The U.S. military heavily used asbestos from the beginning of World War II up until the end of the Vietnam War, when the government stepped in and began heavily regulating the material’s use. This means that service members from the 1940s up until around 1980 are at a particularly high risk for developing asbestos-related diseases. In fact, members of the military account for almost one third of all mesothelioma deaths, even though they only represent 8 percent of the total population.
That high death rate is largely due to the pervasive use of asbestos in that 40 year period. The military used asbestos in virtually every vehicle it commissioned because of the mineral’s superb fireproofing ability. This means everything from jeeps to submarines built during that time contained asbestos. Even most Navy ships contained thousands of pounds of it. Additionally, the military also heavily used asbestos in other forms of construction including in the barracks that many servicemen spent years living in. Many of these uses still present a problem today because some older bases still have asbestos in them, which may put members of the Armed Forces at risk while they live there. Furthermore, members of the military deployed overseas can also be at a high risk for asbestos exposure, if the military deploys them in a country that does not regulate the use of asbestos.
Naval veterans typically have the highest risk of exposure of all branches of the military. Their long tours on ships left them continuously exposed to high levels of asbestos. This is because asbestos is a particularly easy material to work with, meaning that asbestos could take many forms. The Navy included the mineral in everything from insulation in boiler rooms to special paint applied to the decks. In addition to the members of the Navy who actually served on these ships, the civilians who built them also suffered extremely high levels of exposure to the toxic substance. While naval mechanics and others who performed maintenance or worked in the bowels of the ship are particularly at risk for developing asbestos-related diseases, even those servicemen who simply lived aboard the ships may develop conditions like asbestosis and mesothelioma.
Other Branches of the Military
Although members of the Navy received the most severe asbestos exposure, people who have served in any branch of the military likely came into contact with the material. The Army often used asbestos during its construction of buildings. Mess halls, barracks, and many other military structures had asbestos insulation in them to prevent fires. The Army even used it in the housing on its bases, meaning that the children and spouses of service members could also be in danger of having suffered asbestos exposure.
VA Benefits for Mesothelioma
Fortunately, the military recognizes the harm that asbestos caused, and offers medical care and monetary compensation for veterans who qualify for VA benefits. In order to qualify, a veteran needs to show that the majority of their asbestos exposure occurred during their military service. If they can show that, then they have a valid VA claim. Additionally, veterans can also file lawsuits against asbestos manufacturers, regardless of whether they have a claim for VA benefits.