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

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

Mesothelioma in the Army

Mesothelioma is a rare and aggressive cancer that primarily occurs in the lining of the lungs and abdomen. Inhaling or ingesting asbestos fibers is the primary cause of mesothelioma. Occupational exposure is the most common type of asbestos exposure and the US Department of Veterans Affairs recognizes a number of military occupations as high risk. 

The military heavily used asbestos-containing products for the mineral’s heat-resistant properties. While no longer used, older equipment and facilities may still contain asbestos.

“When I was diagnosed with mesothelioma it made me realize the disproportionate number of veterans who develop cancer compared to their civilian counterparts. Based on the statistics we see now, we need to make sure veterans are being screened for these different problems.”
Col. Doug Thomas
U.S. Army

Early detection and treatment of mesothelioma is essential. US Army veterans with occupational asbestos exposure should be screened for asbestos-related diseases. The VA can provide screening, treatment and disability compensation for veterans with service-connected mesothelioma.

Veterans’ family members may also have experienced secondary asbestos exposure from asbestos fibers carried on gear, shoes and clothing. Older military housing may also still contain asbestos products that can be hazardous if deteriorating or disturbed.

Are Army Veterans Still at Risk of Developing Mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma has a long latency period and may not develop until 20-60 years after the asbestos exposure occurred. All Army veterans exposed to asbestos are at risk of developing mesothelioma in their lifetime.

Types of Army Asbestos Exposure
  • Legacy asbestos exposure: Older buildings, machinery and automotive parts made with asbestos still exist today.
  • Occupational exposure: A number of careers in the Army involved the heavy use of asbestos products. Demolition and combat can also disturb asbestos in buildings and equipment.
  • Secondary asbestos exposure: Family members and other service members can be exposed to asbestos fibers on laundry and equipment.

Although use was largely discontinued in the 1970s, legacy asbestos in old equipment and materials pose an ongoing risk of exposure. Asbestos was widely used in construction materials on Army bases, including base housing. Exposure can also occur during deployments where asbestos is still in active use or where older asbestos-containing buildings are damaged.

Benefits for Army Veterans with Mesothelioma

If a veteran is diagnosed with mesothelioma and has a history of military asbestos exposure, then they may qualify for VA benefits with a 100% disability rating. VA benefits are available for veterans with a service-connected disability as well as those with financial need. 

If you have mesothelioma that is not connected to your military service, you may still qualify for treatment at a VA mesothelioma treatment center. A patient advocate with VA-accreditation can help you navigate the complexities of this process.

Available Benefits
  • Disability compensation
  • Free or low-copay prescription medications
  • Home loans
  • Medical care
  • Travel allowance for medical care

VA benefits can include medical care as well as VA disability compensation. There are additional compensation benefits for veterans with service-connected conditions who are married or have dependent children. Veterans or family members with special needs may also be eligible for additional benefits. Benefits for family members continue after the veteran’s death.

How Army Veterans Can File a VA Claim for Asbestos

To determine your eligibility and receive benefits, you must file a claim with the VA. Filing a VA claim for asbestos-related diseases requires filling out multiple forms, providing your military medical records and service records, proving military asbestos exposure and providing supporting medical information. Claims agents such as the patient advocates at The Mesothelioma Center work with Veteran Service Officers and veterans, providing expert assistance in navigating the daunting claims process.

“It’s so important for veterans to see a medical specialist who understands military exposure and to connect with people who understand VA benefits and can help you file your claims.”
Former U.S. Army Capt. Aaron Munz
VA-accredited claims agent and director of the Veterans Department at The Mesothelioma Center

In addition to providing help filing VA claims, our VA-accredited claims agents connect veterans with other medical, financial and legal resources. Our goal is to help veterans with mesothelioma get the best possible care and support.

Asbestos Settlements and Legal Claims for Army Veterans

The U.S. government cannot be sued for military asbestos exposure, but manufacturers can be sued if they produced asbestos products for the military. On average, out-of-court settlements for mesothelioma range from $1 – $2 million, while verdict amounts tend to be higher.

Lawsuits have been brought against companies involved in producing asbestos and products that contain asbestos. Some individual mesothelioma lawsuits have resulted in settlements of more than $4 million for military veterans.

While many Army veterans have successfully filed legal claims for asbestos exposure, each case is different. These results are not guaranteed. The experts at The Mesothelioma Center can advise you on what you can expect from working with experienced asbestos law firms to file a legal claim.

Asbestos Exposure in the Army

There are many potential sources of asbestos exposure from serving in the Army. Military vehicles, equipment and buildings made with asbestos-containing materials — including barracks and base housing — can all be sources of asbestos exposure. Additionally, soldiers deployed to combat zones can be exposed to asbestos from damaged or demolished buildings made with asbestos-containing materials.

Army personnel were exposed to asbestos

Building construction or demolition can lead to exposure to asbestos found in older flooring, roofing, wiring, insulation, pipes and cement. Vehicle brakes and clutches can contain asbestos, leading to exposure for those servicing those vehicles. Working with high-temperature equipment, such as boilers, can expose individuals to asbestos used as insulation.

Highest-Risk Army Occupations

The risk of asbestos exposure in the Army can vary based on your military occupational specialty. It can also depend on the specific types of work you performed and the asbestos products used in those tasks. 

Building construction, maintenance and demolition, for example, have high risks of asbestos exposure if buildings or building materials were produced in the 1970s or earlier. Individuals working in motor pools or performing vehicle maintenance were frequently – and still can be – exposed to asbestos from brake pads and clutches made with asbestos.

High-Risk Army Jobs
  • Construction
  • Demolition
  • Engineering
  • Vehicle maintenance

Directly working with asbestos-containing materials has a high risk of exposure. Anyone with primary asbestos exposure can be a source of secondary asbestos exposure for those they live with. Working or living in buildings with asbestos can also lead to exposure. 

Asbestos Products Used in the Army

The Army, like other military branches, used asbestos extensively until the mid-1970s. Building materials and automotive parts are primary asbestos-containing products the Army used.

Asbestos Products
  • Automotive parts (brakes, clutches, gaskets and hood liners)
  • Cement and cement sheets
  • Electrical components and wire insulation
  • Fireproofing
  • Floor tiles and adhesive
  • Insulation

Even if you served after the 1970s, older Army buildings and equipment still exist that contain asbestos. Exposure to asbestos will be an ongoing concern for service members and veterans for decades to come.

Secondary Asbestos Exposure in the Army

Secondary asbestos exposure occurs when asbestos fibers are carried on clothing, shoes, hair, skin or equipment. If you experienced military occupational exposure to asbestos, then anyone you lived with at the time of your exposure was at risk of secondary exposure. This can include family members, roommates or other soldiers.

Additionally, indirect asbestos exposure can occur among coworkers sharing the same workspace. The U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry explains working with someone with primary asbestos exposure can put you at risk for secondary exposure.

“Secondary exposure occurred when people who did not work directly with asbestos were nevertheless exposed to fibers as a result of sharing workspace where others handled asbestos,” ATSDR explains. “For example, electricians who worked in shipyards were exposed because asbestos was used to coat the ships’ pipes and hulls [Pan S et al. 2005].”

Mesothelioma Treatment for Army Veterans

Because of the high rate of mesothelioma among veterans, the VA health care system has partnered with some of the best mesothelioma doctors in America. VA health care is affordable for low-income veterans and the VA provides free treatment for diseases connected to military service.

VA medical centers specialize in providing medical care and support for veterans. Some hospitals in the VA health system are specialized mesothelioma treatment centers. They have doctors and other health professionals with experience treating veterans with mesothelioma. The top VA treatment centers for mesothelioma are located in Boston, Los Angeles, Miami and Houston.

VA Treatment Centers

Five VA medical centers provide specialized mesothelioma care for veterans across the country. VA medical centers are often associated with other hospitals, including world-renowned research and teaching hospitals, providing the best possible mesothelioma care for veterans.

For those veterans with mesothelioma who do not live close to one of these VA hospitals, the VA reimburses travel expenses for covered medical care. Additionally, many offer telehealth services to provide care to veterans remotely.

Mesothelioma Specialists Treating Veterans

Mesothelioma doctors include surgeons, oncologists and other specialists. VA doctors treating veterans diagnosed with mesothelioma across the country have years of experience. They’re leaders in research and advanced techniques to treat veterans with this rare cancer.

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

In addition to treating veterans with mesothelioma, specialists can confirm a diagnosis for those not yet diagnosed or suspect they’ve been misdiagnosed. A second opinion and early diagnosis can extend patients’ lives.

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