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All members of the U.S. Military have served the country and made sacrifices. Too many, though, made sacrifices that should have been prevented, including the illnesses and deaths caused by exposure to asbestos. Asbestos was used extensively in all kinds of military installations, bases, vehicles, ships, and aircraft. Members of the U.S. Army that were exposed to asbestos were put at risk of developing deadly illnesses like mesothelioma.
The U.S. Veterans Affairs Administration (VA) provides resources for veterans who were made sick by asbestos during service, including those who served in the U.S. Army. These resources can help veterans seek disability and other types of compensation. Veterans may also choose to file lawsuits to seek additional compensation and recognition of responsibility. These are typically filed against the manufacturing companies that made the materials that made them sick.
What is Asbestos and Why Was it Used in the Army?
Asbestos is a mineral that can be used to insulate and fireproof materials. It can also be used to strengthen materials like drywall and cement. As a natural mineral that can be mined, asbestos has been around and in use for thousands of years. It wasn’t until the last fifty years, though, that people started to realize just how dangerous it could be.
Until the 1970s people in the U.S. used asbestos with no regulations or restrictions, and that included the U.S. Military. The Navy used asbestos most of all, because it is lightweight and has properties that are useful in ship construction.
Asbestos resists fire, heat, electricity, and chemical reactions so it can be used as insulation and in fireproofing. Other branches of the military also used asbestos in vehicle and aircraft components and in the construction of bases for these same properties.
How Asbestos Causes Illness
Asbestos is a natural mineral, but it is also carcinogenic, meaning it can cause cancer in humans. Asbestos is made up of bundles of small fibers that can easily break apart. These fibers are like microscopic needles, and when airborne, can be inhaled or ingested accidentally. They then become lodged in tissues of the body, most often those in the airways. Lodged there these fibers cause irritation and damage, and in some people they cause mutations in cells that lead to cancer.
Asbestos-related illnesses don’t usually show up for decades after the initial exposure, which means that Army veterans are being diagnosed decades after service with things like lung cancer, asbestosis, and mesothelioma. The long latency period also means that once it has been diagnosed, an asbestos illness is very difficult to treat or cure, and in most cases it is terminal.
Army Vehicles and Aircraft
One way in which Army veterans have been exposed to asbestos is through its use in mechanical applications. Vehicles and aircraft used in the Army contained asbestos in fireproofing materials, in gaskets and valves, in brakes, and in engine parts.
Those soldiers most at risk of being exposed to asbestos in vehicles and mechanical components were mechanics, electricians, and welders who maintained and repaired aircraft and vehicles. They handled the parts with asbestos and possibly inhaled the fibers.
Asbestos in Army Bases and Barracks
All members of the U.S. Army were at risk of exposure to asbestos simply by working and living on bases. It wasn’t until 1998 that the Army adopted a management program to abate and reduce asbestos where soldiers work and live. The bases constructed and used by the Army contained asbestos in cement, in drywall, in flooring and ceiling tiles, and in insulation, among other building materials.
Army Veterans Most at Risk for Asbestos Exposure
Those Army veterans that were most likely to have been exposed to asbestos during service had specific jobs, like mechanical repair work, that put them around asbestos. Army vehicles were a major source of asbestos exposure for decades and those mechanics that worked on them were put at risk. They handled the parts that contained asbestos, like clutches and breaks, which can lead to the fibers becoming exposed and getting into the air where they could be inhaled.
Also at risk were any Army service men and women who worked in construction. Since asbestos has been used so extensively in construction, those that handled the materials and used them to build structures were more likely than others to be exposed. Other jobs that put Army veterans at special risk of exposure to asbestos include pipe fitting, welding, insulation work, installation of military equipment, demolition, and any kind of work in shipyards.
The Army Corps of Engineers
Another group of army veterans of note are those that worked as part of the Army Corps of Engineers. These service men and women were particularly at risk of exposure to asbestos. This is because they were involved in the a lot of construction jobs, many of which contained asbestos. The Corps designed and constructed most of the infrastructure used by the Army and the Air Force. Today these soldiers are now responsible for abating much of the asbestos used through the infrastructure.
Assistance through the VA
Retired members of the Army that are now being diagnosed with asbestos-related conditions have resources available to them through the VA, and these resources are free. The VA will help veterans find more information about mesothelioma and other illnesses, get medical care, and file claims for compensation.
Veterans can file a claim through the VA, but to win compensation must prove that they were exposed to asbestos during the course of service, and that the exposure is what caused mesothelioma, lung cancer, asbestosis, or some other similar condition. The VA may award specialized health care, disability compensation, or compensation for the families of deceased veterans.
Other Legal Resources
Army veterans may also choose to file a lawsuit if they feel that someone knew about the risks of their asbestos exposure and failed to warn them about it. For instance, several military veterans have filed suits against the companies that made materials used by the military and that contained asbestos. Some of these cases have won compensation for victims. If you believe you could make a case like this, let a lawyer experienced in asbestos law help guide your next moves and give you the best chance of being successful.
Page Edited by Patient Advocate Dave Foster
Dave has been a mesothelioma Patient Advocate for over 10 years. He consistently attends all major national and international mesothelioma meetings. In doing so, he is able to stay on top of the latest treatments, clinical trials, and research results. He also personally meets with mesothelioma patients and their families and connects them with the best medical specialists and legal representatives available.