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Will war veterans receive full compensation for asbestos-related illness?

A campaign to ensure members of the armed forces receive the same level of compensation as civilians for asbestos-related illness, is gathering pace. Pressure has been placed on David Cameron, from a range of groups including politicians and military leaders, to remove inconsistencies within the compensation system.

Late last year, the issue appeared to have been successfully addressed when the existing rules were changed. War veterans were allowed equal compensation rights as civilians with the same type of disease, but the ruling still left around 60 people with mesothelioma ineligible to claim the lump sum payment.

Date of diagnosis

The new rules don’t apply to anyone diagnosed with the disease prior to 16th December 2015, and with some people only having months to live, further action needs to be taken quickly to ensure that these victims and their families are treated fairly.

Many high profile figures in the armed forces are supporting the campaign, including former Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral Lord West. He expressed concerns that the armed forces covenant was otentially breached in denying these 60 war veterans equal rights with others.

The covenant’s aim is to prevent forces personnel being disadvantaged when compared with members of the general public, and directs special consideration to be given in some instances.

Is the covenant being breached?

The armed forces covenant was referred to in a letter addressed to the Prime Minister. Admiral Lord West spoke of his concern about the present situation:

“This small group of veterans should be considered worthy of ‘special’ status within the terms of the armed forces covenant, in light of both their limited life expectancy and the severity of their pain and suffering.”

The underlying sentiment in establishing the covenant was to recognise considerable sacrifices made by armed forces personnel in serving their country, and ensure that their specific health needs were addressed.

No lump sum

Before the recent ruling, those in the military were not entitled to the same lump sum compensation that civilians could claim. They had to rely solely on regular payments from a war pension, which also meant that when they passed away, their families’ loss wasn’t recognised in same way as civilian families.

The Ministry of Defence remained optimistic that an agreement could be reached, however, and a spokesperson commented that they “hope to provide a positive update over the coming weeks.”

Prolific use of asbestos in the Royal Navy

Although widely used by the military in general during the Second World War, submariners and sailors in the Royal Navy were at particular risk of asbestos exposure, purely due to the confined space on board the vessel. It was also impossible to escape asbestos dust and fibres for those carrying out routine maintenance and refurbishment during the war.

Asbestos was used to lag pipes on board ship, in boiler rooms, to insulate ceilings and walls, and within galley and sleeping areas. It is no surprise therefore, that asbestos inhalation took its toll on Royal Navy personnel in particular.