For more than 50 years, veterans in each branch of the military were exposed to vast amounts of asbestos, leaving them susceptible to chronic illnesses such as mesothelioma. Now, thousands of combat veterans who are dealing with the lingering effects of combat-related PTSD are facing a new type of trauma—cancer.

Fortunately, these brave men and women often find themselves becoming stronger and more resilient having faced this life-changing diagnosis head-on.

Asbestos Affected Veterans in Every Military Branch

During their years of service, thousands of military servicemen and women were exposed to asbestos. In fact, United States veterans account for more than 30% of malignant mesothelioma diagnoses. But why do veterans make up such a large number of those affected by this devastating illness?

Asbestos was used abundantly by each military branch for almost 50 years. Between 1935 and 1950, thousands of brave armed forces members worked with asbestos or inside buildings or shipyards constructed heavily with asbestos materials. Those enlisted in the U.S. Navy and Marines were overwhelmingly exposed.

It’s no surprise asbestos was so commonly used by the armed forces. Given its fire-resistant, flexible and durable qualities, it made the perfect material for use in military ships, tanks, aircraft and other machinery.

Asbestos use reached its peak during World War ll and didn’t slow down until the late 1900s, when research began to uncover the dangers associated with asbestos exposure. Thankfully, use of asbestos in military projects ended soon after that and no longer poses a risk to modern-day service members.

While many accepted the well-known risks associated with serving their country, few knew they’d also be risking their long-term health by working in asbestos-filled environments every day.

Now, many veterans are dealing with mesothelioma diagnosis after long-term exposure to asbestos products during their time of service.

How Are Combat PTSD Veterans Affected by a Cancer Diagnosis?

A cancer diagnosis can be scary for anyone. For a veteran with combat-related PTSD, a cancer diagnosis can present a unique type of scare.

Currently, more than a half-million veteran cancer survivors are receiving care and navigating their way through the recovery process. And new research is revealing some unique and complex information about how a cancer diagnosis affects veterans with combat-related PTSD.

Studies suggest that early life exposure to combat increases the risk of distress when confronted with stressors such as a cancer diagnosis. New mental challenges often surface in addition to the traumatic physical diagnosis.

It’s not uncommon for these veterans to develop anxiety, depression and other types of emotional ailments. These mental health issues often plague many people who develop cancer—for veterans, however, the diagnosis can cause traumatic events and past mental struggles to resurface.

Finding Growth in Trauma

For veterans, life’s obstacles often present growth.

Despite the challenges veterans face, studies reveal a silver lining. Research states that more than half of cancer patients report experiencing at least some positive life changes as a result of their cancer. For some, this means closer relationships to loved ones as priorities become clearer. For others, a battle with cancer results in immense personal growth and a renewed appreciation for life.

It’s no surprise that the bravest among us show high levels of resiliency following a cancer diagnosis.

Although studies show that combat-PTSD veterans experience more distress following diagnosis, these same veterans reported significant growth in the years after. In short, combat-PTSD veterans may be vulnerable to high stress following a cancer diagnosis—but, in many cases, positive self-growth emerges and eventually prevails despite life’s challenges.

Seeking Hope for Veterans With Mesothelioma

There is hope.

Fortunately for veterans diagnosed with mesothelioma, many programs exist to help them claim disability compensation and connect them with the top medical professionals in the field. Emotional and mental support options are also available to help cope with the trauma of PTSD and cancer diagnoses.

Learn more about veteran mesothelioma cases and contact our Patient Advocates today.

View Author and Sources

  1. NCBI, “Distress and Resilience After Cancer in Veterans” Retrieved from: Accessed on May 2, 2018.
  2. Thomas Edison State University, “PTSD/Other War-Related Injuries” Retrieved from: Accessed on May 2, 2018.
  3. Faces of Combat, “Mesothelioma Resources” Retrieved from: Accessed on May 2, 2018.

Last modified: April 4, 2019