Upon joining the U.S. Navy, our servicemen accepted that they could become significantly injured or even die under enemy fire. They, however, did not expect to become ill or die due to exposure to asbestos - the valuable mineral used in almost every Navy ship from the 1930s to the early 1980s. Many of the brave men who fought for our freedom now spend their final days battling the severe illnesses caused by inhaling asbestos fibers.
Asbestos-related pulmonary conditions can severely impair a person's ability to breathe and therefore may prevent the retaining of a decent quality of life. More alarmingly, they may prove to be fatal - according to medical experts, exposure to asbestos can cause serious, progressive and fatal diseases of the respiratory tract.
Most long-term lung conditions caused by inflammation and scarring of the lungs due to asbestos fibers gradually get worse over several years. During this time, the most common symptom veterans will experience is a feeling of choking or asphyxiation, and hunger for air alongside a gradual worsening of their breathing. There are many different types of long-term lung conditions triggered by exposure to asbestos, including:
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
- Lung cancer
- Bronchial cancer
In the last years of life, a veteran with a long-term lung condition will probably experience frequent flare-ups - sudden worsening symptoms compared with the usual severity of symptoms. As his/her lungs become less efficient, any exertion, even just walking from one room to another, talking or eating, might make him/her feel out of breath. Reduced lung function may result in low levels of oxygen in the blood, causing a variety of medical situations that requires prompt medical attention.
Palliative Treatment Aims to Manage Symptoms and Does Not Mean Giving up Hope
Palliative care is specialized medical care for people living with a life-limiting illness. Palliative care provides relief from a variety of physical and emotional symptoms, and it has the potential to prolong a patient's life expectancy by improving the quality of life, and overall health. If the disease is advanced when it is first diagnosed or comes back after treatment, your doctor will discuss palliative treatment. Surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and integrative interventions may be used palliatively to slow the spread of cancer, relieve symptoms and improve quality of life.
Lung diseases caused by breathing in asbestos fibers indisputably lead to a clear and steady decline. Palliative care for terminal lung conditions may be beneficial when:
- The patient has made repeated trips every few months to the emergency room for respiratory failure or lung infections;
- The patient has frequent hospital admissions or needs intensive home support due to regular flare-ups;
- The patient has been repeatedly hospitalized every few months and no longer wishes to be hospitalized;
- The patient has lost his/her energy and the ability or desire to interact with family, friends and caregivers.
When a Veteran Has Reached a Point at Which Treatment Is No Longer Helping, He or She Along With Loved Ones, Have Some Difficult Decisions to Make
The path of a progressive illness, such as lung cancer, can often be anticipated. Palliative care tends to direct patients away from more aggressive treatments that may have relatively small gains to offer in terms of quality of life. For example, a veteran may have several treatment options, such as surgery and chemotherapy, but after reviewing them carefully with the health care team he chooses a comfort-focused approach. Palliative care for terminal lung conditions focuses on treating symptoms of breathlessness and flare-ups and other symptoms, including:
- A troublesome cough
- Chest pain
- Fluid retention
- Fatigue and disturbed sleep patterns
- Feeling more anxious and depressed
- Poor appetite
Financial Support Is an Important Part when Coping With Terminal Lung Conditions as a Result of Exposure to Asbestos
Caregivers assume a role that is fulfilling and rewarding but draining and difficult as they provide so much time, effort and support for a loved one. Family caregivers may receive financial aid from the Veterans Administration to provide care for elderly veterans.
The medical benefits package given to veterans exposed to asbestos during military service include compensation to help with:
- Inpatient hospital services such as surgeries, medical treatments, acute care, specialized care;
- Assisted living, residential or home health care through the VA.
Long-term care services for veterans and caregivers provided by the VA include:
- 24/7 nursing and medical care;
- Physical therapy;
- Help with daily living activities;
- Support for caregivers who may need skilled help.
- Specialized treatment to reduce symptoms;
Family members can also get compensation if their loved one has passed away from an asbestos-related disease. For more information, contact us at 760.621.6147.