Asbestos Exposure Risks in Recent and Active-Duty Veterans

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The U.S. military has been aware of the health risks of asbestos exposure in veterans since the 1970s, yet recent veterans and current active-duty members are still being exposed to asbestos-containing materials. Military vehicles, buildings and overseas deployment can all put service men and women in contact with asbestos.

Older generations of retired veterans are aware of the asbestos exposure that occurred during their service, as many former members of the military have developed diseases like asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma in the years that followed.

However, current active-duty members and recent veterans aren’t always informed that the dangerous, asbestos-laden working conditions are still a threat. Asbestos exposure in veterans continues to be a threat today, endangering those who make the brave commitment to their country.

Asbestos Exposure in Veterans That Served Overseas

The United States has implemented regulations and guidelines for asbestos use since the health risks were made publicly aware in the 1970s. However, recently deployed service members, including soldiers and Marines, may be at risk of asbestos exposure. Previous deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan have put today’s generation of service men and women at risk.

Many buildings in Iraq and Afghanistan are made with asbestos-containing materials because these countries don’t have regulations surrounding the use of asbestos in construction. Explosions and demolitions to buildings in these countries can release large quantities of asbestos into the air, exposing nearby U.S. military members.

While most military personnel are focused on their immediate survival during combat situations, their long-term health is also at risk.

In Iraq and Afghanistan, open burn pits were used to dispose of garbage, often containing asbestos and exposing veterans to a myriad of toxic chemicals. More than 141,000 veterans have formally reported health conditions as a result of their exposure to burn pits, including a variety of lung cancers and other fatal health conditions.

Some U.S. officials and advocates have compared burn pits to Agent Orange, a warfare mechanism used during the Vietnam war. Due to service members’ exposure to toxic airborne fumes in burn pits, it’s possible that service men and women will go on to develop mesothelioma, which can take decades to detect.

Asbestos Exposure in Military Vehicles and Buildings

Asbestos was frequently used throughout bases, navy ships and other military structures because of its many desirable qualities. Asbestos is fire- and water-resistant, dampens sound, helps retain heat and is inexpensive to source. As a result, asbestos was heavily used by all branches of the military, including the Coast Guard.

Although new buildings aren’t constructed with asbestos, the military continues to use buildings, ships, and vehicles built during the asbestos heydey. Service members who are working in these environments and disturbing the asbestos are at continued risk of asbestos exposure.

Examples of military assets that may still contain asbestos include:

  • Navy ships
  • Armored vehicles
  • Transport planes
  • Barracks
  • Mess halls
  • Administrative buildings
  • Industrial sites
  • On-base facilities like housing, schools and recreation centers

VA Health Advisement for Veterans and Service Members

Veterans Affairs now recommends testing even for younger veterans and service members who may develop lung illnesses due to asbestos exposure.

VA officials are calling all veterans as well as current service men and women to get tested if they worked in the following environments and jobs:

  • Carpentry
  • Construction
  • Demolition
  • Milling
  • Mining
  • Shipyards
  • Service in the Middle East and Southeast Asia

Veterans Affairs has also identified specific materials that are more likely to contain asbestos in military environments:

  • Cement sheets
  • Clutch facings
  • Flooring
  • Insulation
  • Pipes
  • Roofing

Unfortunately, asbestos-related disease can take a long time to develop. Veterans and military members who may have been exposed to asbestos are burdened with a lifelong responsibility to undergo regular medical screening for their best chance of survival.

Importance of Testing for Veterans & Active-Duty Personnel

Asbestos exposure is a severe environmental hazard that can result in illnesses with poor prognosis. Early detection and treatment are critical for helping veterans defeat mesothelioma, lung cancer and other diseases.

U.S. military veterans and current military personnel are solely responsible for looking after their health. While the military offers VA benefits that can help cover treatment costs, its ultimately individual service members’ responsibility to take control of their health and make regular appointments.

Military service members must make themselves aware of the dangers of asbestos exposure in veterans and determine whether they have been exposed so they can get screened by medical experts. Veterans who display mesothelioma symptoms are urged to contact their doctor for further testing immediately.

If you’re a veteran and have received a mesothelioma diagnosis, contact the Mesothelioma Veterans Center. Our VA-Accredited Claims Agents will review your case and help you file your claim so you can start receiving VA benefits sooner.

Veterans Support Team
Christopher Dryfoos PhotoWritten by:

Contributing Author

Christopher Dryfoos is a journalist and member of the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA). As the grandson of the U.S. Navy’s first forensic pathologist, he aims to help veterans with mesothelioma access needed care.

  1. Dayton Daily News, “Number of veterans injured from burn pits in Iraq, Afghanistan growing,” Retrieved from Accessed on March 7, 2019.
  2. IAVA, “Veterans & Asbestos Exposure: Looking at Asbestos Sites by State for Healthy Lung Month,” Retrieved from Accessed on March 7, 2019.
  3. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, “Veterans Asbestos Exposure,” Retrieved from Accessed on March 7, 2019.