A campaign to change the compensation rules for members of the armed forces exposed to asbestos prior to 1987, has attracted a favourable response from the government.
Defence minister, Mark Lancaster, has vowed to find a solution to the problem as soon as possible, and there are hopes that in future, compensation will be available as a lump sum in line with that received by civilians in the same unfortunate situation.
Only payment from a war pension
Currently, armed forces personnel suffering an asbestos-related illness are eligible to receive regular payments from a war pension, but not a lump sum payment. Mark Lancaster clarified his concerns that this situation was now outdated and needed to be changed when he said:
“The matter for consideration here is whether the current arrangements for veterans continue to meet the needs for which they were designed.”
In fact, it is possible that the current position on compensation for war veterans contravenes the armed forces covenant, which was originally set up to prevent discrimination against military personnel.
These are the two principles of the covenant:
- the armed forces community should not face disadvantage compared to other citizens in the provision of public and commercial services
- special consideration is appropriate in some cases, especially for those who have given most such as the injured and the bereaved
Recognition of the sacrifices made by war veterans is at the heart of the covenant, and a wish to ensure that they are entitled to the same treatment as civilians.
Diffuse Mesothelioma Payment Scheme
The disparity in payouts between ex-servicemen and civilians could be as much as £148,000 according to Conservative MP, David Mackintosh. He estimated that under the Diffuse Mesothelioma Payment Scheme started by the government in 2008, a war veteran who survived for just one year with mesothelioma would receive around £32,000 via their war disablement pension.
In comparison, a civilian of around 63 years of age would be eligible to receive approximately £180,000 as a compensation lump sum.
Wide use of asbestos for naval ships
Members of the Royal Navy would have been exposed to asbestos onboard ships and submarines, with no hope of escaping the deadly dust and fibres. The substance was widely used throughout these vessels because of its fire-retardant and insulating qualities, and could be found extensively in boiler rooms and engine rooms for lagging pipes.
The pipes would be lagged and then painted, but if the paint peeled off or was damaged asbestos fibres were released. Refitting of ships was particularly hazardous as pipes were dismantled or refurbished. The enclosed nature of these vessels meant that it was impossible for those onboard to escape inhalation of the dust and fibres.
The defence minister declared his sympathy with the campaign, which had the support of the Mirror newspaper, and stated that a swift response to the issue was likely. He is expected to offer an update on the situation within a few weeks.