As a veteran, you’ve done a lot for your country. You’ve offered your youth, spent time away from home, perhaps a mobile lifestyle, missing births and birthdays, undergoing emotional and physical trauma, and otherwise sacrificing for your fellow Americans.
It is therefore difficult to learn, years or decades after your service has ended, that you’ve been diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease that may or may not claim your life. You may feel a sense of betrayal that this happened during your service years when you were already giving so much. You may also feel confusion and concern, wondering how you’re going to pay for it and what will happen to your family.
While it’s tempting to give in to fear and overwhelm, don’t. The best bet for a positive outcome – or as positive as possible – to learn as much as you can about asbestos and its harms, what kind of exposure you may have experienced, as well as your options for treatment and financial help.
Asbestos Exposure and Harms
Asbestos is a crystalline mineral that forms into long fibers. It is mined, then separated out into fibers of different length, which are used in various applications. These are used in insulation, electronics, automotive, ore and steel refining, construction and a huge range of other applications, both military and civilians are at risk of exposure.
Asbestos forms into visible strands of fibers, but each of these is composed of thousands or millions of microscopic strands. While asbestos on a level visible to humans is flexible, it’s microscopic components are “friable,” meaning they can break into small pieces that then before airborne. This is the main mechanism by which asbestos enters the body: through the lungs.
Once there, the asbestos embeds and causes thickening of the tissue, either of the lungs itself, or of the mesothelium – a membranous lining surrounding lungs and other organs. Some research indicates that longer fibers tend to stick in the lungs, while shorter fibers are less likely to embed and cause cancers. In order to find out which you were exposed to, you should seek information about your military service from VA, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Diseases Caused by Asbestos Exposure
Asbestos is responsible for a variety of diseases. These include:
- Mesothelioma: A particularly aggressive type of cancer, mesothelioma affects the mesothelium. Most commonly, it attacks the lungs, but it may also form in the peritoneal (abdominal) cavity, or around the heart or testicles. The latter two are quite rare. Only 50 percent of patients diagnosed with mesothelioma will survive longer than a year.
- Lung cancer: While lung cancer is commonly associated with smoking, asbestos exposure is another prime cause of the disease. This type of cancer affects the tissue of the lung itself rather than the lining.
- Asbestosis: A precursor to both of the above diseases, asbestosis is characterized by chest pain and tightness, difficulty breathing, wheezing and hoarseness, persistent coughing and swelling in the head, arms and hands.
Pleural plaque and pleural effusion – thickening and fluid buildup of the lungs, respectively – may also result from asbestos exposure.
Asbestos Exposure by Wars
Unfortunately, almost every war in the 20th and 21st century to date carries a significant risk of asbestos exposure. Veterans of more recent wars may not yet know whether or not they’ve received significant exposure, which makes it very important to receive regular screenings from a physician. Let your doctor or a VA physician know that you may have been exposed so you can track symptoms and address them as soon as they crop up.
Here are the main wars in which military personnel may have come into contact with asbestos:
World War II
This era represents the heyday of asbestos use in the United States, when it first became all-pervasive in the military and civilian life. It was put into a vast array of materials, from buildings and heavy equipment to vehicles and weapons. It was used so widely, in every branch of the military, that the United States stockpiled it and became alarmed when a worldwide shortage occurred.
The Korean War saw the use of asbestos in almost every vehicle: land, water and aerial. It was considered indispensable to ship-building especially, but again ran the gamut of military branches in its use.
According to Asbestos.com, “Use of asbestos during the Vietnam War (1956-75) was at its peak in the U.S., making everyone in the Navy, Army, Air Force and Marines especially vulnerable. According to the United States Geological Survey, America averaged an annual consumption of more than 700,000 tons of asbestos from 1964-75. The all-time high was 803,000 tons in 1973.”
Because countries like Iraq and Afghanistan do not adhere to the same standards as more developed countries when it comes to construction, asbestos is still prevalent in these places. The result is that many soldiers who served in the Middle East came into contact with it. They may have encountered it during building or demolishing buildings, during bomb strikes or even while nowhere near it – thanks to the ability of winds to spread toxins far and wide.
On American Soil
Even here at home, service members aren’t safe from asbestos use. In emergencies, they may be called in to assist with FEMA efforts, such as in Katrina. In these cases, with so much destruction that occurs, asbestos is often released. They may also work at military sites that used to use a lot of asbestos and still contain high concentrations of it.
Common Military Exposure Sites
While asbestos may be found in almost every industry, the most common sites include:
- Shipyards and dry docks
- Construction sites
- Submarine docks
- Mining sites
- Steel and other refineries
- Vehicle factories
… and more.
Veteran Compensation for Asbestos-Related Diseases
If you are a veteran who has suffered from exposure to asbestos, and now has to contend with a serious disease because of it, there is a help. Firstly, VA will compensate you as long as you were not dishonorably discharged and have medical records from your doctor proving an asbestos-related disease. You may also have a claim to civil compensation if you worked in a field that used asbestos after leaving the service.
In either case, you should get in touch with one of our attorneys. We will help you navigate the challenges of filing a claim, either from the military or from another employer, and get you the mesothelioma compensation you deserve. For your sake and your family’s, don’t wait. Contact us to set up a consultation today.
- The Pathogenicity of Long Versus Short Fibre Samples of Amosite Asbestos Administered to Rats by Inhalation and Intraperitoneal Injection. (1986). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2872911
- Asbestos-Related Lung Diseases. (ND). Retrieved from https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/asbestos-related-lung-diseases
- Asbestos Exposure in Military Branches & Wars. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.asbestos.com/veterans/military-branches/