10 Min Read
Last Updated: 04/17/2024
Fact Checked

Written by Aaron Munz | Veterans Review By Nathan Pinner | Edited By Walter Pacheco

Fact Checked

Mesothelioma in the Air Force

Asbestos causes mesothelioma, a rare cancer that can affect the lining of the lungs and abdomen and, less commonly, the lining of the testes or heart. Asbestos exposure increases your risk of developing mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases.

Asbestos is composed of many tiny fibers that can be inhaled or ingested. These fibers become airborne when asbestos-containing products are handled or damaged. Your risk of mesothelioma increases with your amount of asbestos exposure.

I live day to day. Mesothelioma is a fight. And I have a lot going in my life to make it worth the fight.

Mesothelioma is an aggressive type of cancer that is best treated when detected early. Veterans who served in the Air Force or other branches of the U.S. military with known asbestos exposure should be screened for asbestos-related diseases. Veterans with service-connected mesothelioma can receive free treatment and disability compensation from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Are Air Force Veterans Still at Risk of Developing Mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma typically develops decades after asbestos exposure. This means that veterans have a high risk of developing mesothelioma 20-60 years after exposure. The use of asbestos was largely discontinued in the 1970s, but asbestos-containing products still exist today. This means that Air Force personnel who served in the 1980s and later are still at risk of developing mesothelioma.

Working on older aircraft and vehicles can result in asbestos exposure. Additionally, asbestos was used extensively throughout building construction through the 1970s. Working or living in older buildings, including barracks and housing, is a potential source of exposure.

Asbestos Exposure in the Air Force
  • Military occupational exposure: Veterans who served in the Air Force, particularly in before the 1980s, often encountered asbestos within the performance of their job tasks.
  • Legacy asbestos exposure: Older buildings, aircraft, equipment and automotive parts still exist today that were made with asbestos.
  • Secondary asbestos exposure: Asbestos fibers can be carried on uniforms and equipment, exposing family members and other service members to asbestos.

Veterans are at a higher risk for developing mesothelioma than the general population. While older veterans are at the highest risk for mesothelioma because of the latency period from exposure to development of the disease, younger veterans can also be exposed to asbestos, putting them at risk of developing mesothelioma in the future.

Benefits for Air Force Veterans With Mesothelioma

VA benefits are available for eligible veterans who have a service-connected disability or financial need. Veterans diagnosed with mesothelioma may qualify for VA benefits with a 100% disability rating if they have a documented history of military asbestos exposure. Veterans who have mesothelioma may still qualify for mesothelioma treatment at a VA hospital, even if it’s not connected to their military service.

Available Benefits
  • Aid and Attendance: Also called housebound benefits, aid and attendance claims provide monthly payments to those who are housebound or need help with daily activities.
  • Dependency and Indemnity Compensation: DIC or dependency and indemnity compensation provides monthly payments to the surviving dependents of veterans who die of mesothelioma.
  • Caregiver Benefits: The VA offers a Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers that provides caregiver benefits to veteran caregivers, including a monthly stipend, respite care, mental health counseling and more.
  • Geriatric and Extended Care: The VA’s Geriatric and Extended Care programs provide respite care, home health care, palliative care and assisted living or nursing home care.
  • VA Pension: Monthly payments to veterans and their surviving spouses are provided based on certain requirements that include income and net worth.

VA benefits aren’t only for veterans. Additional benefits are available for spouses, dependent children and special-needs family members. Some of the VA benefits for spouses and dependent children continue after a veteran’s death. You can learn more about VA claims in our FAQ about VA benefits.

How Air Force Veterans Can File a VA Claim for Asbestos

To receive VA benefits, you must file a claim. Filing VA claims for mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases can be a frustrating experience. The veterans department at The Mesothelioma Center has a team of VA-accredited claims agents with the experience needed to guide you through the process.

Anything the VA provides, we can help patients access, including healthcare, disability claims, spousal support or aid and attendance.

Our claims agents work with Veteran Service Officers and veterans to provide their expert assistance for navigating the claims process. In addition to your service records and military medical records, we can help you assemble your needed evidence of military asbestos exposure and other supporting medical information.

VA-accredited claims agents also help veterans find other medical, financial and legal resources. Our goal is to help veterans with mesothelioma receive the best possible care and support.

Asbestos Settlements and Legal Claims for Air Force Veterans

Legal claims can be brought against manufacturers of asbestos-containing products the Air Force used. This includes both individual and class action lawsuits. Mesothelioma settlements range from $1 – $2 million on average, but juries can award higher amounts at trial. Some individual mesothelioma lawsuits Air Force veterans filed have resulted in settlements of more than $4 million.

While many Air Force veterans have successfully filed legal claims for asbestos exposure, each case is different. There is no guarantee that a case based on your individual circumstances will have the same results. If you wish to pursue legal action, patient advocates can help connect you with an experienced mesothelioma lawyer to learn more about what you can expect from the process.

Asbestos Exposure in the Air Force

Air Force personnel can have asbestos exposure from vehicles, equipment, buildings and aircraft made using asbestos. Aircraft maintainers and people servicing ground vehicles may be at higher risk than other Air Force members for asbestos exposure from vehicle parts — including brake pads and shoes made with asbestos. Additionally, airmen deployed to combat zones may have been exposed to asbestos fibers from older buildings that were damaged or demolished.

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

Asbestos was used extensively in building construction on military bases until the 1970s. Older buildings, including barracks and base housing, still have asbestos-containing materials today. Living or working on a military installation can be a source of asbestos exposure.

Highest-Risk Air Force Occupations

Veterans who worked in specific occupational specialties are at higher risk for asbestos exposure. Military personnel and civilian contractors doing electrical work, construction, asbestos abatement and boiler maintenance on Air Force bases have the highest risk of asbestos exposure.

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

Air Force firefighters are at especially high risk of asbestos exposure because personal protective equipment made with asbestos was widely used. Additionally, fighting fires in areas where asbestos is used, including aircraft, buildings and boiler rooms, can be a source of dangerous asbestos exposure.

Asbestos on Planes

Asbestos is used in many applications where heat-resistant materials are needed, including aircraft. Asbestos has been used in various aircraft parts, including electrical insulation, engine heat shields, gaskets and aircraft brake pads.

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

The Air Force used asbestos until the early 1980s. Both flight crews and aircraft maintainers who worked on older aircraft are at risk of asbestos exposure.

Manufacturers That Supplied Asbestos

Many companies have supplied asbestos-containing materials to the Air Force. These include aircraft and vehicle parts as well as construction materials.

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

The main asbestos-containing products the Air Force used were aircraft insulation and gaskets. However, boilers, asbestos-covered pipes and construction materials containing asbestos were also used throughout military bases.

Secondary Asbestos Exposure in the Air Force

Secondary asbestos exposure occurs when asbestos fibers are carried on clothing, shoes, hair, skin or equipment. If you have primary asbestos exposure, then your family or those you live with could be exposed to asbestos fibers when you come home from work.

In addition to sharing living quarters, sharing the same workspace as someone working with asbestos is also a potential source of exposure. Living or working with someone with primary asbestos exposure can put you at risk for secondary exposure.

Mesothelioma Treatment for Air Force Veterans

The VA healthcare system provides free medical care for veterans with a service-connected disability and low-cost care for veterans with financial needs. The VA has mesothelioma treatment centers across the country. VA medical centers in Boston, Los Angeles, Houston, Miami and Atlanta have mesothelioma specialists.

The VA reimburses travel expenses for veterans to receive covered medical care. This helps those veterans with mesothelioma who don’t live close to one of these VA hospitals. Many VA facilities also offer telehealth services to provide care to veterans remotely.

Mesothelioma Specialists Treating Veterans

Mesothelioma specialists at the VA provide cutting-edge treatments throughout the country to veterans with mesothelioma. These doctors specialize in mesothelioma cancer care and have extensive expertise in managing treatment plans to help patients live longer.

Dr. Robert B. Cameron, pleural mesothelioma doctor

Los Angeles, California

Robert B. Cameron

Pleural Specialist | Thoracic Surgery

Expertise: Pleurectomy and Decortication, Clinical Trials

Languages: English, Spanish, Vietnamese

Dr. Abraham Lebenthal, pleural mesothelioma doctor

, VA-Accredited Claims Agents Help Veterans with Mesothelioma

Abraham Lebenthal

Pleural Specialist | Thoracic Surgery

Expertise: Pleural Mesothelioma Lung Cancer Video-Assisted Thoracoscopic Surgery Pleurectomy and Decortication Surgery

Languages: English, Spanish, Hebrew, Arabic

Dr. Eric S. Lambright, Chief of Thoracic Surgery, Veterans Affair Medical Center

Franklin, Tennessee

Eric S. Lambright

Pleural Specialist | Thoracic Surgery

Expertise: Chest Wall Resection Immunotherapy

Languages: English

Veterans with known or suspected asbestos exposure should discuss their medical history with their doctor as soon as possible. Early screenings can help diagnose mesothelioma earlier, potentially increasing the number of treatment options available to them.

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