Veterans at Risk
Men and women who served in the United States military were well aware of the dangers and the outside risks that came with the job of defending their country. The risks from within were never anticipated, always hidden from view.
Veterans today who served so admirably through the past 50 years remain vulnerable to long-term health issues – including mesothelioma cancer – that stem from the asbestos fibers they likely were exposed to in all branches of the military.
Asbestos once was ubiquitous in military life, used extensively for fireproofing, insulating and strengthening. It was heat resistant and affordable. The Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, U.S. Coast Guard and National Guard all made good use of it, unwilling for so long to acknowledge the long-term health risks it presented.
It wasn't until the mid-1970s, shortly after asbestos use peaked in America, that the military understood the full consequences of asbestos. Branches of the service began mandating cutbacks of asbestos use and began requiring similar cutbacks on the part of contractors that built planes, ships, barracks and weapons for the military. A decade later, the abatement process was still ongoing.
Veterans now are paying the price, an estimated 1,000 per year are still being diagnosed with mesothelioma. Because the latency period of mesothelioma is so long – it can be up to 50 years after exposure before symptoms appear – many older veterans are only now getting the disease and learning about it. And what they learn is the disease has a short life expectancy and that they need to act quickly to get a proper diagnosis and treatment.
An estimated one-third of all mesothelioma cases in the United States can be traced to veterans, though not merely because of their military service. Some veterans increased their risk of getting mesothelioma or another asbestos related illness because they worked in high-risk jobs after concluding their military service.
Veteran Jobs at Risk
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has listed a variety of duties performed by servicemen in all branches that would have exposed personnel to asbestos. Among those:
- Shipyard work
- Demolition work
- Building and maintenance of military equipment
- Repair vehicles and friction products
- Insulation work
- Manufacture/installation of roofing and flooring materials
Navy Veterans at Highest Risk
Navy veterans remain the highest risk group of veterans. From the bunks they slept in to the ships they sailed in to the installations where they worked on land, Navy personnel were exposed consistently and in large numbers. Navy ships were covered in asbestos from bow to stern. Pipes and boilers were wrapped with asbestos lagging. Other pipes were slathered with asbestos-containing paint. Asbestos materials were used in floors and ceiling tiles.
The Marines were transported into combat often in armored vehicles, or ships, loaded with asbestos. Army personnel still were living in barracks and eating in mess halls built with asbestos-containing materials. The Navy stopped filling ships with asbestos in the mid-'70s, but those ships remained in use for many years.
Even in recent years, Army soldiers in Iraq and other countries in that region were being exposed. Older buildings being demolished were riddled with asbestos fibers that became airborne.
There are other asbestos-related diseases beyond mesothelioma, also, that left veterans at risk. There are respiratory ailments, asbestosis and lung cancer.
Veteran Compensation for Illnesses
Veterans with asbestos-related illnesses also can be faced with a difficult situation when seeking compensation for their service-related illnesses. It is not an easy road to travel. Often their legal avenues are blocked. There is the Feres Doctrine that prevents suing the federal government.
The Veterans Affairs office requires veterans with mesothelioma to prove the disease is linked to military service – and not another workplace – to get VA benefits. Veterans can take legal action against the companies that manufacture and sold the products to the military. The Veterans Assistance Department has several videos explaining how veteran can get questions answered about their disability eligibility and benefits.
To learn more about why veterans are high-risk individuals for getting mesothelioma, get a free copy of the Mesothelioma Center's informational packet. It gives insight into asbestos exposure and the disease of mesothelioma and also gives guidelines for veterans to get help. Fill out this form to get a packet.