Veterans make up around 30% of mesothelioma diagnoses in the United States. This is primarily a result of asbestos exposure while veterans were in active duty in the military. Since mesothelioma has a long latency period of 10 – 50 years, many veterans are just now experiencing symptoms and facing a mesothelioma diagnosis, decades after serving.
Those currently serving in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard continue to face the risk of exposure, as past uses of asbestos still linger on many bases, on Navy ships and in other equipment. According to the 2016 census, there are around 20.4 million U.S. veterans, all of whom may have been exposed to asbestos during their service.
Asbestos Exposure and Veterans
There are many ways that veterans have been exposed to asbestos throughout their time of service. Asbestos was a common material used in military bases, equipment and vehicles, largely for fireproofing, heat resistance and durability purposes.
Each time they fired the guns, the dust would fall into our beds.
Boilerman, E2, USS Uhlmann, 1959-63, Navy Veteran
Some of the most dangerous locations with asbestos exposure were within sleeping quarters and specifically on ships. These areas were often tight, small spaces, where asbestos fibers could easily become highly concentrated when disturbed. With more fibers in the air, it’s easier for people to unknowingly inhale or ingest the microscopic fibers, putting occupants at a higher risk of developing asbestos-related diseases, like malignant mesothelioma.
- Ammunition storage rooms
- Boiler rooms and engine rooms
- Machinery rooms
- Mess halls
- Military sleeping quarters and barracks
- Military vehicles
- Training facilities
Asbestos Exposure by Military Branch
The types of asbestos exposure that U.S. Military members face differs based on the branch in which they served. Within each branch, there are also specific positions that have been studied, showing a higher risk of asbestos exposure. For example, one study found that job categories with the highest potential for exposure to asbestos include machinist’s mates, boiler technicians, water tenders, pipe fitters and firemen.
Members of the Air Force have been exposed to asbestos through their living quarters, which often had walls and installations constructed with asbestos materials. They were also commonly exposed through equipment parts, such as aircraft braking systems and engine insulators. As a result, those that serviced Air Force planes were at very high risk.
The two main ways that Army members were exposed to asbestos was through buildings on base and military vehicles. Walls, insulation, flooring and other construction materials often used asbestos. Military vehicles also contained asbestos within brakes, gaskets and other parts that faced frequent repairs.
Coast Guard veterans have been exposed to asbestos primarily through Navy ships and shipyards. Vessels were often built with asbestos for durability and fireproofing, which posed a risk during construction, when damaged or when undergoing repairs.
Like members of the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard, Marines faced asbestos exposure mainly through ships. Many Marine missions were taken to sea, where veterans were then exposed to asbestos aboard vessels that used the material throughout its construction and parts like boilers and pipe fittings.
Navy veterans are considered to be the most at risk of asbestos exposure and developing mesothelioma. Ship construction, engine room equipment and boiler room equipment was ridden with asbestos to help prevent fires and withstand years of heavy use. The closed, tight quarters aboard these vessels put everyone on board at a high risk of inhaling or ingesting fibers, as the poor ventilation allowed the asbestos fibers to become highly concentrated in the air.
Risks of Asbestos Exposure
Serving in the military is one of the most common ways that individuals have faced occupational exposure. Asbestos has been known to cause mesothelioma, asbestosis, lung cancer and other asbestos cancers.
Veterans make up around 30% of all diagnosed mesothelioma cases in the United States. Since mesothelioma symptoms can take decades to appear, many veterans who served years ago are just now being diagnosed with the cancer. For those facing a mesothelioma diagnosis, there is veteran-specific help that may be available.
Veterans diagnosed with mesothelioma can seek a variety of benefits. One way is through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The VA offers healthcare benefits to veterans, as well as options for financial compensation.
Veterans can choose to utilize VA benefits, or they can pursue compensation through options such as asbestos trust funds, mesothelioma lawsuits and mesothelioma settlements.
Veterans’ Health Care
There are experienced mesothelioma doctors and mesothelioma cancer centers located around the United States that can deliver specialized care. Veterans can seek mesothelioma treatment from these cancer centers, or, they can look for care from a veteran-specific facility. These treatment centers have experience treating veterans and may have insight into additional resources for those who have served.
The VA also offers health care benefits to veterans, which can deliver more specialized care at lower costs. This can include health exams, surgeries, medical treatments and specialized intensive care. Patients should discuss their health care options with their medical care team to ensure they are getting the best treatment options available.
Compensation for Veterans
Treatment for mesothelioma can grow costly with travel and lodging expenses to receive treatment, medical bills and lost income. As a result, many veterans seek financial help. One way to recover compensation is through a mesothelioma lawsuit. Veterans’ mesothelioma lawsuits cannot be filed against the U.S. government, but are filed against the companies or manufacturers responsible for producing asbestos products. Asbestos companies knowingly put consumers and employees at risk, eventually leading to a growing number of mesothelioma diagnoses, especially among veterans.
Additionally, veterans may be able to apply for disability benefits. Like filing an asbestos lawsuit, filing a claim for disability compensation requires evidence, including:
- Medical records showing a mesothelioma diagnosis
- Service records indicating job or specialty
- Doctor’s statement proving a connection between contact with asbestos during military service and the diagnosis
After the claim is built, it’s then submitted online or to a VA office, where it is then reviewed. Once a decision is made, compensation will be awarded, if the case is won. To file a VA claim, veterans should work with a mesothelioma lawyer that has experience offering veteran legal support. Mesothelioma lawyers will also be able to help gather the necessary evidence, so veterans and their loved ones can focus on their treatment journey.
If a disability claim isn’t the best option, veterans or their loved ones may also pursue Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) or Special Monthly Compensation (SMC). DIC is for surviving family members of a veteran who has passed from a service-related disability, such as mesothelioma. SMC, like DIC, is a tax-free benefit that can be paid to veterans or their loved ones and is meant to cover health-related expenses if a patient needs assistance as a result of their diagnosis.
Author: Tara Strand
Senior Content WriterRead about Tara
Reviewer: Jennifer R. Lucarelli
Lawyer for Mesothelioma Victims and Their FamiliesRead about Jennifer
Pew Research Center. The changing face of America’s veteran population. November 2017.
Till JE, Beck HL, et al. Asbestos exposure and mesothelioma mortality among atomic veterans. International Journal of Radiation Biology. December 2018:1-15. doi: 10.1080/09553002.2018.1551641
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Veterans Asbestos Exposure. Disability Benefits.