VA Health Care for Mesothelioma

Free health care is one of many VA benefits available to veterans with mesothelioma. If you sign up for health insurance through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, you’ll have access to some of the top mesothelioma specialists in the country.

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Written by LCDR Carl Jewett

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Eligibility for VA Health Care

Veterans being paid disability compensation from the VA for service-connected mesothelioma are automatically eligible for VA health insurance. The VA determines eligibility for disability compensation based on whether at least half of the veteran’s occupational asbestos exposures occurred during active duty.

If the veteran’s mesothelioma was primarily caused by their civilian exposures, then qualifying for VA health insurance and health care relies on income level and other factors.

There’s an easy way to determine if you’re eligible for VA health care. If you get approval for Disability Compensation, then you can receive free and complete veterans health care for mesothelioma.

If you don’t qualify for VA Disability Compensation, you may still receive health care benefits. Eligibility for VA Pension means you fall within the maximum income threshold to receive VA health insurance.

What Does VA Health Care Cover for Mesothelioma?

Veterans who qualify for VA Disability Compensation for mesothelioma receive a disability rating of 100%, which qualifies for Priority group 1 health care coverage. This level of coverage protects against copays for nearly all types of care, including:

  • Major surgeries
  • Chemotherapy treatment
  • Radiation sessions
  • Diagnostic tests
  • Biopsies
  • Follow-up scans
  • Medication
Priority group 1 includes the following benefits:

  • No copays for the first three urgent care visits in a calendar year
  • $30 copay for each additional urgent care visit after three
  • No copay for inpatient care (surgery) or outpatient care (tests, scans, chemotherapy, radiation and more)
  • No copay for medications related to your mesothelioma
  • No copay for the first 21 days of elder care or extended care

Veterans receiving VA Pension for mesothelioma aren’t considered to have a service-related disease. They are ineligible for Priority groups 1-3 and usually receive either Priority group 4 or 5 coverage.

Priority groups 4 and 5 have similar copay requirements:

  • No copays for the first three urgent care visits in a calendar year
  • $30 copay for each additional urgent care visit after three
  • Outpatient copay of either $15 or $50 depending on the type of care received
  • No copay listed for inpatient care on the VA website
  • A copay for medications based on a tier system, with copay ranging from $5 to $33 per supply
  • No copay for the first 21 days of elder care or extended care
If you’re ineligible for VA Pension, you may still qualify for no-cost VA health care in Priority groups 4 or 5. Priority group 5 has the following annual income limits (based on your 2019 income):

  • $34,171 (no dependents)
  • $41,005 (one dependent)
  • $43,356 (two dependents)
  • $45,707 (three dependents)
  • $48,058 (four dependents)

Add $2,351 for each additional dependent after four.

In some cases, you may be slightly above the income limit but still qualify for Priority group 8 health coverage. You can contact our VA health care expert to learn what the threshold is and what this priority group covers for your mesothelioma.

The difference between Priority groups 4 and 5 is whether the veteran qualifies for Aid and Attendance or Housebound benefits. These two VA benefits are for veterans who cannot leave the house due to their disease or require assistance performing basic tasks, such as dressing or bathing.

Veterans receiving these benefits are placed in Priority group 4 of coverage (unless they already qualified for group 1). Any veterans receiving VA Pension along with Aid and Attendance or Housebound benefits will bump up from Priority group 5 to Priority group 4.

How to Sign Up for VA Health Care for Mesothelioma

You can sign up for VA health care for mesothelioma online through the VA website or in person at a VA medical center. We suggest getting help from a VA claims agent first. Our on-staff VA expert, Navy veteran Carl Jewett, can guide you through applying for veterans health care for mesothelioma.

You must submit your VA health care application (VA Form 10-10EZ) along with the following information:

  • Social Security number
  • DD214 (copy of your military discharge papers)
  • Your and your dependents’ financial income
  • Account information for current health insurance (Medicaid, Medicare, private insurance or employer-managed insurance)

According to the VA website, it takes approximately one week for veterans to receive a decision regarding their health care application. 

You are not required to sign up for or use VA health care, even to get your VA Disability Compensation claim approved. However, you can only use VA health insurance at a VA hospital, unless referred to a civilian doctor by the VA.

VA health insurance meets the minimum coverage requirement of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). However, you can sign up for supplemental insurance if you wish.

How to Find a VA Hospital for Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma patients should prioritize finding a specialist for treatment. Fortunately, there are multiple VA hospitals that offer mesothelioma treatment for veterans. These hospitals feature specialists from highly regarded cancer centers, and they are part of the VA health care system.

There are at least three VA hospitals with mesothelioma specialists:

  • Boston VA Medical Center
  • West Los Angeles VA Medical Center
  • Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center (Houston, Texas)

Each collaborates with a top-ranked mesothelioma cancer center to provide life-saving treatment for patients. These three VA hospitals offer veterans with mesothelioma a chance to undergo surgery, chemotherapy, radiation or other treatment methods. They can improve survival chances and quality of life.

Thankfully, veterans with mesothelioma will pay the same for medical care at these VA hospitals as they would at their local VA hospital. In most cases, the treatment is completely free thanks to VA health insurance.

Boston VA Medical Center

The Boston VA Health Center is the only VA hospital along the East Coast with a specialized mesothelioma program. The Boston VA works with Brigham and Women’s Hospital to provide highly respected doctors and state-of-the-art treatment for patients.

Dr. Avi Lebenthal started the Boston VA mesothelioma program in 2010. Dr. Hassan Khalil now leads the program in addition to his role as associate surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

Dr. Khalil completed two fellowships at Brigham and Women’s involving thoracic surgery. He’s an experienced surgeon with a clinical focus on mesothelioma and lung cancer. He’ll continue the incredible work Dr. Lebenthal started for veterans with mesothelioma.

West Los Angeles VA Medical Center

The West Los Angeles VA Medical Center is the only VA hospital along the West Coast with a dedicated team of mesothelioma specialists. The hospital works with the UCLA Medical Center to offer veterans a team of specialists and a multimodal treatment program.

The West Los Angeles VA Medical Center accepts patients from throughout the United States. The scarce number of VA hospitals with mesothelioma programs means you might be referred to this hospital despite living out of state. Your VA health insurance will cover costs and qualify you for treatment.

Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center

Towards the end of 2019, the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center in Houston announced a new mesothelioma program. The VA center partners with Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center, one of the leading cancer institutions in the country.

Aspirations to begin treating patients in 2020 may have stalled due to the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak, but the vision remains the same. The Houston-based VA hospital provides another option for veterans living in Texas, neighboring states, or anywhere in the United States.

Baylor St. Luke’s has a prestigious mesothelioma treatment department, led by Dr. Taylor Ripley. This experienced and innovative pleural mesothelioma specialist is steering the Houston VA mesothelioma program, with help from thoracic surgeon Dr. Lorraine Cornwell.

Dr. Eugene Choi, a peritoneal mesothelioma specialist, is part of the Houston VA team as an invaluable resource for people with this type of mesothelioma.

Common Questions About VA Health Care for Mesothelioma

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Which veterans get free VA health care for their mesothelioma?

Veterans with a service-connected mesothelioma get free health benefits from the VA. The VA determines whether you have a service-related disease based on where most of your exposures to asbestos occurred.

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Will the VA pay for my mesothelioma surgery?

VA health benefits cover copays for inpatient care in most mesothelioma cases. According to the VA website, inpatient care is covered for the first six priority groups, which applies to almost all veterans with mesothelioma. Surgery is considered inpatient care as the veteran will stay in the medical center for multiple days.

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What are the income limits for receiving VA health care?

The income limits for receiving cost-free VA health care apply only to instances when the veteran’s mesothelioma is not service-related. These veterans qualify for Priority group 5 coverage, which has income limits:

  • $34,171 (no dependents)
  • $41,005 (one dependent)
  • $43,356 (two dependents)
  • $45,707 (three dependents)
  • $48,058 (four dependents)
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Does Social Security count as income for receiving VA health care for mesothelioma?

Social Security counts as income for the purposes of determining your eligibility for VA health care. This factor is only relevant if your mesothelioma is not service-connected. If your disease is mostly related to your military service, then you’ll qualify for VA Disability Compensation and VA health care regardless of your income.

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Do veterans with mesothelioma have to go to a VA hospital?

Veterans with mesothelioma can go to any hospital in the country for treatment. Many veterans have private insurance plans for this reason. Most VA hospitals do not have specialized mesothelioma programs and may refer you to a civilian hospital with medical costs covered by your VA health benefits.

Sources & Author

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About the Writer, Devin Golden

Devin Golden is the 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.