmless, but in other parts of the body, the fibers cause irritation. That irritation in turn causes cancer to develop.
While mesothelioma specifically occurs in the soft tissue linings of organs, such as the lungs, asbestos fibers can otherwise lodge anywhere inside the body. When these types of cancers are caused by asbestos exposure, they can be referred to as “asbestos cancers.” Most commonly, asbestos cancers include the following:
- Throat and laryngeal cancer
- Lung cancer
- Stomach and gastrointestinal tract cancer
- Urogenital cancer (except prostate cancer)
If a veteran is diagnosed with one of these cancers, which can be traced back to asbestos exposure, they will be eligible for VA compensation if they meet all other qualifications.
Asbestosis is a non-cancer lung disease caused by exposure to asbestos and inhalation of asbestos fibers. While cancers cause tumors to grow, asbestosis causes inflammation and scarring to the lungs, which can severely inhibit the lungs’ function. As a person ages and the disease progresses, scar tissue within the lungs generally becomes more severe.
This scar tissue is known as pulmonary fibrosis, and when it forms inside the lungs, it inhibits the lungs’ ability to expand and fill with air. In turn, a person has a much harder time breathing. The most common symptoms of asbestosis include:
- Difficulty breathing and shortness of breath
- Dry cough that does not improve
- Chest pain and tightness
- Cracking sound when breathing
Most asbestosis cases are caused by repeated and prolonged exposure to asbestos, and after developing asbestosis, a person is at much higher risk for later developing asbestos cancer and mesothelioma. No cure exists for asbestosis, but symptoms can be alleviated through treatment and management. Any veteran who is diagnosed with asbestosis is permitted to pursue VA compensation and benefits if otherwise eligible.
Pleural Effusion and Plaques
Pleural plaques and pleural effusion are similar to asbestosis, but often present with less severe symptoms or no symptoms at all. Instead of scar tissue developing inside the lungs, pleural plaques and effusions are developed on the pleura, which surrounds the lungs and is contained within a person’s chest.
The plaques are essentially thickened tissue along the pleura caused by an immune response to the presence of asbestos fibers. Pleural effusion occurs when fluid builds up in the pleura and presses on other organs. In most cases, they develop on the inside of the rib cage, but they can also develop on the diaphragm. It is rare for pleural plaques to develop directly on the lungs.
Pleural plaques are oftentimes hard to detect, as they frequently do not cause symptoms. In some cases, pleural plaques may lead to mesothelioma or asbestos cancers, and in other cases, they may worsen to cause breathing problems or irregular breathing sensations. On the other hand, pleural effusions often cause lung compression and shortness of breath and are relatively easy to detect. Veterans who are diagnosed with pleural effusion and plaques are eligible to apply for VA benefits and compensation programs.
An Asbestos Attorney Can Assist You
While any of these conditions will qualify an eligible veteran to seek VA compensation, there are other requirements that a veteran must meet to receive compensation. The easiest way to determine your eligibility and pursue compensation is by seeking the assistance of an attorney.
Our team of attorneys routinely assists veterans with seeking compensation for asbestos-related conditions. We’re ready to assist you and your family today. Contact us to set up a free consultation with a member of our team.