Benefits for Air Force Veterans with Mesothelioma

Air Force veterans can receive special VA benefits if they develop an illness caused by military asbestos exposure. If their condition is not service connected, they may still be able to access low-cost VA health care and file for other types of compensation.

The U.S. Air Force has gone to great lengths in recent years to guard against asbestos exposure. But veterans remain at risk of developing mesothelioma because of the Air Force’s extensive use of the toxic mineral from the 1940s to the 1970s.

It can take anywhere from 20 to 60 years for asbestos exposure to cause cancer. This long latency period makes filing for VA benefits based on asbestos exposure a complex process.

Our Veterans Department is staffed with accredited VA claims agents who can help veterans prepare a written asbestos exposure summary and gather the necessary medical records. Understanding the requirements for proving military asbestos exposure is the key to filing a successful VA claim.

Quick Fact:
The most important benefit that veterans with mesothelioma can apply for is specialized cancer treatment at one of the VA treatment centers in Boston, Los Angeles, Miami or Houston. These VA health care systems are served by some of the best mesothelioma doctors in America.

Compensation for Air Force Asbestos Exposure

An approved mesothelioma VA claim grants veterans the maximum amount of monthly disability compensation for their family size. Dependency and indemnity compensation is available to surviving spouses of veterans who die from service-connected cancer.

It is also wise to consult an experienced mesothelioma lawyer about filing a claim against the private companies that supplied asbestos products to the Air Force.

Filing a legal claim can allow military families to recover lost income, caregiving expenses and other costs not covered by veterans benefits.

Asbestos Exposure in the Air Force

The U.S. military once valued asbestos products for their heat resistance, durability and affordability. Like the other branches of the U.S. military, the Air Force ignored the health risks of asbestos exposure until the 1970s, giving it a long history of asbestos use in bases, radar stations and aircraft.

Examples of Asbestos Found on Air Force Bases

  • The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency removed asbestos from the former Burns Air Force Radar Base in 2004. During the cleanup effort, they had to safely dispose of 377.5 tons of asbestos-containing materials, including insulation, pipe wrap, tiles and wallboard.
  • In 2009, the Air Force paid for the removal of 6,000 feet of above-ground asbestos-coated steam pipeline at the former Chanute Air Force Base.
  • In 2016, an Asia-Pacific Journal report highlighted the extensive history of asbestos exposure hazards at Kadena Air Base, the largest U.S. Air Force installation in Asia. Years of lax safety standards endangered service members, military families and civilian contractors.

In the 1980s, the Air Force began replacing asbestos-containing parts on aircraft with safer substitutes. More recently, the Secretary of the Air Force created strict guidelines for dealing with asbestos, detailed in an asbestos management document distributed in December 2014.

Davis-Monthan Air Force Base Aircraft Boneyard
Today, surplus U.S. military planes are stored in the largest airplane boneyard in the world, operated by the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group AMARG at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona

Air Force Occupations at Risk

Several Air Force occupations put service members at risk for asbestos exposure. Asbestos materials were used to build aircraft, and service members may have also been exposed to asbestos materials used in the construction of Air Force bases.

Air Force Occupations at Risk of Asbestos Exposure

  • Aircraft electricians
  • Aircraft mechanics
  • Boiler workers
  • Construction workers
  • Environmental support specialists
  • Firefighters
  • Vehicle mechanics
  • Welders

Civilian contractors and subcontractors who performed work at Air Force bases were also exposed to asbestos. At-risk jobs include construction work, electrical work, asbestos abatement and boiler maintenance.

Air Force firefighters were particularly at risk of exposure because they used to wear asbestos-containing personal protective equipment. They also responded to fires where asbestos products were prevalent, including aircraft fires and building fires in boiler rooms.

Asbestos on Planes

Asbestos was used in the building and maintenance of aircraft, primarily to protect against fire and heat. Air Force mechanics were at risk of inhaling airborne asbestos fibers while working with engines and other vehicle parts.

Air Force mechanics could encounter asbestos in:

  • Brakes
  • Cargo bay insulation
  • Cockpit heating systems
  • Electrical wiring insulation
  • Engine heat shields
  • Gaskets
  • Torque valves

Air Force service members often used asbestos to solve mechanical problems. For example, former Technical Sergeant Tony Ventura described how he developed a solution for the long-standing problem of oil leaks in the B-29 bomber engine.

My suggestion was to wrap the 36 hose fittings on each engine with metallic inserted asbestos. This piece of asbestos would act as a heat baffle. The cost per cylinder would be about 50 cents. I experimented with one cylinder to see if these 50 cents would save a very expensive engine. The engineering officers and officials from Wright Engine Company were ecstatic when the cylinder was found to be bone dry after the test flight.
Tony Ventura
WWII Veteran Technical Sergeant

Manufacturers That Supplied Asbestos

Legal documents show multiple asbestos manufacturers supplied asbestos-containing materials to the Air Force.

Companies that supplied asbestos to the Air Force include:

  • Bendix
  • Cleaver Brooks
  • Fairchild-Republic
  • General Electric Company
  • Johns-Manville
  • Owens-Corning Fiberglass
  • Pratt & Whitney
  • Raytheon
  • United Technologies

Most of these companies produced asbestos-containing gaskets and insulation for aircrafts. Others manufactured asbestos pipes, boilers and construction materials commonly used in Air Force bases.

The Department of Justice announced in June 2021 that two former employees of the U.S. military’s largest private landlord contractors pleaded guilty to fraud for covering up asbestos contamination and other hazards at several Air Force bases.

In May 2020, the U.S. Defense Department’s Inspector General issued a report on military housing units and found 38,000 contained hazardous substances such as asbestos or lead. Asbestos exposure remains a concern at many Air Force bases in the U.S. and overseas.