Veterans and Mesothelioma: Tracing the Asbestos Crisis Through the U.S. Military

Tragically, veterans with mesothelioma make up almost one-third of mesothelioma cancer deaths in the U.S annually. A majority of those vets have a background with the navy, but former members of the Army, Air Force and Coast Guard are also included. The explanation for this disproportionately high rate of illness among United States Veterans—a sizable group that makes up 8 percent of the country’s total population—lies within the military’s massive and widespread usage of a natural, soil-bound mineral called asbestos.

Asbestos is a substance that is made up of tiny, crystal-like fibers. Those fibers, when interwoven, produce a type of material that is exceptionally strong and stable. It is also naturally heat-resistant and fireproof—making it a popular choice for the building of any structure or component that must be able to withstand considerable heat or flames. Thus, it is easy to see why the U.S. military so coveted asbestos-made products for the construction of its ships, jet planes, tanks and more.

That usage had serious consequences, though. Veterans with mesothelioma almost certainly developed their illness as a result of regular and prolonged contact with asbestos materials. This exposure became dangerous at that key point when asbestos became broken or otherwise damaged, causing a fine dust to be released. Within that dust, millions of crystalline fibers would float through the air—being inhaled or swallowed by anyone in proximity.

After making its way inside the victim’s body, asbestos fibers became embedded in the thin, protective lining of his or her internal organs—namely the lungs, heart, stomach and testicles. Over the course of ten to 50 years or more, the trapped fibers acts as irritants—eventually leading to scarring, tumors and, ultimately, a mesothelioma diagnosis.

Veterans with mesothelioma are likely to encounter a significant challenge in trying to pinpoint exactly when or where their exposure occurred, though it is known that vets who served during World War II and the Korean War have the highest rates of asbestos-related illnesses. For veterans of the navy, having worked on older-model ships or within shipyards that housed those dated vessels were more likely to experience dangerous exposure than those who worked primarily aboard or around newer vessels.

Just a few of the many positions within the U.S. military that were known to come into regular and frequent contact with asbestos include:

-Engine Man
-Machinist’s Mate

The military does offer assistance to veterans with mesothelioma through the Veterans Affairs (VA) Office, including medical care and treatment and financial help as well.

Any veteran who was enlisted in any branch of the U.S. military through the late 1970s is advised to be vigilant about his or her heath and should immediately seek medical evaluation if any symptom of mesothelioma is noticed. Because of the illness’ long latency period, this advice rings true for at least 40-50 years after potential exposure.