Navy vet with asbestosis fights VA for hospital coverage

5 Jul 2018 by under News

Pearl Harbor Memorial Day 201Veteran Pearl Harbor 6 image by US Dept of Defense Ret Army Command Sgt Maj Sterling R Cale 90 371x210 100x100 Navy vet with asbestosis fights VA for hospital coverageA Maryland veteran who served in the Navy from 1958 to 1961 is drowning in medical bills while fighting with the Department of Veterans Affairs for hospital coverage for a terminal lung disease his doctors believe was caused by asbestos exposure while working on the Navy ship.

Richard Cook is a peacetime veteran, which prevents him from seeking VA hospital coverage or from collecting the documentation required by the VA to file for service-related disability benefits. As a result, he and his wife have fallen behind on their second mortgage due to mounting medical bills, and were facing foreclosure and eviction.

Cook served as a radioman onboard the USS Willard Keith, a WWII-era destroyer, where he operated the emergency radio in crawlspaces in the bowels of the ship, brushing against the asbestos-coated walls of the ship. Asbestos was used on U.S. Naval vessels prior to 1980 as a fire retardant. Asbestos has since been classified as a carcinogen and linked to serious illnesses including (also known as pulmonary fibrosis), lung cancer, and , a type of cancer that affects the lining of the lungs and other internal organs.

Despite radio operators’ close contact with asbestos on Navy ships, the specialty is not considered at being high risk for asbestos exposure, a representative with VA Assistance Benefits told the ABC7 I-Team. Only Congress can declare the occupational specialty high risk for asbestos exposure.

After Cook was diagnosed, he and his wife filed for service-related disability from the VA, but their application was denied in part because of a lack of VA hospital documentation establishing the progression of his asbestosis. He was finally able to see a doctor at the VA Hospital in Martinsburg, who reported that his disease could have been caused by asbestos exposure.

When the Cooks’ original mortgage holder learned of the couple’s plight, they arranged for the Cooks to live in their home without making a mortgage payment for at least a year. The Cooks said they plan to make their case to the Board of Veterans Appeals again, hoping new medical information from the VA’s own doctors will sway the board to provide them with much needed care.

Source: WJLA

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