United States Air Force Veterans and Mesothelioma Risks

Quick Summary

Millions of Americans bravely volunteered for service in the U.S.A.F. Today, hundreds of thousands Air Force veterans are back in civilian life after dangerous deployments at home and abroad. But not all dangers came from combat. Many Air Force veterans were exposed to deadly asbestos fibers during their service. That caused long-term health disasters like mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases.

About the US Air Force

The United States Air Force is America’s front-line defense for air superiority and combat ground troop support. American aircraft patrol the skies ensuring the nation’s airspace is safe from enemy intrusion and terrorist actions. The U.S.A.F. also plays a strong role in search and rescue operations, surveillance missions and backing-up other U.S. and allied military branches.

Currently, the Air Force employs over 318,000 active service personnel, 69,000 reservists and maintains a combined command of over 5,000 aircraft including an undisclosed number of drones and satellites.

For over 100 years, America has operated combat airplanes. World War II was decisively won in the European and Pacific theaters through strategic and tactical use of air power. The United States Air Force became its own entity in 1947 after separating from the original U.S. Army Air Corps. The U.S.A.F went on to proudly serve in the Korean, Vietnam, the Cold War, Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts. Currently, the Air Force battles ISIS insurgents in the Middle East to keep American homelands safe.

Asbestos Exposure in the United States Air Force

Every American military department extensively used asbestos-containing materials (ACM) in building and protecting vessels, aircraft, mechanized equipment, vehicles, and buildings. The Air Force was no exception. From the pre-WW2 1930s until the mid-1980s, air force planes, support vehicles and base buildings were full of ACM. That’s because designers and engineers thought they had the perfect material in asbestos.

Asbestos Exposure Update

For aircraft manufacturing, asbestos proved to be lightweight and strong when added to components. Asbestos was fireproof, heat-resistant and it suppressed sound. ACM was also electrically non-conductive, non-corrosive and chemically stable when mixed into aircraft and building products. From another practical point, asbestos was easy to work with, readily available and inexpensive to buy.

By 1980, it was impossible to conceal what asbestos exposure was doing to Air Force veterans and members of other military branches. To its credit, the U.S.A.F. took a lead role in ridding their equipment and buildings of asbestos products. ACM is now virtually eliminated in the air force environment. What’s left is encapsulated and remains safe unless intentionally disturbed. However, that’s small condolence for the countless Air Force veterans who suffered asbestos exposure in high-risk occupations where they handled high-risk asbestos products on a daily basis.

Air Force High-Risk Asbestos Exposure Occupations and Products

Like other military services, the United States Air Force had certain occupations with higher asbestos exposure risk than others. That applied to specific products as well.

There were 2 types of exposures all veterans faced:

  1. Direct or primary asbestos exposure—when veterans personally worked installing, modifying and removing ACM.
  2. Secondary asbestos exposure—when veterans coincidently worked in environments that had airborne asbestos fiber contamination resulting from other veterans’ activities.

Air Force occupations where asbestos was present could be divided into 3 areas. Each served a distinct role in operational support, and they depended on each other to make the department effective.

Air Force asbestos occupational environments were divided into these groups:

  • Aircraft construction and operation
  • Support vehicles and equipment
  • Building structures

All divisions had plenty of asbestos products that caused direct and indirect exposure for Air Force veterans. Most veterans had no idea how dangerous asbestos fiber exposure was and they took little if no personal protection.

High asbestos exposure air force occupations included:

  • Aircraft and vehicle mechanics
  • Airframe and aero-engine technicians
  • Metalworkers and welders
  • Environmental support specialists
  • Insulators and electricians
  • Carpenters and construction workers

Asbestos-containing materials appeared in hundreds of products used in aircraft, vehicle and structure building and maintaining. It’s thought that once asbestos materials were installed and contained they were no longer harmful. That’s not the case. The Air Force operational environment was anything but stable. High-temperature changes and violent movements were part of air force life. This caused installed ACM to dry and dislodge, filling the airspace with floating fibers.

High-risk asbestos products used in the air force were:

  • Aircraft and vehicle firewalls and heat shields
  • Brake linings and friction surfaces
  • Cockpit and cargo bay insulation
  • Fuel and electrical line protection
  • Armament support products
  • Gaskets, valves, and sealants
  • Building construction materials

Support for Air Force Veterans Exposed to Asbestos

Diseases caused by asbestos exposure are decidedly different from most occupational illnesses and injuries. Air Force personnel who experience a burn, cut or fall immediately knew they were impaired and took immediate action. That wasn’t the situation with asbestos exposure.

Asbestos is a slow-moving malady. Once asbestos fibers entered an air force veteran’s lungs, they speared the tissue and transferred through to the lung outer lining called the mesothelium. Here, the fibers lay dormant. Slowly, they built up scar tissue that eventually turned into the cancerous condition called mesothelioma.

This national travesty could have been prevented. Nothing can change the fact that so many United States Air Force veterans were unnecessarily exposed to lethal asbestos products. The only recourse these brave vets have is seeking compensation to cover their expenses like medical costs, lost income and personal injury suffering.

Here are the available support options available for Air Force veterans who developed asbestos-related illnesses like mesothelioma:

  • Filing civil lawsuits against negligent ACM product manufacturers and suppliers
  • Negotiating lawsuit settlements for monetary compensation
  • Accessing asbestos company bankruptcy trust funds.
  • Appealing to private compensation insurance accounts
  • Applying to the Department of Veterans Affairs for disability benefits
  • Retaining a law firm specializing in mesothelioma litigation

Seeking Treatment for Mesothelioma

Veterans with mesothelioma have access to the VA’s healthcare system, which employs two of the best mesothelioma doctors in the country—Dr. Avi Lebenthal and Dr. Robert Cameron at the Boston VA and West Los Angeles VA respectively. These VA mesothelioma programs are designed to address the unique health needs of veterans with mesothelioma, which include not only medical treatment but emotional and psychological support as well.

Mesothelioma Help Now assists patients and families to understand this devastating disease. We help prepare you for what to expect by educating and supporting you in this process. If you have questions about mesothelioma, our client support representatives are always available. You can call Mesothelioma Help Now at (800) 584-4151.

View Author and Sources

  1. USAF Official Website, Retrieved from https://www.airforce.com/ Accessed on 06 January 2018
  2. CPEO Military, “Lowry AFB Asbestos Compliance Order”, Retrieved from http://www.cpeo.org/lists/military/2004/msg00237.html Accessed on 06 January 2018
  3. Department of Veterans Affairs, War Related Illness and Injury Study Center, “Asbestos Fact Sheet”, Retrieved from https://www.warrelatedillness.va.gov/WARRELATEDILLNESS/education/factsheets/asbestos-exposure.pdf Accessed on 06 January 2018
  4. Department of the United States Air Force, “Facility Asbestos Management Directive”, Retrieved from http://static.e-publishing.af.mil/production/1/af_a4/publication/afi32-1052/afi32-1052.pdf Accessed on 06 January 2018
  5. Department of Veterans Affairs, “Compensation Claims” Retrieved from https://www.benefits.va.gov/COMPENSATION/claims-postservice-exposures-asbestos.asp Accessed on 06 January 2018
  6. Department of Veterans Affairs, “Compensation – Asbestos Exposure”, Retrieved from https://www.benefits.va.gov/COMPENSATION/claims-postservice-exposures-asbestos.asp Accessed on 06 January 2018
  7. Department of Veterans Affairs, “Compensation – Asbestos”, Retrieved from https://www.benefits.va.gov/COMPENSATION/claims-postservice-exposures-asbestos.asp Accessed on 06 January 2018
  8. Department of Veterans Affairs, “I am a Veteran” Retrieved from https://va.gov/opa/persona/index.asp Accessed on 06 January 2018
  9. Department of Veterans Affairs, “Exposure to Hazardous Materials – Asbestos” Retrieved from https://www.vets.gov/disability-benefits/conditions/exposure-to-hazardous-materials/asbestos/ Accessed on 06 January 2018
  10. VA/Vets.gov website, Veterans Disability and Healthcare Benefits”, Retrieved from https://www.vets.gov/ Accessed on 06 January 2018

Last modified: May 7, 2018