Asbestos Exposure in the Military
The most common place where people have experienced asbestos exposure is in the workplace. The work sites with some of the highest rates of asbestos related disease may come as a surprise: the US Armed Forces’ ships and installations around the world. Veterans are more than three times as likely to develop mesothelioma as those who have never served in the military. Mesothelioma is a rare and fatal cancer caused by asbestos exposure.
Asbestos Exposure in the Navy
While members of every branch of the military run a higher risk of asbestos disease than the civilian population, the Navy has the highest rates of asbestos exposure. Members of the Navy and civilians who built and serviced naval vessels worked in an environment awash in deadly asbestos fibers.
Because asbestos is a good heat insulator, US Navy ships built between 1930 and the early 1970s were loaded with the toxic mineral. It was used for insulation in boiler rooms and around piping that ran throughout the ships. Asbestos was also used to construct rooms and entranceways in areas of the ship that might be prone to fire, since it is also resistant to fire.
One of the greatest risk factors for developing mesothelioma, asbestos-caused lung cancer, or other asbestos related disease is a stint working in the boiler room of a Navy ship. In the heat and hustle, it was not uncommon for tiny asbestos fibers to come loose. Floating through the air and invisible to the naked eye, these fibers were easily inhaled and could stick and stay in the lungs.
Because mesothelioma usually takes decades to develop, Navy veterans are still being diagnosed with this and other diseases caused by asbestos exposure that may have occurred forty or more years ago.
Asbestos Exposure in the Army
Starting in the early 1980s, the US Armed Forces stopped using asbestos as an insulator and construction material. The legacy of asbestos lingered on much longer, though, since buildings constructed with asbestos-laden materials continued to be used for many more years. And military vehicles like trucks, cars, and motorcycles used asbestos brakes and other parts.
Veterans of the Marines and Air Force, as well as the Army, may have suffered asbestos exposure while they worked and lived in buildings on military bases that were built with asbestos in ceiling tiles, insulation, or other parts of the structures. In addition, asbestos brake linings were used on military vehicles which may have remained in service for years after the toxic properties of asbestos were understood or the dangers simply ignored. Service members who worked repairing those vehicles may have a special risk of asbestos exposure.
The US Department of Veterans Affairs provides a list of military occupations that are particularly associated with asbestos exposure: “mining, milling, shipyard work, insulation work, demolition of old buildings, carpentry and construction, the manufacturing and installation of products such as flooring, roofing, cement sheet, pipe products, or the servicing of friction products such as clutch facings and brake linings.” Even if you didn’t fill one of these roles, you may have been exposed to asbestos during your military service if you were around others doing those tasks.
Asbestos Exposure in Vietnam and Beyond
One group of veterans who appear to have an elevated chance of asbestos exposure are those who served in Vietnam. During their deployment, military ships, vehicles, and structures would all still have contained asbestos.
One of the times where there is the greatest hazard of asbestos exposure is during removal of asbestos from boiler rooms and infrastructure. Construction workers who engage in this type of work today wear special protective gear. During Vietnam, some soldiers were tasked with ripping out asbestos-laden materials, often without proper protective gear.
The US Department of Veterans Affairs also notes that veterans who served in Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries may have been subjected to asbestos exposure. Although the conflicts in the Middle East happened after the military had stopped building with asbestos, hazardous fibers may have been released when buildings built in previous decades were damaged or destroyed in the fighting.
VA Benefits and Mesothelioma
The Veterans Administration does offer healthcare for veterans suffering from mesothelioma and other diseases caused by asbestos exposure during their military service. If you have an asbestos-related disease due to asbestos exposure in the military, you are eligible to apply for disability benefits through the VA.
In fact, the VA even has special centers at some of its facilities which employ experts in mesothelioma care. Veterans can travel to these centers or receive care remotely from the specialists there.
The good news is that the cost of mesothelioma care at the VA is likely to be lower than if you pursue treatment through private insurance. The VA gives highest priority to veterans with mesothelioma, so you shouldn’t have to wait for care – once you are approved for benefits.
The bad news is that these VA benefits are not always easy to claim for diseases due to asbestos exposure. Because mesothelioma takes so long to manifest, it can be difficult to prove that your asbestos exposure took place during your military service.
Compensation for Veterans
Veterans with mesothelioma or other asbestos diseases have another option to seek compensation for their illness. Like civilians who suffer from the long term consequences of asbestos exposure, veterans have the right to file a lawsuit against the corporations that manufactured or sold the asbestos materials that made them sick.
If you served in the military prior to the late 1990s and you develop mesothelioma or another disease caused by asbestos exposure, you should talk to an experienced asbestos attorney. An asbestos lawyer can guide you through the process of claiming compensation for your illness, pain and suffering, and lost wages. A lawyer can help you protect your rights and receive the compensation you and your family need to insure that you get the best possible healthcare and that your family is taken care of once you are gone.