U.S. Veterans who were exposed to asbestos during their service and who become ill as a result of that exposure can file asbestos-related claims with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The VA offers a substantial number of programs and services for veterans who developed asbestos-related diseases, depending on their medical condition. Disability, special monthly compensation, and dependency and indemnity are some tax-free benefits available to veterans who were exposed to the hazardous mineral during their military service and subsequently developed asbestos-related diseases.
Navy Veterans Particularly Vulnerable to the Development of Asbestos-Related Diseases
Asbestos was widely used in the military in the 1930s through the 1980s because of its fire-retardant and insulating properties. The U.S. Navy specifically - used asbestos to build many of their ships. Asbestos-containing products were widely used in the Navy, with the most common uses being insulation, engine and boiler room materials. The enclosed areas on ships with limited ventilation made it more likely that Navy members would inhale dangerous levels of asbestos fibers anytime the material was disturbed during maintenance, repair, renovation, or removal.
Some of the high-risk Navy jobs in terms of asbestos exposure were:
- Damage controlman
- Electrician's mate
- Gunners' mate
- Machinist's mate
- Hull technician
Navy personnel usually did not wear protective gear, which means they were highly susceptible to breathing in the dangerous fibers. Many of these veterans might be approaching Medicare age and seeking out a family doctor for the first time, as they develop hypertension, diabetes, and other chronic diseases, and not be aware of the potential airborne hazard exposures connected to their past service.
Establishing the Existence of a Legitimate Asbestos-Related Illness Is Usually Straightforward and the Veteran Affected Has the Right to Seek Compensation
To be eligible for disability compensation under the law, a veteran must show that he/she has been diagnosed with a disease that was caused by asbestos exposure and must make the case that the active duty was likely the cause of the disease.
Let's say that you've applied for disability compensation for a health problem you believe is related to exposure to asbestos during military service, and the VA is processing your claim. Sooner or later, you'll almost certainly be contacted by a VA representative asking you to report for a Compensation and Pension examination usually at a VA hospital or VA clinic. The VA claim exam is a key factor in the VA's decision-making process, thus, as soon as you have been contacted by the VA representative be sure to tell your lawyers as he/she may want to talk with you before the exam.
VA Physicians Should Stay Alert to Physical Symptoms Associated With Asbestos Exposure
A doctor's examination and testing will often tell only part of the story and beyond a certain point, the doctor needs to hear from you. Talking about any past asbestos exposure is very important and it's not uncommon that asbestos-related illnesses are often confused for other respiratory conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or asthma, among other diseases. Having severe shortness of breath with chest pain or if you cough up blood, mean that your condition is serious. Tell the doctor if you start to have these symptoms.
As the Regional Office processes your claim, it enters all of the records it receives, including medical records that support your claim - doctors' reports, X-rays, and medical test results, into your individual Claims Folder (C-file). When it's time for your VA claim exam, the Regional Office is supposed to send your entire C-file to the VA salaried or contracted physician, and the physician is supposed to review it. If the doctor fails to review your entire C-file before making an expert opinion, he/she made an opinion based on less than all the information and the exam is considered "inadequate".
- If there is a document that is crucial to your VA claim, bring copies with you to the VA claim exam and hand them to the doctor
- If you believe the VA physician has missed something important, say so politely
- After the VA claim exam, tell your attorney how it went and then put the exam behind you. Don't waste time second-guessing yourself
- Know that if the doctor concludes that there is no connection between your military service and your condition, there are ways to correct a bad VA claim exam. If this happens, remain calm and get counsel from an attorney who specializes in asbestos-related cases
It Is Essential for Veterans to Talk About Their Asbestos Exposure in Order for the Doctor to Look for Specific Evidence of Asbestos Damage in the Body
The VA doctor will focus on your condition and evaluate your situation conducting lung function tests, ordering imaging scans, as necessary and asking questions. With just a few follow-up questions, a skilled, experienced, and well-qualified doctor can then home in on details that might influence a veteran's health. Among them:
- What branch the veteran served in, if he or she was deployed where and for how long
- Describe significant activities and experiences that occurred during the deployment that affected the veteran's life and health in important ways
Knowing veterans' deployment timing and location helps doctors take into account asbestos exposure risk, including the level of asbestos exposure.
If you have received a disappointing rating decision after a bad VA claim exam, an experienced attorney can look into your case and determine what evidence can convince the VA to reverse their decision. In many cases, the best evidence will be a report from a reputable, independent doctor who specializes in the area of asbestos-related diseases. If you have a history of military asbestos exposure and you are worried about your health, call us today. Our help and support are completely free.