David Cameron urged to close asbestos loophole for veterans dying of cancer

Exclusive: Military figures, medical experts and politicians call on PM to ensure veterans receive full compensation

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The Independent Online

David Cameron is being urged to intervene to ensure the Ministry of Defence gives 60 veterans with terminal cancer from asbestos exposure the same compensation rights as civilians and other ex-soldiers. 

The Prime Minister is facing calls from military figures, medical experts and politicians to close a loophole that means dozens of dying former soldiers will miss out on a lump-sum payouts.

In December, defence officials changed the rules to allow those suffering from mesothelioma caused by exposure to asbestos during their time in service to take their compensation as a lump sum rather than a pension, after a campaign led by The Independent.

But the change, which comes into effect from April, does not apply to those who were diagnosed before December last year. And time is running out for dozens of veterans, some of whom have months to live.

Fred Minall, a 74-year-old Royal Navy veteran dying of the cancer, and other prominent figures have now written to Mr Cameron demanding urgent action.

The letter is being handed in to Number 10 today. Among the signatories are Admiral Lord West, former Chief of Naval Staff, Professor Julian Peto, Cancer Research UK chair of epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and Dr Penny Woods, chief executive of the British Lung Foundation.

“We request that all qualifying veterans be treated equally, regardless of the date of their diagnosis with mesothelioma, as is morally required under the armed forces covenant,” the letter says. 

“We also request that the acquisition of equal treatment for both veterans and their widows/families, be pursued by ministers with all due haste, because people are dying.”

For years, veterans with mesothelioma due to asbestos exposure that occurred decades ago could apply only for a pension, in contrast to the Government’s scheme for civilian patients, who are eligible for a lump sum. 

The MoD announced a change of policy at the end of last year, but it only applies to those diagnosed on or after 16 December 2015. This means that about 60 veterans already dying from the disease will not benefit.

Lord West, who will raise the issue during a reading of the Armed Forces Bill in the House of Lords tomorrow, told The Independent: “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.” 

Cross-bench peer Lord Alton said: “Their exclusion defies logic and fairness.”

In a statement an MoD spokesperson said: “This is a complex issue but, as the minister has indicated previously, this Government is determined to ensure that all mesothelioma claimants receive fair treatment. We hope to provide a positive update over the coming weeks.”