Help is on the way for military veterans unknowingly targeted to work with a deadly substance that led to developing an asbestos-related disease.
Veterans account for an estimated 30 percent of all those diagnosed with mesothelioma, but only 8 percent of the total adult population in the United States. The numbers don’t lie.
They deserve special attention today.
Mesothelioma is a rare and aggressive cancer that usually has a low life expectancy. It is caused by exposure to asbestos, the versatile and naturally occurring mineral once used so extensively throughout all branches of military service. Its ability to strengthen and resist heat made asbestos an invaluable resource to help protect those serving their country.
Unfortunately, it also proved to be highly toxic, creating a health care nightmare for those exposed long before.
The military may have failed its veterans when it comes to asbestos, but the "No Man Left Behind" motto has taken hold within parts of the mesothelioma community, offering them hope where once there was none.
The VA health care system, despite earlier reports of inadequate care, has two of the best mesothelioma thoracic surgeons in the country who are dedicated to serving every veteran they can reach.
Dr. Abraham Lebenthal at the VA Boston Healthcare System splits his time between the VA and the renowned Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Dr. Robert Cameron is at the West Los Angeles VA Medical Center and shares his time with the Pacific Meso Center and the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center.
If a patient is well enough to travel, they often can receive a referral from their local VA to see one of those two specialists.
The Mesothelioma Center also helps veterans with mesothelioma. Former U.S. Army Capt. Aaron Munz is the director of the Veterans Department and works exclusively with those men and women.
Munz guides them and their families through the complex Veterans Benefits Administration claims process, taking them step-by-step down the paperwork trail.
His expertise in the military’s use of asbestos will streamline any disability claim involving lung cancer, asbestosis or mesothelioma. He also has a support staff of patient advocates who can help with travel arrangements, doctor appointments and financial help if needed.
Although Lebenthal and Cameron are two of the best in the world, there also are other mesothelioma specialists in the private sector seeing veterans. The patient advocates can help connect the veterans with mesothelioma to the closest specialist.
Seeing a specialist is critical for a veteran because many medical professionals — and even many oncologists — have never seen or treated this rare cancer. Seeing a specialist can substantially increase survival time.
Veterans often qualify for special financial benefits from the VA for asbestos-related claims, and The Mesothelioma Center can guide them through the often complex process of receiving those benefits.
There are veterans who already are part of the U.S. Navy's Asbestos Medical Surveillance Program, which offers annual chest scans to monitor and diagnose asbestos-related lung diseases. But there also are many more looking for help.
The Mesothelioma Center also has a monthly online support group that includes veterans and nonveterans who share a myriad of topics related to the disease.