Written By: Camryn Keeble

Veterans and Mesothelioma

Asbestos, the only known cause of mesothelioma, was commonly used throughout the military. Many veterans were unaware of the health risks associated with asbestos and are now, decades later, being diagnosed with this rare cancer. There are less than 3,000 new mesothelioma cases in the U.S. each year, and veterans account for almost a third of all mesothelioma cases. The Veterans Department at Mesothelioma Guide is the nation’s leading resource for veterans battling mesothelioma.

Retired LCDR Carl Jewett

Reviewed By

Retired LCDR Carl Jewett

VA-Accredited Claims Agent

Retired LCDR Carl Jewett

Reviewed By

Retired LCDR Carl Jewett

VA-Accredited Claims Agent


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Important Facts About Veterans and Mesothelioma

  • Veterans of the U.S. military were often exposed to asbestos during their service. Asbestos is a harmful, cancer-causing substance, which has resulted in tens of thousands of veterans being diagnosed with asbestos-related diseases, such as mesothelioma.
  • Pleural mesothelioma (forming in the lungs) is the most commonly diagnosed type of mesothelioma, while peritoneal mesothelioma (forming in the abdomen) is the second most commonly diagnosed type of mesothelioma.
  • There are two VA hospitals with programs specializing in mesothelioma treatment: West Los Angeles VA Medical Center and Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center (Houston, Texas).
  • Veterans with mesothelioma are often eligible to receive benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), such as Disability Compensation, Pension, Aid & Attendance, Housebound benefits or VA Health Care.

Understanding Veterans and Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma is a rare and aggressive cancer caused only by asbestos exposure. Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral often incorporated into various products and materials to improve durability and heat resistance. Many industries, such as construction and other trades, used asbestos-containing products and materials for decades, and the military was no different.

Serving in the military is one of the top occupations linked to asbestos exposure. Asbestos was frequently used to build ships, military housing, vehicles, aircraft and much more.

Asbestos was used throughout many American industries for most of the 20th century, but it became more frequently used in the military during World War II. The military needed to mass-produce ships, aircraft, weapons and everything else, and asbestos was suitable for mass production.

Working with or near asbestos products and materials creates a huge health risk for anyone. Although asbestos is durable when manufactured into certain products, it is fragile and can easily break apart when disturbed. When broken apart, asbestos particles enter the air as a cloud of dust and can be easily breathed in or swallowed by anyone nearby.

If asbestos is inhaled or ingested, it can become lodged in thin linings in the lungs or abdomen. When the fibers become lodged, they can manifest in serious health conditions, such as mesothelioma, lung cancer or asbestosis. Mesothelioma, in particular, does not develop for decades after initial exposure, so many veterans may have no idea they are at risk.

Types of Mesothelioma in Veterans

There are technically four types of mesothelioma:

  • Pleural mesothelioma – Accounts for approximately 75-80% of all mesothelioma cases; forms in the lining of your lungs (pleura); main symptoms include shortness of breath, chest pain, persistent cough and fluid buildup around the lungs (pleural effusions)
  • Peritoneal mesothelioma – Accounts for approximately 10-15% of all mesothelioma cases; forms in the lining of your abdomen (peritoneum); main symptoms include abdominal pain, unexplained weight loss, abdominal distension and fluid buildup in the abdomen (ascites)
  • Pericardial mesothelioma – Accounts for approximately 1% of all mesothelioma cases; forms in the lining of your heart (pericardium); main symptoms include shortness of breath, chest pain and irregular heartbeat
  • Testicular mesothelioma – Accounts for less than 1% of all mesothelioma cases; forms in the lining of the testes; extremely rare occurrence

Common Symptoms Veterans With Mesothelioma Experience

Symptoms for mesothelioma can vary and are often associated with common illnesses, like a common cold, the flu or pneumonia. If you experience any of these symptoms, schedule a visit with your doctor to undergo screenings to detect abnormalities.

Veterans diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma may experience pleural mesothelioma symptoms, such as:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pains
  • Fatigue
  • Fluid buildup around the lungs
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Back pain

Veterans diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma often experience peritoneal mesothelioma symptoms, such as:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Constipation or bowel obstruction
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fever
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath

Mesothelioma Treatment for Veterans 

Mesothelioma treatment for veterans is similar to civilians who have been diagnosed with mesothelioma. Common treatment options for mesothelioma include: 

  • Surgery
  • Chemotherapy 
  • Immunotherapy 
  • Radiation

These treatment options depend on the type of mesothelioma the patient has been diagnosed with. For instance, radiation therapy is not a treatment option for peritoneal mesothelioma patients due to the vital organs within the abdominal cavity. Treatment specialists do not opt for radiation as they do not want to cause severe damage to otherwise healthy organs. However, radiation is commonly used to treat pleural mesothelioma.

Many veterans receive treatment for mesothelioma at VA hospitals. There are two VA hospitals with mesothelioma specialists on staff: 

The VA offers free health insurance with either low copayments or none at all for veterans with mesothelioma. Eligibility is based on several criteria. If the veteran is eligible and enrolls in VA Health Care, they can receive mesothelioma treatment at one of the mesothelioma VA hospitals. If the veteran chooses to undergo treatment with a civilian specialist, they can obtain a referral, and their VA Health Care plan will cover the visit and treatment. 

Mesothelioma Surgery for Veterans

There are multiple surgery options for mesothelioma treatment, which depend on the type of mesothelioma. Veterans with mesothelioma should consider surgery as part of an aggressive treatment approach to this rare cancer.

Peritoneal mesothelioma patients are often eligible for cytoreductive surgery with heated intraperitoneal chemotherapy (HIPEC). The cytoreduction procedure involves surgically removing all visible tumors and diseased tissue in the abdominal cavity. HIPEC is a type of liquid chemotherapy administered during the procedure. It involves delivering the heated chemotherapy solution directly into the abdomen to kill any remaining tumors or diseased tissue not removed during cytoreduction. 

Pleural mesothelioma patients typically have two surgical options: extrapleural pneumonectomy (EPP) and pleurectomy with decortication (P/D). EPP is an aggressive surgical option that removes the affected lung, the lining of the lung (pleura), potentially part of the diaphragm and the lining of the heart (pericardium). 

P/D is less intensive as it does not remove the lung. It involves removing the lining of the lung, potentially part of the diaphragm and the lining of the heart. This procedure is associated with a better quality of life after surgery.

Veterans should seek out a mesothelioma specialist to perform mesothelioma surgery. There are many cancer centers across the U.S. with mesothelioma specialists, along with the two VA hospitals with mesothelioma programs: Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center (Houston, Texas) and West Los Angeles VA Medical Center

Mesothelioma Chemotherapy for Veterans 

Chemotherapy for mesothelioma is a front-line treatment option. This treatment approach is often used before, during or after surgery, or when the patient is not a candidate for surgery.

Mesothelioma chemotherapy is one of the few FDA-approved treatment options for this cancer. The mesothelioma chemotherapy drugs approved by the FDA are cisplatin and pemetrexed, which are approved for intravenous (IV) use. The two drugs are used together due to improved survival compared to when either is used alone.

The average survival time for standard (systemic) mesothelioma chemotherapy alone is 12-17 months. Pemetrexed and cisplatin have a median survival of 12 months for pleural mesothelioma and a 17-month survival for peritoneal mesothelioma.

Veterans with mesothelioma can receive chemotherapy treatment through their local hospital or a VA medical center.

Mesothelioma Immunotherapy for Veterans 

Immunotherapy for mesothelioma is becoming more commonly recommended by doctors and accepted by patients.

In 2020, the FDA approved two immunotherapy drugs to be used in combination for pleural mesothelioma treatment. The two drugs, Opvido and Yervoy, are to be used in combination with each other and only when the pleural mesothelioma patient is not a surgical candidate.

Keytruda is another immunotherapy drug approved for a small percentage of pleural mesothelioma cases. 

Veterans with pleural mesothelioma can access this immunotherapy combination through VA medical centers or other cancer hospitals.

Several types of immunotherapy drugs have not yet been approved by the FDA, but specialists still recommend their use through clinical trials at top mesothelioma cancer centers. For instance, an immunotherapy drug called durvalumab (Imfinzi) is in several trials for pleural mesothelioma. Another type of immunotherapy drug called vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) has been tested for treating peritoneal mesothelioma, and the study results showed a 60% response rate.

Veterans with mesothelioma can sign up for clinical trials through the VA or a non-VA cancer center.

Mesothelioma Palliative Care for Veterans

Palliative care for mesothelioma is a treatment approach focusing on improving the patient’s quality of life. Veterans with mesothelioma should always focus on improving their quality of life during their mesothelioma journey. A person’s quality of life can affect many aspects of their life regarding their physical, emotional and psychological well-being. 

The primary goals of palliative care include:

  • Symptom management – Palliative care focuses on controlling pain, shortness of breath, nausea, and fatigue to help improve quality of life. 
  • Emotional and psychological support – Mesothelioma can be mentally and emotionally challenging for patients and their families. Counseling and support groups can provide coping strategies to help overcome some of the anxiety, depression and grief mesothelioma patients face. 
  • Communication and decision-making —Educating patients and communicating openly with physicians can help them better understand mesothelioma, the available treatment options, and how to make informed decisions about their care.
  • Support for caregivers – Caregivers play a significant role in caring for mesothelioma patients. Providing support and beneficial resources can help caregivers cope with the challenges they face and improve the quality of life for both the patient and family.
  • Spiritual support – Chaplains and counselors are often available to provide emotional and spiritual support to patients and families per their beliefs and values.
  • Advance care planning – Social workers encourage patients to actively participate in discussions and decisions regarding their advanced care plan. This includes developing living wills and other guidelines to ensure the patient’s treatment preferences are respected and followed.

Life Expectancy for Veterans With Mesothelioma 

The life expectancy, or prognosis, for veterans with mesothelioma depends on the type of mesothelioma they are diagnosed with, what stage the specialist determines their cancer is in, the treatment they can receive, and their overall health.

The average life expectancy for veterans with mesothelioma can vary depending on whether the veteran has been diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma or peritoneal mesothelioma. Typically, peritoneal mesothelioma has a longer life expectancy than pleural mesothelioma: 

VA Benefits for Veterans With Mesothelioma 

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers benefits for veterans with mesothelioma, ranging from monthly financial assistance to free health insurance.

The many VA benefits available to veterans with mesothelioma include: 

  • VA Disability CompensationIf at least 50% of the veteran’s asbestos exposure occurred in the military compared to the veteran’s civilian career
  • VA PensionIf more than 50% of the veteran’s asbestos exposure occurred in the veteran’s civilian career; wartime veterans under the maximum income level for their household size can qualify for Pension
  • Aid & Attendance (A&A) and Housebound benefits If the veteran requires the assistance of another person to perform at least two activities of daily living; the veteran may also receive additional compensation if a spouse requires A&A 
  • VA Health CareIf the veteran meets the criteria of one of the eight health care priority groups

The VA also offers benefits to family members (spouses and dependent children) of veterans who had mesothelioma and have passed away. These benefits for family members include monthly financial assistance, burial reimbursements and health insurance.

To apply for VA benefits, connect with our VA-accredited claims agent, retired LCDR Carl Jewett. He specializes in assisting veterans with asbestos-related VA claims and has been assisting veterans for over 15 years. To contact Carl and begin your VA claims process, email him at cjewett@mesotheliomaguide.com

Legal Rights for Veterans With Mesothelioma 

Veterans with mesothelioma have legal rights because the companies responsible for manufacturing and distributing asbestos products did not disclose the health risks associated with the material to the public. The military was largely unaware of the dangers these products posed to servicemen and women, so there were no proper safety measures in place. Asbestos corporations that sold the substance to the military were reckless and negligent by not protecting the public from serious health risks and must be held legally accountable. 

Legal rights for veterans with mesothelioma include receiving asbestos compensation from responsible manufacturing companies. Compensation can be received by filing mesothelioma lawsuits against these companies or filing claims with asbestos trust funds, which are bank accounts established by bankrupt asbestos companies. The company’s status (whether bankrupt or active) will determine whether the veteran can file a lawsuit or a trust fund claim.

Note: Veterans who pursue legal action for their asbestos exposure and mesothelioma will never file lawsuits or any type of legal claim against the military. The only asbestos claims filed with the military are for mesothelioma and asbestos-related VA benefits. The military is not legally liable for asbestos exposure or mesothelioma. The negligent asbestos corporations are the liable parties in these cases.

Frequently Asked Questions About Veterans With Mesothelioma

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Why Are So Many Veterans Diagnosed With Mesothelioma?

Veterans make up nearly a third of all mesothelioma cases diagnosed each year in the United States. The commonality of mesothelioma among veterans is due to the widespread use of asbestos in the military during the 20th century. Asbestos was a go-to material for shipbuilding during several war eras but peaked during World War II. The military incorporated asbestos-containing materials into ships, aircraft, military housing, vehicles and much more.

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What Treatments Are Available to Veterans With Mesothelioma?

Veterans with mesothelioma usually have access to the same treatment options as civilians with mesothelioma. Common treatment options for mesothelioma include surgery, chemotherapy and immunotherapy. Radiation therapy is also an option for mesothelioma that forms near the lungs (pleural mesothelioma). Many veterans opt to receive treatment for mesothelioma at a VA hospital or VA-affiliated medical clinic since many veterans with mesothelioma are eligible for free or low-cost medical care through their free VA Health Care insurance plan.

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As a Veteran With Mesothelioma, What VA Compensation Programs Am I Eligible for?

As a veteran with mesothelioma, you may be eligible for the VA’s Disability Compensation or Pension financial compensation programs. These two benefits provide monthly payments to help offset the burdens that may come with certain medical conditions. If the majority of your occupational asbestos exposure occurred in the military, then you will be eligible for VA Disability Compensation. If you are a wartime veteran with mesothelioma, and the majority of your occupational asbestos exposure occurred in your civilian jobs, then you may be eligible for VA Pension. Once you qualify for Disability Compensation or Pension, you can also look into additional compensation options if you are housebound or need the Aid & Attendance (A&A) of another person to perform activities of daily living.

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Do Veterans With Mesothelioma Have Legal Rights?

Yes, veterans with mesothelioma have legal rights to compensation from corporations responsible for manufacturing and distributing asbestos-containing products and materials to the military, resulting in a mesothelioma diagnosis. Veterans with mesothelioma can receive compensation through asbestos lawsuits or asbestos trust funds. For more information about mesothelioma compensation, contact our patient advocates to get connected with legal experts.

Sources & Author

  1. About VA Health Benefits. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Retrieved from: https://www.va.gov/health-care/about-va-health-benefits/. Accessed: 09/23/2020.
  2. Veterans Asbestos Exposure. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Retrieved from: https://www.va.gov/disability/eligibility/hazardous-materials-exposure/asbestos/. Accessed: 09/24/2020.
  3. Veterans Compensation Benefits Rate Tables. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Retrieved from: https://www.benefits.va.gov/COMPENSATION/resources_comp01.asp#FNB. Accessed: 08/16/19.
  4. VA disability compensation. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Retrieved from: https://www.va.gov/disability/. Accessed: 10/15/18.
  5. Eligibility for Veterans Pension. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Retrieved from: https://www.va.gov/pension/eligibility/. Accessed: 08/16/19.
  6. VA Pension Rates for Veterans. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Retrieved from: https://www.va.gov/pension/veterans-pension-rates/. Accessed: 08/16/19.
  7. Are VA disability compensation and VA pension the same? U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Retrieved from: https://iris.custhelp.va.gov/app/answers/detail/a_id/935/~/are-va-disability-compensation-and-va-pension-the-same%3F. Accessed: 08/27/19.
Devin Golden

About the Writer, Devin Golden

Devin Golden is a content writer for Mesothelioma Guide. He produces mesothelioma-related content on various mediums, including the Mesothelioma Guide website and social media channels. Devin's objective is to translate complex information regarding mesothelioma into informative, easily absorbable content to help patients and their loved ones.