Mesothelioma and Veterans
The following information is from the Mesothelioma Justice Network.
Veterans and Asbestos Exposure Overview
U.S. Veterans are at an especially high risk of developing mesothelioma. Every branch of the military relied on asbestos-based products for decades.
Asbestos use in the military was at its peak between 1935 and 1975. The material was favored because it was flame-resistant and highly durable. Products containing asbestos could be found in military bases, vehicles, planes and ships. In particular, Navy vessels contained a huge amount of asbestos products.
However, asbestos exposure can cause deadly cancers like mesothelioma. The military was unaware of the risk, as the companies that made asbestos-based products concealed the facts so they could keep making money.
If you were exposed to asbestos during your military service and developed an asbestos-related disease, you may be able to receive compensation. Veterans can file a legal claim against the asbestos companies that sold their products to the military. No branch of the military will be sued.
Veterans can also receive compensation and medical treatment through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and its health care system. The VA recognizes that mesothelioma is a serious threat to veterans, and offers a number of benefits for those affected.
Our Military Members’ Sacrifices
Hundreds of thousands of U.S. military members have selflessly dedicated their lives to serving our great nation. Sadly, many of them have given their lives to protect the rights and freedoms of fellow American citizens.
One of the little-known ways that veterans have made the ultimate sacrifice is by unknowingly putting themselves at risk through exposure to asbestos.
Like all who developed mesothelioma, veterans are victims of deceit on the part of unethical manufacturers who sold asbestos to the military despite the well-known health risks.
As a result of this negligence, countless veterans are now being diagnosed with mesothelioma, asbestosis and other related illnesses. They’re still paying the ultimate sacrifice, even decades after serving.
It’s vital for the men and women of our armed forces to know that they are not alone in their fight against asbestos illnesses. Support networks, bankruptcy trust funds and the VA have all developed important avenues through which veterans and their families can seek treatments and compensation.
Military Asbestos Applications
The U.S. military was one of the largest purchasers of asbestos-containing products.
Asbestos use was especially high during war times. World War II saw the military widely use asbestos as the production of military assets ramped up. Asbestos products were used in military assets like warships, aircraft, armored personnel carriers, barracks, warehouses, and more.
Many veterans wonder how a product that was so abundantly used could have such well-known yet ignored health consequences. Victims also grapple with why the military chose to use asbestos and not switch to alternative products.
Like many organizations, the military used asbestos extensively because it appeared to be an incredibly useful product. By nature, asbestos is fire-retardant, which is essential in military construction for preserving human lives from weapon fire. Asbestos is also a natural insulator, making it the perfect construction material in military buildings.
Asbestos appeared to have plenty of other benefits for military construction.
Asbestos was favored because it is:
- Cheap to purchase
- Resistant to heat, water, and chemical corrosion
- Virtually indestructible, and capable of withstanding the demands of military operations
Sadly, the military was also at first deceived about the health risks associated with asbestos exposure. When the medical evidence revealed the long-term consequences of asbestos exposure, the damage was already done. Military members now account for one of the largest demographics of mesothelioma cases in the world.
Which Branches of Military Used Asbestos?
All U.S. military branches have used asbestos throughout their history. Military members stationed overseas may still be involved in the direct handling of asbestos-based products. Though every branch had asbestos applications, some used it more abundantly than others.
The different amounts of asbestos use throughout the military means there are varying levels of health risks for certain military occupations.
Here’s an overview of the different military branches and how they each applied asbestos in their operations:
Asbestos Use in the Navy
The U.S. Navy has by far the highest exposure risk of any military branch. Asbestos was a key construction material in shipbuilding. Sailors responsible for shipbuilding and shipyard work had the highest levels of asbestos exposure. That’s because they were directly handling asbestos-based insulation that would line the entire structure of every warship built in the mid-20th century.
Sailors who spent extended periods of time aboard navy vessels are also at high risk of developing mesothelioma or another asbestos-related illness.
Sailors were confined to close quarters in poorly ventilated ships, making it virtually impossible to escape environmental asbestos exposure.
Additionally, if you worked directly with boilers, you’re also at high-risk due to the asbestos that was used to insulate and protect boilers and boiler rooms. If you served in the Navy as a shipyard worker or sailor when asbestos was in use, you may be at risk of developing an asbestos-related disease today.
Asbestos Use in the Army
Army soldiers were exposed to asbestos in several ways. First, asbestos was a key product used in Army vehicles. Asbestos-based clutches, brake pads and gaskets were abundant, and Army mechanics now face the risk of developing asbestos-related injuries. In addition, any soldier who spent any time in Army vehicles could have been exposed to asbestos.
Though asbestos was phased out of Army operations, veterans of the recent Afghanistan and Iraq wars were likely exposed to asbestos when buildings exploded.
These Army vets are still at risk of developing mesothelioma due to the 20-50 year period it takes to develop this cancer after asbestos exposure.
Asbestos Use in the Air Force
Like the Army and Navy, the Air Force also relied on many asbestos-based products. Cockpits and engines were all lined with asbestos as a fire-retardant insulation. Pilots, mechanics and aircrew members like gunners all would have been exposed to asbestos regularly.
If you served in the Air Force between the 1930s and 1980s, it’s possible you were exposed to asbestos. Be sure to monitor yourself for any symptoms of mesothelioma today. It takes 20 to 50 years after your initial exposure to develop this cancer, so you could be at risk.
Asbestos Use in the Marines
Many past and active duty members of the Marine Corps could be at risk of developing mesothelioma.
The Marine Corps regularly used ships, vehicles and aircraft that all contained asbestos. Working closely with the Navy during war, Marines often had similar levels of exposure risk as sailors.
In recent years, Marines who served in Afghanistan and Iraq may have been exposed to asbestos through building explosions.
Asbestos Use in the Coast Guard
Coast Guard veterans who served on military ships between the 1930s and 1980s are at risk of developing mesothelioma.
In particular, Coast Guard members who worked closely around boilers, gaskets, insulation, electrical wiring and piping may have been directly exposed to asbestos.
Additionally, sleeping quarters on board ships were also lined with asbestos, putting Coast Guard members at risk of asbestos exposure while they slept. These ships were poorly ventilated, meaning that any disturbed asbestos fibers could continue to circulate through the ship and risk inhalation by crew members.
Veterans and Legal Compensation
Veterans who have developed mesothelioma or other asbestos-related illnesses may be eligible for compensation to cover their treatment costs, lost wages and other expenses.
Veterans can seek to obtain compensation for asbestos exposure through:
- The VA Disability Compensation Program
- The VA Health Care System
- Filing a legal claim against asbestos companies
VA Disability Benefits
One method of obtaining compensation is through the VA’s disability compensation program. The VA is well aware of the health consequences associated with asbestos exposure and has established compensation methods to account for the rising rates of ill veterans.
The VA considers mesothelioma and other asbestos-related illnesses as qualifying under their disability compensation structure if your asbestos exposure was related to your service.
It doesn’t matter if you no longer serve in the armed forces. The VA continues to support its veterans regardless of when they served.
However, it’s important to note that there are specific criteria that veterans must meet in order to qualify for VA medical benefits:
- You must have a diagnosis of an asbestos-related disease
- You must be a veteran with any discharge other than dishonorable
- You were exposed to asbestos during your military service
Usually, filing a VA disability claim for mesothelioma qualifies veterans for 100% disability coverage. Under the VA’s disability compensation structure, 100% coverage equates to $3,057 per month and can be higher for veterans with dependents or who are undergoing caregiver assistance.
This is a 100% tax-free monthly benefits program. Compensation amounts are not determined by a veteran’s employment status or their current levels of income.
For most veterans, your occupation or role in the military and where and how you served will likely serve as evidence that your asbestos-related illness developed as a result of your exposure during active duty.
However, when you file a VA claim, you’ll likely undergo a medical examination. The VA typically requests a nexus letter — a document stating an official medical opinion about the relationship between your history of asbestos exposure in the military and your disease.
Filing a VA claim can be overwhelming. Claims need to be filed exactly in accordance with VA criteria or else veterans risk having their claim delayed or rejected.
Many veterans assume that if they are awarded disability benefits from the VA for their condition, then they must use the VA health care system for treatment. This isn’t true.
While the VA health care system does employ some of the nation’s top mesothelioma specialists, which cancer center you receive treatment through is entirely up to you.