Mesothelioma and Veterans

Quick Summary

Hundreds of thousands of military members were exposed to asbestos during their service, causing high rates of mesothelioma among veterans. Mesothelioma symptoms don't appear until 20-50 years after a person has been exposed to asbestos, meaning veterans who served up until the 1980s are at risk today. Veterans with mesothelioma may be eligible for various VA benefits, including VA health care and VA disability compensation.

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VA Benefits for Veterans With Mesothelioma

Due to the military’s widespread asbestos use between the 1930s and early 1980s, veterans today have higher rates of mesothelioma than the general population.

Three Persons Graphic
1 out of 3 Mesothelioma Patients is a veteran

Once praised for its fireproofing and insulation capabilities, asbestos is now known to cause deadly diseases like mesothelioma. Manufacturers of asbestos-based products knew these dangers for decades but hid the truth from the military — after thousands of service members had already been exposed.

If you served in the military and now suffer from an asbestos-related illness like mesothelioma, you may qualify for various forms of monetary and health care benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

Find information about VA benefits and how to access them below.

VA Disability Compensation

VA disability compensation provides tax-free monthly payments to veterans who developed mesothelioma or another disability from their military service. This benefit pays out over $3,000 each month, and more money may be available if you are married and/or have dependent children.

In order to receive disability compensation, you must have proof of diagnosis (such as a note from a physician) and show that you worked around asbestos during your military service. Our team of VA-accredited attorneys is available to help determine exactly how you were exposed and file your claim on your behalf.

Contact a member of our team today.

VA Pension

VA Pensions provide monthly payments to veterans with lower income. You may be able to receive a VA Pension if you meet a certain income limit and other criteria.

If you served before September 8, 1980, you need to have logged at least 90 days of active duty with at least 1 day during wartime to qualify for a VA Pension. If you served after September 7, 1980, you must have served two full years or your full period of active duty, with at least 1 day of service during wartime.

You must also meet the qualifying annual family income limit of $129,094 (as of December 1, 2019).

Finally, you must meet at least 1 of the following VA pension requirements:

  • Reside in a nursing home and receiving skilled nursing care
  • Be older than 65
  • Be permanently disabled
  • Receive Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and/or Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

To see if you qualify, reach out to our team of Patient Advocates and VA-accredited attorneys.

VA Health Care System

Through the VA Health Care System, you can receive free or low-cost medical treatment from some of the world’s top mesothelioma doctors. The VA may cover your travel expenses to see a mesothelioma specialist in Los Angeles or Boston if you live far away from these locations.

Top VA mesothelioma doctors include:

  • Dr. Avi Lebenthal

    Dr. Lebenthal is a veteran of the Israeli army and cares for veterans at the Boston VA Hospital.

  • Dr. Robert Cameron

    Dr. Cameron has decades of experience treating mesothelioma patients. Today he treats veterans at the West Los Angeles VA Medical Center.

Visit the UCLA Health website to learn more about Dr. Robert Cameron.

Disclaimer

The Mesothelioma Veterans Center has no affiliation with and is not endorsed or sponsored by Dr. Robert B. Cameron. The contact information above is listed for informational purposes only. You have the right to contact Dr. Cameron directly.

Asbestos Exposure in the Military

Your risk of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases depends on your military branch and what job you held, as certain branches and roles used more asbestos than others. See how each branch used asbestos below.

Asbestos Use in the U.S. Navy

The Navy used more asbestos-based products than any other branch of the Armed Forces. As a result, U.S. Navy veterans represent the largest group of service members diagnosed with mesothelioma.

Navy veterans were often exposed to asbestos if they served on ships or worked in shipyards.

Asbestos on Navy Ships

Starting in the 1930s, the government mandated that the Navy build all Navy ships with asbestos as a fireproofing substance. Most ships had poor air circulation, so stray asbestos fibers could linger in the air for hours and be inhaled unknowingly by service members.

Navy veterans who worked in shipyards also had a high risk of asbestos exposure. Navy vessels were built, repaired, and dismantled in shipyards — and these activities sent asbestos fibers flying into the air that veterans breathed in.

Below, see the number of U.S. Navy shipyards per state.

Map of naval shipyards per state

Asbestos Use in the U.S. Coast Guard

The Coast Guard also used an abundance of asbestos to build its vessels. Coast Guard ships needed to resist fires, and asbestos helped shipbuilders achieve this.

U.S. Coast Guard veterans who served as boiler tenders or insulators (among other roles) aboard military ships faced long-term exposure to asbestos.

Asbestos Use in the U.S. Air Force

The Air Force relied on asbestos-based products to prevent military aircraft from catching on fire. U.S. Air Force veterans who worked as pilots and mechanics were at risk of long-term asbestos exposure as a result.

Asbestos could be found aboard Air Force planes in:

  • Brakes
  • Cockpits
  • Clutches
  • Engines
  • Gaskets
  • Insulation

Air Force bases and ground vehicles like trucks also contained large amounts of asbestos.

Asbestos Use in the U.S. Army

Examples of asbestos-containing products used by U.S. Army veterans are vehicle parts like brakes and the construction materials used to make bases (such as cement and paint).

Asbestos exposure is still a risk for Soldiers serving overseas today.

“Asbestos is a material that was once used in many buildings and products. If you served in Iraq or other countries in the Middle East and Southeast Asia, you may have had contact with asbestos when old buildings got damaged, releasing toxic chemicals into the air.”

– U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)

Asbestos Use in the U.S. Marine Corps

Like Army Soldiers, Marines spent a lot of time in buildings constructed with asbestos. They also served on battlegrounds where buildings containing asbestos products were blown up around them, releasing fibers into the air.

Further, U.S. Marine Corps veterans who served aboard Navy ships or worked in shipyards may have been exposed to high levels of asbestos.

Secondary Asbestos Exposure

You didn’t need to work directly with asbestos to be put in danger — military families who lived on bases may also have been at risk of secondary asbestos exposure.

If a service member worked around asbestos, they could unknowingly bring stray fibers back into living quarters on their hair, clothing, or equipment. The fibers might then be inhaled by family members and loved ones.

Asbestos Exposure After Military Service

For many service members, the risks of asbestos exposure did not always stop after their military careers. Veterans often found jobs similar to the ones they held while in the service, adding to their exposure history.

Connie’s Story

After serving in World War II, veteran and hero Conrad “Connie” Bauer worked as an industrial electrician, using asbestos-based electrical products for roughly 30 years. He later developed asbestosis, an incurable lung disease, due to his post-military exposure.

Mesothelioma and Veterans: FAQ

Find answers to common questions about mesothelioma and the military below.

How many veterans have mesothelioma?

About 3,000 people are diagnosed with mesothelioma each year, and veterans make up around 30% of all mesothelioma cases.

Each year, 900-1,100 Veterans are diagnosed with Mesothelioma
800-900
Pleural Mesothelioma
100-200
Peritoneal Mesothelioma
10
Pericardial Mesothelioma
*Sources: American Cancer Society,
National Institutes of Health

Between 1999 and 2017, there were over 45,000 deaths from mesothelioma, meaning that more than 15,000 veterans died from mesothelioma during that time.

Is asbestos still used by the military today?

No, but it still may be found in older military bases and ships.

While the military went to great lengths to remove asbestos in the 1980s, some products were left behind due to costs and time constraints. The military no longer uses asbestos during the construction of new bases, vehicles, planes, or ships, however.

What do I need in order to file for VA mesothelioma benefits?

To file a veterans benefits claim, you’ll need information that shows:

  • You served in the military when asbestos was widely used
  • You used or worked around asbestos-containing products in your military role
  • Medical records and documents showing you were diagnosed with mesothelioma

While you may not have this information readily available, our team of Patient Advocates can help you gather all the necessary documents and forms and file your VA benefits claim.

Getting VA Benefits can be simple.

  • VA Disability Claims
  • Survivor Benefits
  • Finding Veteran Doctors

Help with VA Benefits

Will having private insurance affect my ability to get VA benefits?

You can still access VA compensation and other benefits, even if you don’t use VA Health Care for mesothelioma treatment. Reach out to our team at (877) 450-8973 if you have any other questions about mesothelioma or VA benefits.

Accessing Veterans Mesothelioma Compensation

If you are a U.S. veteran, we thank you for bravely serving our country and encourage you to pursue your well-deserved VA benefits for mesothelioma. Veterans and civilians with this cancer may also be eligible for financial compensation through a lawsuit or an asbestos trust fund.

Mesothelioma lawsuits and trust fund claims are filed against manufacturers of asbestos-based products — not the government or any U.S. military branch. Lawsuit settlements award an average of $1 Million and do not affect your ability to file a VA claim.

Let us help you file for VA mesothelioma benefits today.

Veterans Support Team
Eric P.W. Hall (Capt RIANG) PhotoReviewed by:Eric P.W. Hall (Capt RIANG)

VA-Accredited Attorney

  • Fact-Checked
  • Editor

Eric P.W. Hall (Capt RIANG) is an attorney, a former Sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps, and a legal advisor at the Mesothelioma Veterans Center. Today, Eric continues to serve as a Captain in the Rhode Island Air National Guard where he is Deputy Staff Judge Advocate, upholding his dedication to his country and fellow veterans. Eric considers it his duty to help his veteran family and strives to help them navigate the VA and receive the benefits they so bravely earned.

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.

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