Veterans with mesothelioma make up one of the largest and most tragic groups of asbestos victims. Those affected come from all of the major military branches and most were likely exposed to the disease-causing agent while on active duty. This gross liability issue has hit the U.S. military hard, but the true sufferers are the victims and their families—who are now facing a terminal diagnosis and an uncertain future.
Veterans and mesothelioma: understanding the asbestos connection
Up to 90% of mesothelioma cases are directly caused by asbestos, a natural mineral that was used in manufactured goods throughout the 20th century. Asbestos was extremely popular in the manufacturing of building materials, as its exceptional physical properties lent its use creating a product that was highly resistant to extreme heat, fire and other destructive occurrences. As such, the U.S. military constructed just about every structure they could from as many asbestos-produced materials as possible.
It was used on army bases, in marine camps, all over jets flown by the air force and sometimes from the top to the bottom of navy ships. In fact, the U.S. navy at one time had a mandate in place for the use of asbestos over any other building materials for its ships and shipyards.
Delayed diagnosis: why so many veterans with mesothelioma find out too late
Mesothelioma symptoms are notoriously easy to ignore. Many people do not heed the early warning signs of the disease, simply because they are so common to other minor conditions. Coughing, wheezing and a horse voice can all be indicative of an allergy attack or a chest cold—most people will not immediately associate such seemingly negligible symptoms with a fatal form of cancer.
Another problem in diagnosing mesothelioma is that fact that it take years to develop—typically between 20 and 40, to be exact—and by the time it does, many of its victims do not remember or were unaware of being exposed to asbestos. It is likely that thousands of men and women were exposed to asbestos in a military setting, but knowing exactly who and when is difficult.
Time and place: indicators that you could be a veteran with mesothelioma
Although there is seldom any way to know after the fact whether or not you were among the thousands of vets who experienced asbestos exposure, there are some indicators that may suggest that you were one of the parties most likely to be at risk.
The most affected military branch was the U.S. navy, which used asbestos in abundance—for the walls, doors, insulation and pipe coverings of its ships—all the way from the 1930s to the 1970s. Those working on older ships were at an additional risk, as aged asbestos is more likely to break into pieces when disturbed, thus becoming both toxic and airborne.
Though any and all positions were likely to experience exposure, electricians and mechanics probably had the most, alongside anyone involved in construction or installation of asbestos materials.