On 16 December 2015 Defence Minister Mark Lancaster told MPs during the committee stage of the Armed Forces Bill that “any veteran diagnosed with mesothelioma from today will now be offered the choice of receiving a £140,000 lump sum or receiving the traditional war pensions payments.”
Under the government’s new proposals veterans who are newly diagnosed with the asbestos related cancer mesothelioma as a result of their military service prior to 6 April 2005 can opt for either regular weekly or monthly payments or a lump sum one off payment of £140,000 under the War Pension Scheme.
The current loophole allows civilians diagnosed with mesothelioma to receive a lump sum payment of up to £180,000 but veterans diagnosed with the same condition are only offered regular payments of up to £31,000.
Whilst the change to be introduced on11 April 2016 is welcome news for veterans exposed to asbestos and their families, the government and the MoD still needs to address the issue of whether these changes will apply to those veterans who have already been diagnosed with mesothelioma.
For decades the government has been protected by ‘crown immunity’ under the Crown Proceedings Act. Preventing members of the Armed Forces from suing the MoD for compensation for mesothelioma following exposure to asbestos during their service prior to 1987. As a result thousands of veterans diagnosed with the fatal asbestos related cancer mesothelioma and their families have been denied full compensation.
Campaigners have called for this breach of the Armed Forces Covenant to be addressed. The Military Covenant pledges the state to ensuring that military personnel are not at a disadvantage, compared to those in civilian life, because of their service. Whilst the proposed changes go some way to bridging the gap between compensation awarded to civilians diagnosed with mesothelioma and veterans diagnosed with the same condition, the lump sum one off payment of £140,000 is still less than the compensation received by civilians through the government’s diffuse mesothelioma scheme or through the civil courts.
With the government yet to confirm whether the changes proposed will be retrospective, or whether the proposed award of £140,000 under the War Pension Scheme will be increased to match the level of compensation available to civilians, it remains to be seen how the Ministry of Defence and government will respond before the proposed changes are implemented in April 2016.
Time limits for bringing a claim for asbestos exposure
If you have been exposed to asbestos during the course of your military career and have gone on to develop a recognised asbestos condition you must seek legal advice and pursue your asbestos claim as quickly as possible as strict time limits apply.
Court proceedings in respect of civil claims involving asbestos exposure must be started within three years of the date of diagnosis of a recognised asbestos related condition or three years from the date of death. If the time limit has passed, however, it is still worth making an enquiry as soon as possible, as the court will in certain special circumstances allow a claim to proceed out of time.