Mesothelioma is an aggressive, incurable cancer caused by asbestos exposure. Over 100,000 Americans have died from mesothelioma in the past 30 years, including over 30,000 U.S. veterans. There are VA benefits available for veterans diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma, including disability and VA health care.
What Is Mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma is a rare and incurable cancer caused by asbestos exposure.
It affects the mesothelium, the thin layer of tissue that covers most internal organs. Approximately 3,000 new cases of malignant (cancerous) mesothelioma are diagnosed yearly in the United States.
Mesothelioma can develop in the linings of the:
There are 4 types of mesothelioma, each one characterized by where in the body the cancer first forms. Each type is serious, but some respond better to life-extending treatment than others.
Symptoms of mesothelioma start out mild, often mimicking signs of more common health problems like lung cancer or pneumonia.
For this reason, mesothelioma is usually hard to diagnose until the cancer has spread and symptoms worsen.
Video Summary: Walter, a victim of mesothelioma, shares the story of his journey in the Navy, diagnosis with mesothelioma, and filing of an asbestos claim. View Transcript.
The word mesothelioma I didn’t know anything about. When I turned 70 I started getting pneumonia, but then as time went on they kept getting closer and closer and closer together [the occurrences] and I asked the doctor, I said, I wanna know why.
And they sent me downstairs to get a chest x-ray and the x-ray made it back before I got back up there.
He said, we are gonna go inside and take a look. He came up right to my bedside after the operation and showed me the pictures they took on the inside of the lung and he pointed out the cancer.
I really can’t explain it, I got a knot in my stomach you know. But, he told me then that there was no cure for it.
I was impressed – by the Navy – seeing my uncle in that Navy uniform you know – take pictures of him. So I just decided when I come outta school I was gonna join the Navy. I was very proud of that uniform, I was a bartender when I went aboard my first ship and started doing my first job. I asked them what the material was made out of and they told me it was asbestos. It didn’t kill anybody on the spot that’s for sure but it took years later when it started catching up with us. But, my understanding is that the powers-at-be knew.
I didn’t wanna sue my government and I damn sure didn’t wanna sue the Navy cause their still feeding me. I wasn’t suing the government, I wasn’t suing the US Navy, I was suing the manufacture.
I was only 2 or 3 days and he was here [the lawyer]. He came and seen me, talk to me personally. He knew what kinda a man I was and how involved I was with my job in the Navy. Felt very comfortable with them. I was watching the way they handled it, they did good. It was positive thinking, nothing negative about it, it was positive. They were prepared, they could go back to day 1, and I appreciated that. There was no guessing about it, they had the paperwork to back them up. It was a hands on approach I guess, and that’s what drew me. Cause that’s the way I do things – a hands on approach. They damn well earned it.
Mesothelioma is caused by exposure to asbestos. Asbestos is a mineral that was used in many products due to its resistance to heat. In the 1970s, it became clear that people were dying from cancer after inhaling or ingesting asbestos fibers.
How Mesothelioma Develops
- When asbestos-containing products are handled or damaged, asbestos fibers can be inhaled or swallowed.
- Once in the body, these indestructible fibers embed themselves in the lining of the lungs or abdomen and cause irritation.
- After 20-50 years, malignant mesothelioma can develop.
There are 4 types of mesothelioma, each one characterized by where in the body the cancer first forms. Each type is deadly, but some respond better to life-extending treatment than others.
Symptoms of mesothelioma start out mild, often mimicking signs of more common health problems like lung cancer or pneumonia. For this reason, mesothelioma is usually hard to diagnose until the cancer has spread and symptoms worsen.
Mesothelioma & Veterans
U.S. military veterans account for over 30% of all cases of mesothelioma.
Widespread use of asbestos in the military has put veterans who served from 1930-1980 at risk. These risk factors for mesothelioma are why veterans should be on the lookout for symptoms of the disease.
There have been cases of mesothelioma in every branch of the military, and many cases of asbestos exposure occurred on Navy ships.