Mesothelioma rates in Vietnam veterans are high because of decades of asbestos use by the U.S. military. Veterans exposed to asbestos during service, who later become ill, may file for VA benefits like disability compensation and health care.
Asbestos Use in the Military
The heaviest use of asbestos by the U.S. military was between the 1930s to the mid-1970s. This puts Vietnam veterans at a heightened risk of developing toxic, life-threatening illnesses caused by asbestos exposure.
The military used asbestos in many materials and locations, including:
- Wiring in mess halls and other buildings
- Fireproofing materials
Why Are Vietnam Veterans at Heightened Risk of Asbestos Diseases?
Vietnam veterans are at especially high risk of developing asbestos-related illnesses as compared to the general population. According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health, many Asian countries imported and used asbestos in abundance, particularly during the Vietnam War era.
In fact, even today, decades after asbestos was determined dangerous to human health, chrysotile asbestos is still used in Vietnam. The U.S. military also used asbestos in ships, vehicles, protective gear, and barracks during this period.
Vietnam Navy Veterans
Out of all of the branches in the military, Vietnam veterans who served in the Navy run the highest risk of developing life-threatening asbestos illnesses. Ships were packed with asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) during the entire span of the Vietnam War, continuing a much earlier trend.
During the 1930s, the Navy added ACMs to its ships for its ability to contain fires and its affordability and ease of use. Although the Surgeon General of the U.S. Navy warned that asbestos was harmful to human health, the Navy continued to use the dangerous mineral for decades, well into and throughout the Vietnam era.
During the Vietnam War era, almost every military ship was built and repaired with asbestos materials, from the tiling on the ships’ flooring to electrical wiring, piping systems, and more.
Peak Asbestos Use Coincided with the Vietnam War
Although asbestos use wasn’t new, it was at its peak during the Vietnam War era. Veterans who served in any military branch during this time are at special risk of developing malignant mesothelioma and other illnesses caused by asbestos exposure.
The U.S. Geological Survey reported that the U.S. used more than 700,000 tons of asbestos between 1964 and 1975.
Vietnam veterans who worked the following jobs carry the biggest risk:
- Shipyard workers
- Ship boiler workers
- Ship repairers
- Demolition workers
- Insulation installers
- Cement sheeters
Military transportation during the Vietnam era was once built and maintained with asbestos products. This includes not only ships but aircraft, vehicles, and tanks. Asbestos was used in brake parts, gaskets, wiring, thermal insulation, and clutch pads, so vehicle mechanics were likely exposed.
Can Agent Orange Cause Mesothelioma?
In addition to asbestos, veterans who served in Vietnam were at risk of exposure to Agent Orange. Agent Orange was a blend of herbicides the military used between 1962 and 1971 to clear areas of vegetation that hid enemy combatants.
Areas of heaviest spraying with Agent Orange included forests along the borders with Cambodia and Laos, in the demarcation zone, along the coast to the south, and along shipping channels near Saigon.
Like asbestos, Agent Orange is known to have caused illnesses in veterans, including cancer. The VA recognizes some soft tissue sarcomas, prostate cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, multiple myeloma, and lung cancer as possibly resulting from Agent Orange exposure. The VA does not recognize Agent Orange as a cause of mesothelioma.
Asbestos Exposure After Military Service
Once they became civilians, many Vietnam War veterans continued working in the same field they were trained in during service. For instance, construction work continued for many veterans once they left the military, but the industry outside of the military also depended heavily on asbestos materials.
Veterans who continued to work in asbestos-related fields may have been exposed after their service. This increased the risk they would later receive a mesothelioma diagnosis.
What Compensation Is Available for Vietnam Veterans?
Veterans exposed to asbestos who developed related illnesses are urged to apply for Veterans’ Affairs (VA) compensation. Mesothelioma is one of the diseases associated with asbestos in the military that’s considered a service-related disability.
Other diseases currently approved for disability pay include:
- Asbestos-related lung cancer
- Pleural effusions and plaques
- Gastrointestinal cancer
- Throat cancer
- Colorectal cancer
- Kidney cancer
- Bladder cancer
To qualify for disability benefits, you must have an honorable discharge from the military. There must be evidence that the illness is directly related to asbestos exposure that occurred during service. There are two main types of support offered to injured veterans:
- Disability pay is paid out once a month. The amount of pay each month depends on the severity of the injury and the rating the military gives the veteran. For example, a 100% disabled rating will pay out more each month than someone who is 15% disabled. Mesothelioma is currently considered a 100% disability rating.
- Free health care may also be available to veterans with disabilities. Although most injured veterans who have a service-connected disability will qualify, it’s always best to read the eligibility requirements thoroughly. Visit the VA healthcare eligibility page for additional information.
- Special monthly compensation is available to disabled or ill veterans who are homebound and need in-home care. Family caregivers can also qualify for compensation.
- Dependency and Indemnity Compensation is an option for surviving family members who qualify, regardless of whether or not the veteran had been receiving disability compensation.
If you’re a veteran and haven’t been diagnosed with mesothelioma or any other asbestos-related illness, there is a chance that you’re part of the group of veterans who weren’t affected; however, it’s crucial to get regular medical checkups, especially if you suspect you worked around asbestos.
Diseases caused by asbestos can have a latency period of up to fifty years, which means that Vietnam veterans are just now being diagnosed with asbestos illnesses.
How Much Disability Compensation Can Veterans Receive?
The VA assigns compensation amounts based on the degree of disability and any family members. The VA assigns a disability rating, from 10% to 100%, to indicate how much compensation a veteran is eligible to receive.
What Is the Disability Rating for Mesothelioma?
A diagnosis of mesothelioma is 100% disabling. Other asbestos illnesses may receive a lower rating depending on your health and lung function.
The Current VA Compensation for Mesothelioma
For 2023, the monthly compensation amount for a disability rating of 100% is $3,757. This amount is for a veteran alone. You can receive more if you have a spouse, children, or parents.
Are There Other Ways for Vietnam Veterans to Get Compensation for Asbestos Illnesses?
Anyone exposed to asbestos may take legal action against the companies that provided it. If you can determine the manufacturers that supplied asbestos to the ships or bases where you served, you can hold them accountable for your illness.
If taking legal action or making a non-VA claim, it’s best to work with an experienced lawyer. Mesothelioma lawyers have the experience and knowledge to help you prove your exposure and get the compensation you deserve.
Mesothelioma Trust Funds
Many of these companies have set up mesothelioma trust funds, also known as asbestos trust funds. Companies created asbestos trusts to compensate current and future victims of asbestos exposure.
Mesothelioma trust funds are funded by companies that made asbestos materials and products but have filed for bankruptcy. One of the stipulations of filing bankruptcy is to set aside funds to cover lawsuits brought against these companies by veterans, former employees, and anyone else affected by asbestos products linked back to each company.
A strict process must be followed to ensure the person applying for trust fund compensation is eligible. Choose an experienced mesothelioma attorney to assist you with this part of the process.
Trials and Settlements
If you don’t qualify for a trust fund claim, you may still be eligible for compensation. Not all companies have an asbestos trust fund set up, but that doesn’t mean they are any less responsible. A mesothelioma lawsuit can help you get the compensation owed to you.
These types of lawsuits generally end in settlements, but in rare cases, you’ll go to trial. Again, an experienced mesothelioma lawyer will be able to walk you through the process and give you the best chance of a successful outcome.
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with mesothelioma, asbestosis, or asbestos-related lung cancer, there is a chance you likely qualify for significant compensation. Contact us today at 1-800-692-8608 for a free consultation and additional information.Get Your FREE Mesothelioma Packet
Page Written by Mary Ellen Ellis
Mary Ellen Ellis has been the head writer for Mesothelioma.net since 2016. With hundreds of mesothelioma and asbestos articles to her credit, she is one of the most experienced writers on these topics. Her degrees and background in science and education help her explain complicated medical topics for a wider audience. Mary Ellen takes pride in providing her readers with the critical information they need following a diagnosis of an asbestos-related illness.
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.