Mesothelioma Questions and Answers for Veterans
Asbestos exposure is the major risk factor for the diagnosis of mesothelioma. It is estimated that one third of all mesothelioma victims were at some point members of our Armed Services. Asbestos was found in ships, shipyards, boiler rooms and many areas that service men and women lived and worked daily while serving our country.
The following questions were answered by Regina Jackson, a veteran, who for the last 20 years has worked as a Veteran’s Agent in Massachusetts. Contact us through the MesoLawyersCare website if you would like to speak to Regina.
1. How does a Veteran know if they are eligible for compensation if diagnosed with mesothelioma?
If a Veteran is diagnosed with mesothelioma and he/she believes they were exposed to asbestos/ other hazardous materials while serving on active duty in the armed service they are eligible to put in a claim for service – connected disability compensation. A Veteran who is seeking compensation through an asbestos lawsuit should consult an experienced asbestos attorney before filing a VA claim.
1a. What are the VA Benefits?
There are two different types of VA benefits:
#1 = Service – Connected Disability Compensation – This benefit has nothing to do with the Veterans income / assets at this point in time. This benefit is awarded when the VA determines the Veteran has a medically proven disability today that was incurred in / or made worse by the veterans active duty service. There has to be a link between the disability today and the active duty service. In the case of mesothelioma claims the Veteran would probably have been in the Navy or served in a shipyard or on board the many, many ships that used asbestos materials. The Veteran only has to have a copy of his DD-214-discharge documents- to submit to start the claim. It is the VA who is responsible to get the Veterans service personnel and medical records. However, when the claim is submitted the more information the Veteran has to support the claim – the better.
#2 = Non-Service Connected Pension benefits is the other type of benefits the VA administers. This benefit has everything to do with income / assets and is designed to bring Veterans income up to the poverty level. This benefit is for folks with very limited means, who may be disabled etc.. but their current condition has nothing to do with their military service time. Veterans with mesothelioma should consider applying for COMPENSATION in consultation with an experienced asbestos attorney.
2. What is the process?
The very first step is to get a copy of the DD-214 (Discharge document) issued to every service member at separation. Your DD-214 is your legal proof of service and it will have the character of service – HONORABLE – which is very important for any VA benefits. If the veteran does not have an Honorable discharge – that is another issue.
Applying for VA disability compensation has greatly improved in the past few years. The Veteran should check out www.va.gov and the entire process is outlined. You can actually apply on- line now. However, if a Veteran is not comfortable applying on line then they need to download the appropriate form (VA 21-526EZ) and send a hard copy to the VA Regional Office closest to their home address. The VA claim process has gone ‘paperless’ – so all paperwork submitted is sent to a scan facility and the VA processes everything on the computer. It can be a long, very frustrating process because the Veteran will never be able to talk to anyone actually working on their claim. You can call them (# 1-800-827-1000), but this VA contact number are all call centers – not VA Regional Offices. It is helpful for the Veteran to deal with a Service Agency Representative to walk them through the process.
Important points about the VA claim process Veterans need to understand:
*The ‘date of claim’ is the month the claim was initially submitted to the VA. So if you submit a claim in January 2016 and the VA denies it in 9/2016 and the Veteran appeals and the claim is eventually Rated in 6/2017 – then the VA will owe the Veteran 18 months of retro benefits. This can be a significant amount of money if the Rating is %100.
*The Rating scale for service –connected disabilities are 10% – up to 100% – in increments of 10. The 2016 rate for 10% is @$133.00 per month and the 100% payment is @ $3,000 per month.
*There is a presumption of ‘sound health’ when anyone enters the military. If a Veteran has a disability which can be linked to his time in the service, it is always up to the Veteran to submit a claim (the VA will never seek you out).
2. a. How long does the average claim take?
An initial Compensation claim can take @ 6 – 9 months for a Rating Decision. This has improved from the initial 12 – 18 months wait time a couple of years ago. However, the claims process will take longer than 6 – 9 months if the claim is denied – which happens quite a lot. If the claim is denied the Veteran needs to appeal. It is so important for the Veteran not to give up if the initial claim is denied – it may just mean the VA didn’t get it right and the Veteran needs to be persistent. There is no downside to appealing.
3. What are the options for a Veteran for health care in the VA and out of the VA?
VA healthcare is a separate issue from VA comp claims. A Veteran with a disability rating can use the VA Health care system for their care – or choose to use their own health care options. A Veteran with a Rating of 50% or higher can get all his or her healthcare from the VA with no co-pays etc. The VA will provide care for disabled veterans through their VA healthcare system. Veterans can go outside the VA system, but the VA isn’t going to pay for this care. There are many, many disabled Veterans who do not use the VA for any medical care & that is fine with the VA. Also, there are many disabled Veterans who do use the VA Healthcare System and are very happy with their care. The VA Benefits system and the VA Healthcare system in many ways are separate from each other – two huge bureaucracies which occasionally interact.
I really would encourage any Veteran who believes their current asbestos-related disability was linked to their active duty service to put in a claim in consultation with an experienced asbestos attorney. There is no time limit for submitting a claim. I have put in several initial claims from WWII Veterans – 60+ years after discharge- that were rated. I always tell Veterans –the VA isn’t nice – and they often get it wrong – but in the end they will do the right thing. You just have to be persistent.
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