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Asbestos and the Military, History, Exposure & Assistance

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The Lethal Health Issues with Asbestos

Asbestos is banned for virtually all uses in the United States today, recognized as a potent carcinogen and the reason for tens of thousands of asbestosis, asbestos cancer and malignant mesothelioma deaths among American workers and veterans. 

Mesothelioma is a particularly virulent form of cancer for which the only known cause is asbestos and which is always fatal.  It has an unusual characteristic for a fast moving, fatal cancer: mesothelioma has an uncommonly long period of latency of twenty to fifty years, which means that veterans exposed to asbestos that retired from active duty decades ago are getting sick today.

History of Asbestos Diseases among Veterans

A brief look at the history of asbestos shows that prior to the mid 1970s it was considered a wondrous mineral that was used in thousands of products due to its insulation properties and the fact that it is impervious to flame: it absolutely will not burn.  Asbestos can be woven into textiles, which were used to manufacture fire protective aprons, gloves and clothing for workers in overheated environments

Asbestos insulation was used on industrial production lines, in refineries and chemical plants, for insulating boilers in building furnace rooms and Navy engine rooms, for fire protection in walls, doors and floors that required it, and for thousands of products such as clutches and brakes that needed a fireproof, flexible, resilient material.

The country's veterans experienced more than their share of exposure to asbestos and the fibers it gives off that cause these fatal asbestos diseases.  Today there are approximately 25 million veterans in the United States from all wars and all branches of service, in a nation of over 305 million people.  While veterans represent 8% of the nation?s population, they comprise an astonishing 30% of all known mesothelioma deaths that have occurred in this country.

Veteran Asbestos Exposure

Virtually every ship commissioned by the United States Navy between 1930 and about 1970 contained several tons of asbestos insulation in the engine room, along the miles of pipe aboard ship and in the walls and doors that required fireproofing.  The sailors that manned these ships and the men who repaired them in Navy shipyards were prime candidates for asbestos exposure, a fact borne out by the disease statistics.

Active members of the Marine Corps and the United States Army saw their share of asbestos as well, and are still seeing it today.  While asbestos products were discontinued by about 1980, hundreds of military installations were left with asbestos flooring, flooring tiles, ceiling tiles, wall insulation, asbestos cement in building foundations and other base structures, as well as the asbestos found in thousands of military vehicles in the form of brakes, gaskets and insulation. 

Veterans of the Vietnam era were exposed to the asbestos still remaining in transport ships, in bases and in vehicles employed early in the Vietnam deployments.  And there have been hundreds of reports of barracks, base operations facilities and mechanical shops that have undergone haphazard asbestos removal, often conducted by crews of enlisted men. 

Disability Rights for Veteran Asbestos Victims

While the VA will treat qualified veterans with asbestosis or mesothelioma cancer,  but it is difficult to claim asbestos health problems as a service related disability.  The regulation on this issue was written in 1988 and still stands. 

Veterans must prove that their disease is related to asbestos exposure, that the exposure occurred during active duty, and that there are no other incidents of potential exposure either preceding or following active duty.  That's not always easy when the disease surfaces decades after completing active duty.

Veteran's Legal Rights

In any case, veterans cannot sue the government for damages incurred during service in the Armed Forces.  What they can do, however, is sue the asbestos company that manufactured the asbestos products which caused eventual development of asbestosis, asbestos lung cancer or mesothelioma. 

There have been hundreds of thousands of lawsuits filed against asbestos companies for product liability compensation.  Veterans are not barred from taking this legal avenue and have a good chance of prevailing. 

Talk with an asbestos attorney about the nature of asbestos legal action.  It?s the largest single torts (civil suits) area in the history of the country and it?s compensation that is due the veteran who inhaled deadly asbestos fibers while serving the nation.

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