National holidays are a time to honor our nation’s veterans. Floats and marching bands roll down the Main Streets of small towns everywhere across the U.S. and for a moment, the general population considers the sacrifices made by the men and women of the armed forces. What many civilians forget is that the sacrifices veterans make don’t end on the battlefield – their service to our country never truly ends. This is especially true of those veterans who worked behind the scenes, maintaining and rebuilding the impressive equipment found on the front lines and featured in museum exhibits. For every battleship or tank shown on the TV, there are dozens of skilled soldiers repairing motors, tweaking brakes, and wrapping insulation in boiler rooms. These workers are the lifeblood of the U.S. military and the freedoms it affords.
Unfortunately, a lot of veterans don't realize (until they’re out of active duty) that these essential jobs have put them in contact with asbestos fibers and, as a result, placed them at high-risk for disease, including cancer. For decades, private corporations knowingly sold the military materials that contained asbestos. Due to its natural strength and resistance to fire, asbestos seemed like a great choice for insulation, gaskets, and brake parts – among many other uses. What the corporations failed to mention was that the tiny and indestructible asbestos fibers could be inhaled into the delicate tissue of the lungs where they would stay for 20, 30, and even 40 years, eventually causing deadly diseases like mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is a painful and especially destructive form of cancer that is caused exclusively by asbestos-exposure.
Pursuing a Claim Does Not Affect Benefits
Veterans need to know that it's within their rights as U.S. citizens to seek justice if they've been harmed by asbestos-exposure. They also need to know that seeking this compensation won’t hurt their VA benefits in any way. A veteran can take legal action, receive compensation for developing an asbestos-related disease, and still receive VA benefits as he or she always has. VA benefits are only earned through service to one's country and are separate from one's rights as an ordinary citizen.
For many vets, there is a moral dilemma involved in seeking compensation. Veterans might feel as if they’re betraying the military and their country. Being selfless and passionate about their service, vets often look back on their time in the military with fondness and can’t imagine turning around and taking legal action. In reality, the U.S military has nothing to do with asbestos manufacturing because it buys its construction materials and insulation from private companies. These private companies chose to use and sell asbestos-containing products without explaining the adverse health effects. So when former members of the U.S. armed forces go on to develop asbestos-related health conditions, they are suffering as a result of corporate greed and deliberate dishonesty. Seeking justice means holding these corporations accountable for their actions. If anything, it brings the discussion regarding asbestos exposure further out into the light, so that future vets will know their rights and options.
How You Can Get Justice
Veterans have two paths for starting an asbestos-exposure claim, and the good news is that they can choose both. One path is to claim service-related exposure through the VA office. This can sometimes be difficult because veterans are asked to provide evidence that their exposure occurred during military service, yet, as already mentioned, symptoms of an asbestos-related disease can take over 20 years to become noticeable. Of course, the veteran on his or her own or with the support of a veteran’s service officer, may be able to file the necessary paperwork to be awarded benefits.
The second path involves seeking compensation directly from the companies who manufactured the asbestos. Hiring legal counsel in this case becomes a necessity as most private corporations will fight to the very end to avoid paying out money. For many vets, hiring a lawyer is a critical step in getting the justice they deserve. Legal specialists who have devoted themselves to helping asbestos victims can guide a veteran through all of his or her options and select the option that best suits them. This is important to emphasize because a professional lawyer will always know the best way to approach any given claim. If the VA doesn’t think a particular illness was connected to military duty, the lawyer will know how to change gears and seek justice from a private corporation.
Know Your Rights and Do Not Feel Guilty
Not only is it acceptable for veterans to seek compensation, it’s fair and just, according to the laws that govern our nation. The trust funds that have been set aside totally roughly $30 Billion and are intended to compensate people with diseases related to asbestos-exposure—not just veterans, but civilians as well. Many veterans, by nature, are devoted, honorable people and they may hesitate to pursue a claim if they feel like they’re taking money from their government. This isn’t the case, however, as this money intended to help asbestos victims comes from the very corporations that put profits ahead of people. No matter what your situation is, if you’ve gotten sick from exposure to asbestos, you owe it to both yourself and your family to seek help in getting the justice that is rightfully due to you.