For the first time, veterans dying from cancer due to asbestos exposure during their time in the military will be able to get lump sums in compensation. The decision by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) comes just weeks after The Independent revealed the plight of ex-service personnel denied the six figure settlements civilians receive.
It means that around 2,500 Royal Navy veterans who will die of mesothelioma from being exposed to asbestos on ships decades ago will benefit from large one-off payments. But the choice of a £140,000 lump sum instead of a war pension will only be given to veterans whose mesothelioma has been diagnosed since last Wednesday, provoking anger among senior military and political figures.
Dozens of veterans already on war pensions because they have mesothelioma will not qualify for the new compensation according to the Royal British Legion. “We remain disappointed that around 60 veterans who are currently in receipt of a War Disablement Pension for Mesothelioma will be unable to apply for the new lump sum compensation award,” said Chris Simpkins, the charity’s director general.
The new rules will change from next April. Announcing the decision, veterans minister Mark Lancaster said last week: “A policy change is required to introduce enhanced arrangements for mesothelioma sufferers. These veterans protected the nation with honour, courage and commitment, and we have listened to their concerns to ensure they are treated with the fairness and respect they deserve.”
But Rhod Palmer, a 62-year-old retired commodore who will not be eligible because he was diagnosed before last Wednesday’s decision, said: “The announcement coincided with a downturn in my health and prognosis which is now spoken in terms of weeks and not months. This is significant and very hard on my family who are having to provide additional support to me. The system is still clearly unfair on those who were doing their duty and will be overlooked.”
Another naval veteran without the option of a lump sum for the same reason is Fred Minall, 74, from Northampton, whose wife died this month. His local MP David Mackintosh said: “It has been a particularly difficult time for Fred and his family as his wife, Margaret, died just days before the announcement so this makes us all more determined to fight on.” He added: “I have asked the Veterans Minister to meet with me and representatives of The Royal British Legion in January to keep fighting for Fred and the other veterans.”
General Lord David Richards, former Chief of the Defence Staff, told The Independent: “Not to apply this ruling retrospectively appears a mean-minded anomaly...This issue lies at the heart of the Military Covenant. Let it not be hollow.”
Madeleine Moon MP, a member of the Commons Defence Select Committee, accused the MoD of showing “a contemptible heartless face to those who are suffering from a most cruel disease because of their service.” She urged the Government department to “accept responsibility and find a way of compensating all veterans.”
And crossbench peer Lord Alton said: “To recognise an injustice and to say you will put it right in the future represents progress but to then say you won't apply the same criteria to those who are already dying of this disease defies logic and common decency.”
In a statement an MoD spokesperson said: “Whether to extend the lump sum to current claimants is a complex issue and has been discussed across Government; but we are committed to supporting veterans and are considering what more can be done for this group.”
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