Hundreds of thousands of U.S. military members have selflessly dedicated their lives to a higher calling for our nation. One of the little-known ways that veterans have made the ultimate sacrifice is by unknowingly putting themselves at risk through exposure to hazardous chemicals.
The U.S. government recognizes that veterans deserve compensation for any disease they developed as a result of toxic exposure which occurred during military service. In this regard, various benefits may be available to veterans and their families through the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
Asbestos – Extensively Used Throughout All Military Branches Until Recognizing Its Dangers in the Late 1970s
Today, it is a well-known fact that asbestos is a highly toxic fibrous mineral, which when inhaled or ingested, can cause irreparable damage to someone’s body. In the first half of the 20th century, most people viewed asbestos as a miracle mineral, and it was used virtually everywhere. The armed forces used asbestos extensively from the 1930s to late 1970, particularly in shipbuilding and general construction due to its heat-resistant properties and non-flammable nature. Whether they served our country at sea, in the air, or on land, they constantly breathed in asbestos fibers without knowing the harm they could cause 10 to 50 years later.
Veterans who have developed asbestos-related conditions such as mesothelioma, lung cancer, throat cancer, stomach cancer, colon cancer, or asbestosis after exposure to the mineral during active military service – no matter when or where they served – may qualify for a variety of benefits, including VA benefits and asbestos trust funds compensation.
Another important aspect regarding the VA claim filing process refers to the widespread misconception that if a veteran has previously filed a claim against an asbestos company or manufacturer, they are not eligible for VA financial benefits. This, however, is false. In fact, receiving an asbestos trust fund payout does not affect a veteran’s qualification for additional VA benefits. Consequently, military veterans affected by asbestos exposure and their family members are permitted to apply for disability compensation or for other types of VA benefits as well.
Massive Toxic Contamination Discovered at Camp Lejeune, NC
In 2019, a U.S. Marine Corps member retiree, at age 56, was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. He was never a smoker, nor was he exposed to toxic smoke or fumes. Around that same time, his wife was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Generally, cancer seem to be caused by a combination of risk factors, which in some cases can include family history; however, neither had a family history of cancer, but both were stationed at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, North Carolina, during a large part of the 80s.
From the 1950s through the 1980s, service members and their family members living at Camp Lejeune were exposed to drinking water contaminated with compounds such as industrial solvents, benzene, and other chemicals that resulted from leakage from underground storage tanks and hazardous waste disposal practices.
The VA currently offers two different benefits to all qualifying veterans and certain family members who lived or worked at Camp Lejeune for at least 30 days between Jan. 1, 1957, and Dec. 31, 1987:
- Disability compensation for eight presumptive conditions (automatically considered service-connected) – granted to veterans exposed to toxic water at the base during the qualifying period;
- Health benefits or health care cost reimbursement for veterans and family members for 15 conditions associated with their services at Camp Lejeune, including lung cancer and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Hundreds of Military Installations Contaminated With PFAS – The Key Ingredient in Aqueous Film-Forming Foam
Much has been written about the dangers of polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) the highly toxic major components of the fire suppressing foam the military has been using for decades to extinguish liquid hydrocarbon fires. We already know about the many bases where drinkable water sources were contaminated and of the thousands of military personnel and family who got sick as a result.
Groundwater contamination on or around multiple military installations around the United States has affected drinking water supplies and led to serious health effects such as liver damage, decreased fertility, increased risk of asthma and thyroid disease, and even birth defects in newborn babies.
The VA has added PFOA and PFOS, the most controversial PFAS chemicals, to its list of possible military exposures and requires veterans to report any health problems associated with exposure to the firefighting foam in military facilities.
Help for Veterans Exposed to Toxic Chemicals While Serving on Active Duty
Veterans with a history of military toxic exposure should constantly monitor their health, as the risk of developing a severe disease remains high throughout their entire life. Veterans diagnosed with cancers and diseases as a result of exposure to toxic chemicals while serving on active duty can access several benefits through the VA, including financial aid and treatment.
For veterans who meet the following three criteria:
- a current illness that has been diagnosed by a medical professional
- proof that the circumstances of service caused the current condition
- a medical opinion linking the current condition or disability to an in-service event
VA disability compensation benefits are paid to you based on how severely you are disabled and on whether you have a spouse, children, or dependent parents. Once settled, disability compensations will usually be paid monthly, payments being calculated on a disability scale from 10 to 100, considering minimal to maximum disability. The disability compensation you will receive from the VA is tax-free and will not be affected by your employment status or by your current level of income.
It is highly advisable to seek the help of a lawyer with vast experience in toxic exposure cases in order to provide a clearer and easier path through the process of a claim.
About the author:
Jonathan Sharp is the CFO and Director of Claims at Environmental Litigation Group P.C., a law firm based in Birmingham, Alabama, that handles cases of occupational toxic exposure since 1990, and is dedicated to obtaining maximum recovery for its clients and their family members.