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During the Vietnam War, and in the decades prior to it, the U.S. military used asbestos extensively. Toward the end of the war, regulations forced companies to significantly decrease the use of asbestos, but by this time it was too late for many service men and women who were exposed to this harmful substance. Many Vietnam veterans were exposed to asbestos and later suffered the consequences of related illnesses, like mesothelioma.
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. Asbestos was used in abundance in bunkers, on planes and ships, wiring in mess halls and other buildings, and in various other areas. If you served during Vietnam and have been diagnosed with an asbestos-related illness, you have options for compensation and care through the VA.
Vietnam veterans are especially at 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 during this period, in ships, vehicles, protective gear, and barracks.
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 started adding 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 during the time that asbestos was harmful the human health, the Navy continued to use the dangerous mineral for decades, well into and throughout the Vietnam era. Almost every military ship during the Vietnam war era was built and repaired with asbestos materials, from the tiling on the ships’ flooring to electrical wiring, piping systems, and more.
Although asbestos use at this time wasn’t new, it was at its peak during the Vietnam War era. Veterans who served in any branch of the military during this time (1956-1975) are at special risk of developing malignant mesothelioma and other illnesses caused by asbestos exposure. Vietnam veterans who worked the following jobs carry the biggest risk:
- Roofers Carpenters
- 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 aircrafts, vehicles, and tanks. Asbestos was used in brake parts, gaskets, wiring, thermal insulation and clutch pads, so vehicle mechanics were likely exposed.
Exposure After the Military
Many Vietnam war veterans continued working in the same field they were trained in during service once they became civilians. 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.
Compensation for 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
In order to qualify for disability benefits, you must have an honorable discharge from the military and 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.
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 50 years, which means that Vietnam veterans are just now being diagnosed with asbestos illnesses.
Mesothelioma Trust Funds
Veterans cannot sue the government for injuries and illnesses, but the companies that provided asbestos materials to the military can be held liable. Many of these companies have set up mesothelioma trust funds, also known as asbestos trust funds.
Mesothelioma trust funds are funded by companies that made asbestos materials and products but have filed 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 in order 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 still may 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 have 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.
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.