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U.S. Veterans and Mesothelioma

From shipbuilding products to many of the construction materials used to build military bases, asbestos-containing products often surrounded military personnel as they performed their daily duties. Why? Because asbestos is strong and heat-resistant, many companies used it as a key ingredient in the goods they manufactured and sold to the U.S. government. There were many ways veterans—especially those who served in the U.S. Navy—could have been exposed to asbestos, including:

  • Serving on U.S. Navy ships
  • Working in shipyards
  • Living in military barracks
  • Repairing military vehicles
  • Participating in asbestos removal from aging bases and other military buildings

With potential asbestos exposure around every corner, it’s no wonder that our veterans account for 1/3 of mesothelioma cases diagnosed each year.

Why Are Asbestos-containing Products Potentially So Dangerous?

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral. Because it is incredibly resilient, strong, and heat-resistant, dozens of companies chose to use it as an ingredient in the manufacturing of thousands of products produced before 1980. The problem is that when asbestos-containing products are damaged or wear down due to age, they can release tiny, hazardous fibers into the air—where they can be inhaled or carried home on a worker’s clothing in the form of dust. Wherever exposure takes place, asbestos fibers can get stuck inside a person’s body and eventually lead to the development of mesothelioma and other diseases.

Sadly, without warning our servicemen, women, or the U.S. Government, many companies continued to manufacture and sell these products even after they learned how dangerous asbestos could be. The result? Thousands of veterans were needlessly put in harm’s way.

How Asbestos-containing Products Were Used in the Military

Naval ships built between 1930 and 1980 may have been constructed using asbestos-containing insulation. From the boilers in the engine room to the pipes that ran throughout these ships, this insulation could have been found almost anywhere—including within walls and doors that needed to be fireproofed. Both the sailors who were stationed on these ships and those who repaired these vessels in the shipyards were at risk of asbestos exposure—literally from bow to stern. But these weren’t the only veterans who were unknowingly working in potentially dangerous environments.

Members of the other branches of the armed forces, including the U.S. Marine Corps and the U.S. Army, would likely have spent a considerable amount of time in their barracks and on military bases. Many of these buildings were constructed using asbestos-containing products such as flooring, ceiling tiles, and wall insulation. Many veterans were also required to repair military vehicles. Asbestos was often used in the manufacturing of the brakes, clutches, and other parts inside these vehicles.

Veterans who served in Vietnam could have been exposed on transport ships and on the bases where they lived. Veterans who served in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other countries could have been exposed to asbestos in buildings that were bombed, releasing potential asbestos-containing fibers into the air.

Health Problems Connected to Exposure to Asbestos

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) reports, “Exposure to asbestos can be a serious health risk if asbestos-containing material is disturbed in such a way that the particles and fibers become airborne.” The report goes on to state that shortness of breath, chest pain, coughing, and other symptoms of asbestos-related diseases often do not appear until 20 to 50 years after exposure.

Serious and deadly diseases such as mesothelioma, lung cancer, and asbestosis can develop as a result of exposure to asbestos. The VA recommends that veterans concerned about their health and potential exposure to asbestos—no matter how long ago that may have occurred—talk with their health care provider or contact their local VA environmental health coordinator.

Make sure you tell your doctor about your military service and how you may have been exposed to asbestos. Most asbestos-related diseases are difficult to treat, but the earlier the disease is diagnosed, the more treatment options are available.

Compensation for Veterans

Veterans who become ill with an asbestos-related disease may be eligible for service-related disability compensation from the VA. The VA determines eligibility on a case-by-case basis, taking into account such factors as:

  • Evidence that you were exposed to asbestos during military service
  • Evidence of a disease or disability directly related to the asbestos exposure that occurred in the military
  • Whether or not you were discharged dishonorably

Compensation may also be available from court-ordered trusts established to hold the manufacturers of dangerous asbestos-containing products responsible for their actions before they declared bankruptcy and from companies that are still in business today. If you decide to take legal action, it’s important for you to know that you will not be suing the U.S. government or the branch of service in which you served.