Millions of individuals have served the United States as members of the armed forces. Throughout the decades, these individuals have faced numerous hazards during their service, including exposure to toxic asbestos. Tens of thousands of veterans who worked with asbestos while in the United States Armed Forces have been diagnosed with some sort of asbestos-related disease, including asbestosis and mesothelioma, the latter a particularly difficult-to-fight asbestos cancer that affects the lining of the lungs (pleural mesothelioma), abdomen (peritoneal mesothelioma), or heart (pericardial mesothelioma). Some studies show that as many as 30 percent of all Americans with mesothelioma cancer are veterans who were exposed while on active duty.
Asbestos was utilized by every branch of the U.S. military in one way or another. Lauded for its incredible heat- and fire-resistant properties, asbestos was considered the best insulator available for decades. Aboard navy ships and planes, and with other military equipment that often involved heat and high temperatures, asbestos was the material of choice as the best means to avoid potential disasters, such as fires. While the engine and boiler rooms of ships were prime locations for asbestos use, this toxic substance was not limited to these areas. Asbestos could also be found in other locations, including sleeping quarters and the mess hall.
Asbestos covered pipes, it lined brakes and gaskets, and could be found in cements that were used for a variety of purposes. Veterans and civilian employees who worked in shipyards and aboard ships may have encountered toxic asbestos while serving as plumbers, electricians, welders, insulators, boilermakers, pipefitters, and more. Most worked without benefit of protective gear, making it easy to inhale hazardous asbestos dust, which would eventually scar the lungs and cause tumors that would - decades later - develop into mesothelioma.
The use of asbestos was especially rampant from the 1930s through the 1970s, when shipbuilding was at its peak. And even though its use ended in the late 1970s, the military continued employing asbestos for specific purposes, allowing exposure to continue. Today, because mesothelioma can remain latent for several decades, some Korean and Vietnam Conflict veterans are still being diagnosed with the disease and the number of victims could continue to rise.
Veterans who've suffered asbestos exposure are in a unique situation. The U.S. Department of Asbestos Affairs does recognize mesothelioma as a service-related medical condition, and while vets are not permitted to seek compensation directly from the U.S. government, they can request benefits from the Veterans' Administration if they are able to prove that their disease is asbestos-related and occurred during their military service.
Veterans with mesothelioma can also seek compensation from asbestos manufacturers (again, under the same guidelines) and, hopefully, gain some funds to assist with medical expenses, loss of income, or to secure the future of their survivors. In addition, other resources for veterans suffering from asbestos exposure have been formed by those who are facing similar challenges with asbestos-related diseases, including former military members and their families.
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