As the largest single group diagnosed each year with mesothelioma, veterans of the U.S. Military represent a palpable example of just how serious the asbestos backlash was and continues to be. Navy veterans alone comprise nearly a third of all mesothelioma victims; and former service men and women from every branch of the military have been affected to some degree. Tragically, many of these vets survived active combat – some, even having served multiple tours of duty – but ultimately lost their lives to an illness that resulted from their time in the service spent right here on American soil.
The Navy and Asbestos During the Early 20th Century
At the height of military usage, asbestos on navy ships could be found in as many as 3000 different mechanical and building components within virtually every part of a vessel. Some of the most common locations for asbestos-made products on ships constructed between the 1930s and 1970s were: boiler, engine and navigation rooms; below-deck storage spaces, kitchens and mess halls; sleeping quarters and external decks.
Asbestos is a naturally fire- and heat-resistant mineral that was widely utilized within the manufacturing, construction and automotive industries, among others, during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Asbestos-made materials were noted as being exceptionally strong, resilient and ideally suited for the kind of potential damage endured in battle. They were also inexpensive and readily available in large quantities. All of these factors, punctuated by the extraordinarily high demand for new ship construction during the World Wars, led the navy to issue a mandate requiring all vessels be built with asbestos materials whenever possible.
The Mechanics of Asbestos Exposure and Its Related Health Effects
When intact, asbestos-containing materials present virtually no health risk. When they become aged and brittle, however, they can disintegrate – causing their tiny, crystal-like fibers to become airborne and easily inhaled or ingested by anyone nearby. Once asbestos fibers are inside the body, they travel to the delicate mesothelioma tissue that lines the heart, lungs and stomach – becoming embedded for the duration of the victim’s life. Ultimately, years of damage caused by the foreign irritants can result in tumor formation, and sometimes, malignant cell growth as well.
After being diagnosed with mesothelioma, veterans are generally given anywhere between four months and a year to live on average. This poor mesothelioma life expectancy is attributable to the advanced stage in which the cancer is usually caught and the limited efficacy of conventional treatment methods against it.
Compensation for Mesothelioma: Veterans’ Resources and Legal Recourse
The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) offers exclusive benefits to veterans affected by mesothelioma and other related illnesses, including disability compensation as well as fully covered medical care and treatment at VA hospitals around the country. Other benefits provided to qualifying vets, through the VA, include housing assistance and support for surviving dependents.
In addition to filing a claim for VA benefits, veteran victims of asbestos exposure are eligible for filing a lawsuit against the parties responsible for negligently exposing them to a known carcinogen – usually manufacturing companies or distributors who profited from the sale of asbestos during the peak period of military usage. An attorney who specializes in asbestos-injury litigation can help affected vets understand their options for legal recourse and pursue compensatory damages thorough the U.S. court system.