Memorial Day is a day to take time to appreciate the freedoms we have and to celebrate those who gave their lives protecting those freedoms. Amidst the celebrations of the upcoming three-day weekend, there is a group of individuals who should also be celebrated—military veterans who have lost their lives to mesothelioma.

Accounting for approximately 30 percent of all diagnoses, veterans make up the largest demographic of Americans diagnosed with mesothelioma every year. This is because asbestos was heavily used throughout each military branch, especially the Navy, before the harmful effects of the mineral were realized. For this reason, there are numerous benefits available to veterans with mesothelioma. The trick is knowing how to get them.

Reinstating Trust in the System

Unfortunately, some veterans have become disenchanted with the state of affairs in the VA as allegations of inefficiency have entered the public debate. This disenchantment, however, shouldn’t inhibit veterans from seeking help and getting the benefits to which they are entitled.

Mesothelioma Guide talked to Carl Jewett, a VA accredited claims agent, on what veterans and their families can do to get the help they deserve. Jewett, a retired lieutenant commander in the Navy, has helped many veterans with mesothelioma get help with everything from getting their benefits to finding life-extending treatment.

“Too many veterans don’t understand just how many benefits that they may be entitled to when they are diagnosed with this disease,” Jewett said. “And the VA can be a very archaic, ‘red tape’ filled bureaucracy that is hard for vets to navigate on their own. But there are experts out there, like myself, who can help them apply for VA Disability Compensation, Pension, Aid & Attendance, Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) for surviving spouses.”

Jewett has helped hundreds of veterans get these kind of benefits over the past five years and continues to go above and beyond what is required of him to help. In a way, he has rebuilt some veterans’ faith in the VA system, or at least in the ability of others to manage the trivialities in the system.

Jewett said he is even able to “assist veterans that only have VA Health Care in getting to a mesothelioma specialist through the VA Health Care system.”

Considering that mesothelioma specialists can sometimes be hard to come by even outside the VA, this is a true blessing to veterans with this disease. Additionally, because of the rarity of mesothelioma, there aren’t exactly long wait lists for mesothelioma specialists.

What Benefits Are Available for Vets With Mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma is a devastating disease, and the cost of treatment and caregiving can be an overwhelming burden. Fortunately, the VA hasn’t overlooked the cost of asbestos exposure on veterans and their families. There are several avenues of financial support for veterans with mesothelioma and their families offered by the VA, and there are ways to get help accessing these benefits.

VA Disability Compensation

Many patients grapple with a loss in income and managing basic financial needs can become a struggle. This is where disability compensation comes in. Veterans with mesothelioma can receive a 100 percent disability rating which starts at over $2,800 per month, offsetting many financial concerns. Disability compensation is one of the most overlooked benefits veterans can receive when they are diagnosed with mesothelioma from their exposure in the military.

VA Dependency and Indemnity (DIC)

Veterans with dependents may also be concerned about the future of their loved ones. The VA also recognizes that family members share the burden of a mesothelioma diagnosis. For this reason, there are benefits family members are eligible for if they have lost a loved one to mesothelioma. DIC is currently $1,215 per month and paid to the surviving spouse of any veteran who dies from a service related disability.

VA Health Care

Treatment in the VA Health Care system has improved by leaps and bounds in the past decades. However, there are typically few resources at VA hospitals for mesothelioma patients. But this does not mean that veterans have no options, according to Jewett.

“There are doctors like Dr. Avi Lebenthal at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston who are developing very comprehensive mesothelioma treatment programs at the accompanying Boston VA Hospital,” said Jewett. “Dr Lebenthal’s mesothelioma treatment program at the Boston VA Hospital rivals most civilian programs in the country.”

Any veteran already in the VA Health Care system can see Dr Lebenthal for the same cost of going to their local VA Hospital. And if the veteran can get a referral to see Dr Lebenthal, the VA will even pay the costs associated with travelling to see him. For veterans on the West Coast, Dr. Robert Cameron is running a similar program at the Los Angeles VA.

Learn how veterans with mesothelioma have gotten full benefits and assistance from the VA in the second part of this series next week.

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    About the Writer, Andrew Devine

    Andrew Devine is a contributing writer for Mesothelioma Guide. He has developed an interest in educating patients and their families on everything from new treatments to what to expect after diagnosis.