Study: VA doctors rarely inform mesothelioma patients of legal options
Veterans diagnosed with mesothelioma may not be receiving information from their physicians about what caused the disease or whether they are eligible for government-funded health or disability benefits.
In the March issue of the American Journal of the Medical Sciences, researchers report that, based on a review of records, only one of 16 patients diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma by doctors with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System was told he may have grounds for seeking financial compensation.
The military was a major user of asbestos. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, Navy personnel in particular were exposed to asbestos-containing material, or ACM, in shipyards and ships that were built before the mid-1970s, when the government started regulating asbestos use. According the VA, service members at the greatest risk of exposure include:
• Veterans on ships whose keels were laid before 1983;
• Vets who worked in shipyards from the 1930s through the 1990s;
• Personnel who worked below deck before the 1990s
• Vets who removed and replaced damaged lagging in engine rooms, often with no protective equipment;
• Pipefitters, welders, boiler operators, demolition and building renovation specialists who worked in any service before the mid-1990s.
Pleural mesothelioma is a rare and invariably fatal cancer of the lining of the lung. The disease, which is usually diagnosed decades after asbestos exposure, kills more than 3,000 people each year, and the number of cases is expected to rise until at least 2015.
Veterans may be eligible for VA disability compensation and health care benefits for mesothelioma and other illnesses associated with exposure to asbestos during their service.
In the Palo Alto study, evidence of occupational exposure to asbestos was found in the records of 12 of the 16 patients, while two patients were “presumed” to have had bystander exposure to asbestos. But only one patient was informed about possible causes of the disease and counseled “about opportunities for compensation.”
“Among patients with [pleural mesothelioma], documentation of some elements of an occupational history, including an occupational asbestos exposure history, was common,” the researchers concluded. “Advice to pursue compensation for potential occupation-related MPM [malignant pleural mesothelioma] was rare. Physicians may be missing opportunities to provide beneficial information to patients with newly diagnosed MPM regarding potential legal redress and compensation.”
The VA encourages veterans who believe they have asbestos-related health problems caused by exposure during military service to talk to their health care provider or local VA Environmental Health Coordinator.