A new study published in the European Journal of Oncology Nursing offers a comprehensive overview of how military veterans deal with a malignant mesothelioma diagnosis.

Stephanie Ejegi-Memeh, a practicing member of the University of Sheffield's Division of Nursing and Midwifery, Health Sciences School, and several other experts have determined that military veterans exposed to asbestos and sooner or later receive a mesothelioma diagnosis navigate this dramatic life experience with a lot of confusion and frustration.

The study covers the results from within the United Kingdom and its ongoing Military Mesothelioma Experience Study (MiMES) which tracked the lives of 13 veterans living with mesothelioma and nine family members of those veterans also living with the disease.

What the study concludes

The veterans were recruited from charities and asbestos support groups catering to UK service members. During the study, the participants participated in semi-structured interviews. The age groups range 61 to 89 years among the veterans and 36 to 74 years for family members.

"Mesothelioma is challenging cancer because of the symptom burden, disease trajectory, and mortality rates,” notes the study. “It is associated with a range of life-limiting and debilitating symptoms including breathlessness, pain, cough, lethargy, weight loss, and sweating. Studies have reported psychological impacts, including depression, anxiety, low mood, as common.”

Confusion among veterans

The veterans who participated also believe they nearly all were exposed to asbestos during their military services and other sources of work in civilian settings.

Veterans were unaware of the risks posed by direct and indirect asbestos exposure until after their military service concluded, the study's authors state.

"Several participants had not worked directly with asbestos or in occupations traditionally considered at higher risk of asbestos exposure, for example working in engine rooms on ships. Instead, they recalled working and living in environments where asbestos was present. Therefore, asbestos exposure was not just due to occupation itself, but the buildings that veterans lived or worked in,” the study authors observed.

Takeaways for U.S. military veterans

Though the study focused on veterans in the United Kingdom, many of the findings can be applied to veterans in the United States of America.

Current numbers show that 1 in 3 mesothelioma patients are military veterans. Due to this portion of patients, it's important to remind the individuals and their families about the resources available to them. The United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) provides benefits to veterans and their families who are struggling with a mesothelioma diagnosis.

For instance, the VA considers mesothelioma a service-connected ailment if at least 50 percent of their asbestos exposure caused cancer during active duty. Also, qualifying under the income level may also require copays for the necessary health services.

For this, the disability compensation provided by the VA is considered a monthly benefit based on a veteran's level of disability. This disability benefit starts at $3,146.42 per month. It's higher for married veterans with families, or with veterans who have a caregiver.

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