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Veterans that served in the U.S. Marine Corps are at risk of developing asbestos-related illnesses because of exposure to this harmful mineral. It was used extensively in military ships, shipyards, and barracks and bases, putting many men and women serving the country at risk. Decades after service, many of these veterans are suffering and dying from mesothelioma, lung cancer, and other related illnesses.
The U.S. Veterans Affairs Administration (VA) can be a source of compensation for these victims of asbestos exposure, as well as free assistance, guidance, and health care, but it is not always enough, especially for the dependents who lost a loved one. A lawsuit is another option, and some veterans have had success suing the companies that made the asbestos-containing materials that caused so much harm.
Asbestos in the Marine Corps
Asbestos is a natural mineral that is mined and that has properties that make it useful for a number of applications. It is strong; it resists fire and heat; it resists electrical current; and it resists chemical reactions. It is inexpensive and abundant. All of these factors mean that asbestos has been used throughout history to insulate, fireproof, and add strength to materials.
As industrial manufacturing and construction boomed in the late 1800s, the use of asbestos in all kinds of applications rose significantly. The U.S. Military, including the Marine Corps, began stockpiling asbestos on the eve of World War II, mostly for constructing and outfitting new ships. Asbestos was used most extensively on Navy ships, which were used to transport Marines to locations around the world.
Asbestos was used on ships as insulation for electrical wires, pipes, ducts, boilers, and engine room components. It was used in pumps, gaskets, and valves, and as fireproofing material. In this latter capacity it was used in walls and panels and in the bedding and clothing that many military members wore as protection against fire and heat.
The members of the Marine Corps were also exposed to asbestos because of its use in armored vehicles and aircraft. Aircraft technicians in the Marines were especially exposed to asbestos because they repaired components that included the material like brake pads and engine gaskets.
Tanks and other armored vehicles used by the Marines also contained asbestos in the insulation, in the gloves of gunners, as fireproofing, and in the gaskets, brakes, and certain engine parts. Mechanics and gunners were especially at risk of exposure to asbestos. Anyone who made repairs to any components of vehicles, aircraft, or ships that contained asbestos were at special risk of health effects.
Asbestos in Shipyards and on Bases
Serving in an active duty role on a ship, on aircraft or with vehicles was not the only way in which Marine veterans were exposed to asbestos. Just about every military installation used asbestos, including the shipyards and bases on which Marines worked and lived. Because military ships used so much asbestos until about the 1970s, Marines that worked in shipyards were at risk for exposure to the fibers used in construction and repairs.
On bases and in the very barracks where these veterans lived and slept, asbestos was used virtually everywhere. The flooring, the ceiling panels, roofing material, insulation, and other materials contained asbestos to add strength, heat and fire protection, and insulation.
In 1990 the Yuma Marine Corps Air Station, which is in Arizona, was listed as a Superfund site by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The designation came as a result of asbestos contamination, including extensive contamination in the soil throughout the base. Other bases found to be contaminated with asbestos are Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base and El Toro Marine Corps Air Station.
Marine Veterans and Mesothelioma
Asbestos exposure is a big concern because of the risks it poses to human health. Breathing in the fibers that easily become airborne from asbestos can cause serious damage to internal tissues. This damage is the leading risk factor for mesothelioma, a deadly and aggressive type of cancer. When inhaled, the fibers of asbestos get stuck in tissues, especially in airways, lungs, and pleura, the tissue lining around the lungs. These fibers can migrate to other locations too, including the abdomen, through the lymph system.
Once lodged in the body, asbestos fibers remain there for long periods of time, causing damage. Illnesses caused by this damage are typically not diagnosed for several decades. Veterans of the Marine Corps and other branches of the military may not realize they are sick for many years after service. Once diagnosed, the disease is usually well advanced, difficult to treat, and impossible to cure.
Asbestosis and lung cancer are more common illnesses related to asbestos. The former is chronic, but not deadly and cannot be cured. Lung cancer caused by asbestos is usually deadly and incurable, although if diagnosed early enough may be successfully treated. Less common, but most deadly of all is mesothelioma. This cancer affects the lining of the lungs in most instances, is difficult to treat, and has low survival rates.
One of the most famous victims of mesothelioma was actor Steve McQueen who died from the illness in 1980. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1947 to 1950 and was likely exposed to huge quantities of asbestos while working on pipes on ships. He was just one of many Marines that developed and died from this terrible disease after serving the country.
VA Assistance for Marine Corps Veterans
Marine Corps veterans that were exposed to asbestos and later developed mesothelioma or other related illnesses may be eligible for free assistance from the VA in the form of disability compensation and health care. The Marines and the U.S. Navy have a program that screens and monitors those service members and veterans who were at risk from asbestos exposure. Through this program, Marine veterans can get free, early screening for asbestos-related diseases.
The VA will also help veterans seek compensation through various programs, as well as health care. Marine veterans may be eligible for disability, special disability, monthly compensation, and treatment at VA facilities, including the Los Angeles VA facility that specializes in mesothelioma. Dependents of deceased veterans may also seek compensation through the VA. Veterans interested in seeking compensation should contact the VA to find out what to do next and to get free resources.
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.