Asbestos Illness Related to Military Service

National Steel and Shipbuilding Company shipyard workers use a barge crane to move the propellers and rudder of the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard, Dec. 23, 2010. (U.S. Navy photo/Joe Kane)
National Steel and Shipbuilding Company shipyard workers use a barge crane to move the propellers and rudder of the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard, Dec. 23, 2010. (U.S. Navy photo/Joe Kane)

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

Veterans who served in any of the following occupations may have been exposed to asbestos: mining, milling, shipyard work, insulation work, demolition of old buildings, carpentry and construction, manufacturing and installation of products such as flooring and roofing.

Veterans who served in Iraq and other countries in that region could have been exposed to asbestos when older buildings were damaged and the contaminant released into the air.

Disability Rights for Veteran Asbestos Victims

Veterans may file a claim for disability compensation for health problems they believe are related to exposure to asbestos during military service. VA decides these claims on a case-by-case basis

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.

Health Benefits for Veteran Asbestos Victims

If you are concerned about health problems associated with asbestos exposure during your military service, talk to your health care provider or local VA Environmental Health Coordinator.

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