Mesothelioma.com Resources for Patients and their Families

Veterans & Mesothelioma

Veterans and Mesothelioma

Veterans can develop mesothelioma as a result of asbestos exposure during their military service. 30% of of all Americans with mesothelioma cancer are veterans who were exposed while on active duty.

Millions of individuals have served the United States as members of the armed forces, representing all five branches of the US military (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard). Throughout the decades, these individuals have faced numerous hazards during their years of service, one of which was exposure to the naturally-occurring, yet toxic, substance known as asbestos.

Mesothelioma in the United States

Tens of thousands of veterans who worked with asbestos while in the United States Armed Forces have been diagnosed with some type 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). Of all the individuals in the United States that have been diagnosed with mesothelioma cancer, the veteran population has been affected the most.

Asbestos Exposure Causes Mesothelioma in Veterans

Asbestos, the only known cause of mesothelioma, was used by the U.S. military in literally hundreds of applications. The accessibility of this natural mineral coupled with its low cost, superior heat and fire-resistant properties, and ease of industrial application made it the product of choice in the military. To provide an example of the extent of asbestos use and exposure, it is estimated that during the years 1930 through 1978, as much as 25 million tons of asbestos were utilized by U.S. shipyards where over 4.5 million workers were employed—many of those members of the military.

Exposure to asbestos was unavoidable for some military personnel which is the reason why mesothelioma remains one of the most serious diseases affecting veterans today—particularly those individuals who served between World War II and the Vietnam War. Asbestos was found in predictable areas such as the engine and boiler rooms of ships where it was used extensively as an insulation material. However, this carcinogenic substance was not limited to these areas. Asbestos could also be found in other unforeseeable locations, including sleeping quarters and mess halls where military personnel enjoyed leisure time.

Identify Asbestos Use and Exposure by Military Branch

  • US Army

    Army

    Army veterans spent considerable time in government-constructed military installations and vehicles that were built using asbestos-containing materials prior to the 1970s.

  • US Navy

    Navy

    Navy veterans are at the greatest risk for developing mesothelioma as asbestos was widely used in naval ships and shipyards from the 1930s through the 1970s. Asbestos was a key component in over 300 materials used aboard Navy ships

  • US Air Force

    Air Force

    Asbestos was commonly used in aircraft braking systems and as an insulator for engines. Veteran Airmen that serviced planes are at particular risk of contracting diseases such as pleural mesothelioma due to their interaction with such parts.

  • Marines

    The amphibious nature of Marine Corps missions is supported by Navy warships, and such vessels were constructed with a wide variety of asbestos-containing products.

  • Coast Guard

    Coast Guard veterans were exposed to asbestos in many of the same ways as their fellow comrades in the Navy—primarily aboard ships and in shipyards where the extent of asbestos use was widespread.

U.S. Navy — Highest Risk Group for Mesothelioma Among Veterans

During the years of World War II and the Korean War, shipbuilding was at its peak. In fact, about 4.3 million Americans worked in shipyards during World War II. The daily tasks shipyard workers were required to perform placed many of them at risk for developing asbestos-related diseases.

Every day in one way or another, we were exposed to asbestos.

Shipfitter, Navy Veteran, 1955-1974

Navy veterans were exposed to high levels of asbestos present in many areas of navy ships including boiler rooms, engine rooms, galleys and sleeping quarters. While the soldiers who lived and worked aboard the ships - including gunmen, boilermen, and firemen - were susceptible to inhaling asbestos, those who built and repaired the ships were even more prone to developing diseases associated with the toxic mineral. They were tradesmen such as pipefitters, plumbers, mechanics, shipfitters, electricians, welders and boilermakers to name a few.

Each time they fired the guns, the dust would fall into our beds.

Boilerman, E2, USS Uhlmann, 1959-63, Navy Veteran

There have even been instances where military base secretaries, and others who did not work directly on ships, developed mesothelioma cancer through second-hand asbestos exposure. Second hand exposure occurs when asbestos dust is inhaled from the clothes and hair of others who worked with asbestos on the base or from an abundance of asbestos circulating through the air. Loved ones of shipyard workers have also been known to develop the disease due to the same type of secondary exposure.

Navy Posts with High Risk for Asbestos Exposure
  • Boiler Tender
  • Gunner/Seaman
  • Fireman (in engine room)
  • Boilerman
  • Engine Mechanic
  • Shipfitter (First Class Petty Officer, E6)
  • Seabee (military construction)
  • Housewife (exposed by asbestos dust on husband's laundry)

Asbestos Exposure to Mesothelioma Diagnosis: A Waiting Game for Veterans

The latency period—the time from initial exposure to asbestos to the onset of symptoms indicative of disease—for mesothelioma can range anywhere between 15 to 50 years. Essentially, this disease can remain dormant for several decades. Thus, many veterans who served during the 1950s to the 1970s are just being diagnosed with the disease. These brave men and women were unaware that they would face a terminal illness in their later years when they had hoped to be enjoying retirement and extra time with their family. Mesothelioma is a particularly difficult disease to battle, and though there have been great advances in the area of mesothelioma treatment in recent years, the overall prognosis for the disease is not a favorable one.

If I am a Veteran with Mesothelioma, What Can I Do?

While the Veterans Administration offers some guidance to afflicted personnel, it is clear that more must be done to support veterans with mesothelioma, including compensation for medical expenses, loss of income, and suffering. If you or a loved one needs assistance securing VA Benefits, it is often helpful to get help from someone familiar with the process. We encourage you to request more information, about filing an asbetsos-related VA claim.

View Sources

Asbestos Veterans Assistance Information League. http://www.availusa.org/. Accessed November 2016.

Just by doing my duty, I came down with this dreadful disease.

Fireman, E4, USS Intrepid, 1956-60 Navy Veteran

  • Help Filing VA Benefits
  • Treatment Information
  • Delivered within 24 hrs

Yes   No