Air Force Veterans and Mesothelioma

Quick Summary

Until the early 1980s, the United States Air Force used asbestos for its heat resistance and fireproofing properties. Air Force veterans who worked with asbestos materials have a higher risk of developing mesothelioma. Thankfully, benefits are available for veterans who can prove their mesothelioma began with their time in the Air Force.

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Mesothelioma and Air Force Veterans

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Asbestos was used by the U.S. Air Force for insulation and fireproofing for decades on end. Members of the Air Force were often exposed to asbestos found in planes, bases, barracks, and ground vehicles during their service.

Unfortunately, this asbestos exposure triggered cellular mutations in some veterans decades later, leading to a deadly cancer called mesothelioma. In fact, U.S. veterans account for one-third of all mesothelioma cases.

The use of asbestos was approved throughout the military before the dangers were well-known. Air Force veterans who worked with asbestos-based products regularly are at the highest risk of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related illnesses today.

Fortunately, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers benefits to Air Force veterans with mesothelioma. These benefits include financial compensation to help affected military veterans and their loved ones.

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How Were Air Force Veterans Exposed to Asbestos?

Unlike the other branches of the military, the U.S. Air Force is relatively new, having only been established in 1947. That said, asbestos was still used by the U.S. Air Force for decades.

Many Air Force veterans were exposed to asbestos while working on planes and bases.

  • Asbestos was used to protect U.S. Air Force planes from fires. Asbestos-containing products used on planes included brake pads, gaskets, and electrical wiring, putting Air Force mechanics at a high risk of exposure.
  • Construction workers who built military barracks could have also been exposed to asbestos in the insulation, piping, drywall, and many other products.

Working with asbestos-based products in these roles could send tiny fibers flying into the air, where U.S. Air Force personnel could easily inhale or swallow them.

Air Force Veterans and Mesothelioma Video Thumbnail

Video Summary: U.S. Air Force veterans could develop mesothelioma if they were exposed to asbestos during their service. These veterans now qualify for VA benefits and private compensation.

For decades, asbestos was considered a miracle material because of its heat resistance and fireproofing properties. The United States Air Force used it extensively in planes and bases between the 1930s and early 1980s for these reasons.

Unfortunately, those who served in the Air Force during this time frame have a higher risk of developing mesothelioma, a rare and aggressive cancer caused by asbestos exposure.
Air Force veterans working with or around asbestos-containing airplane parts could unknowingly inhale or swallow the fibers and get sick later in life.

Many Air Force veterans are diagnosed with mesothelioma every year, even though they were exposed decades ago.

Thankfully, Air Force veterans with mesothelioma can receive benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Mesothelioma VA benefits include disability compensation, health care, pensions, and more.

U.S. Air Force veterans with mesothelioma may also qualify to file private claims for additional compensation. These types of claims are filed against the makers of asbestos-based products, not the military or government.

We owe a debt of gratitude to our Air Force veterans for their service and sacrifice. If you or a loved one is an Air Force veteran with mesothelioma, contact the Mesothelioma Veterans Center today to get help accessing VA benefits, financial aid, and medical care.

Other Air Force roles with a high risk of asbestos exposure included: 

  • Aircraft handler
  • Aviation fire control technician
  • Electronic technician
  • Jet engine mechanic
  • Metalsmith
  • Welder

Those at the highest risk of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases worked with asbestos on a daily basis. That said, no level of asbestos exposure is considered safe and anyone exposed can get sick.

Did you know?

If you were diagnosed with mesothelioma due to asbestos exposure during your service, it is important to understand that the Air Force didn’t know that asbestos was dangerous.

Although the branch used asbestos in its buildings and aircraft, the risks of asbestos weren’t known by the public until the early 1980s. The makers of asbestos-based products did know the risks but hid them, not wanting their profits to be affected.

Where Air Force Veterans Were Exposed to Asbestos

Asbestos was widely used by the U.S. Air Force for decades.

Below, learn more about some of the places where asbestos might have been encountered by Air Force personnel.

Bases

U.S. Air Force bases and barracks were often lined with asbestos-based materials.

In fact, it's believed that over 80 U.S. Air Force bases were built with asbestos. Most states were home to at least one base that used this dangerous substance.

Construction materials that used asbestos included:

  • Ceiling tiles
  • Flooring and floor tiles
  • Insulation
  • Piping
  • Roofing materials
  • Sheetrock

Asbestos fibers could have easily been released into the air during construction or while repairs were being made on military bases.

Further, asbestos may have been released into the air as these parts wore down.

Exposed to asbestos while serving in the Air Force? Get our veterans packet — you may qualify for benefits and financial aid.

Planes

The U.S. Air Force used asbestos for a wide variety of functions inside its aircraft. From the military branch’s inception in 1947 until the early 1980s, virtually all of its aircraft contained asbestos.

Aircraft that used asbestos in that time period included:

  • U-2 Spyplanes
  • SR-71 Blackbird
  • KC-135 Stratotanker
  • F-104 Starfighter
  • B-58 Hustler
  • B-36 Peacemaker
  • B-47 Stratojet
  • B-52 Stratofortress

Asbestos helped protect key components of the aircraft, such as the engine, from excess heat.

Aircraft components that used asbestos included:

  • Adhesives
  • Brakes and brake pads
  • Caulk
  • Ceiling tiles
  • Electrical wiring
  • Engine heat shields
  • Exhaust cones
  • Gaskets
  • Heating systems
  • Insulation
  • Joint compounds
  • Valves

As these components wore down, the risk of asbestos being released into the air increased. Air Force mechanics that installed and repaired these components had the highest risk of asbestos exposure.

Secondhand Exposure Risks and the Air Force

The family members of Airmen could also have been at risk of asbestos exposure if they lived with a service member when the material was widely used.

Air Force service members may have brought asbestos fibers back to their homes. In high-risk jobs, asbestos dust could get stuck to their clothes, hair, and skin. This put their loved ones at risk of exposure, even though they didn't directly work with asbestos themselves.

Thankfully, VA benefits are available to both Air Force veterans and their loved ones.

Resources for Air Force Veterans

U.S. Air Force veterans fighting mesothelioma can seek VA benefits — including high-quality health care and monthly financial payouts — as well as private resources after a diagnosis.

Learn about some of the top resources below.

Treatment from VA Mesothelioma Specialists

Getting mesothelioma treatment from specialists is key to living longer with this cancer. Mesothelioma is highly aggressive and can be fatal in months without treatment.

Mesothelioma patients that served their country can get care from specialists through VA health care, which is one of many VA benefits available. Some of the world's best mesothelioma doctors treat veterans through this program.

Further, VA health care often reduces the costs of mesothelioma treatment. Some veterans may possibly receive health care services for free or at a lower cost.

Financial VA Benefits

The VA offers a range of important financial benefits for Air Force veterans diagnosed with mesothelioma, most notably disability compensation.

Mesothelioma is classified with a 100% disability rating by the VA. This means veterans with mesothelioma get the maximum amount of compensation — typically $3,946.25 a month or more for married veterans.

This monthly financial VA benefit can support you and your family if you can’t work or are in recovery from treatment.

Need help filing for VA benefits?

VA-Accredited Attorney Eric Hall (Major USAFR) can help you file for free.

  • 20+ years of experience
  • Get or increase your VA payouts
  • Access benefits with no stress

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Mesothelioma Claims

The makers of asbestos-containing products did not reveal that asbestos was dangerous even though they knew about the risks for decades.

U.S. Air Force veterans can now file private mesothelioma claims against these manufacturers. These claims typically award $1 million on average, with some veterans receiving much more depending on the circumstances.

Further, private claims are never filed against the U.S. military or government and they don't affect a veteran's ability to file for VA benefits. 

Veterans can use money from private claims for anything, including medical bills, household expenses, and more.

Asbestos Trusts Funds

In some cases, makers of asbestos-based products filed for bankruptcy to avoid paying those they'd harmed. Private claims cannot be filed against bankrupt asbestos companies.

However, these companies established asbestos trust funds to pay those who were hurt. U.S. Air Force veterans and civilians can file claims with the trusts to get financial compensation.

Today, there is more than $30 billion available in these funds.

Help for U.S. Air Force Veterans With Mesothelioma

U.S. Air Force veterans can pursue VA benefits, health care services, and private claims to relieve the stresses that come after a mesothelioma diagnosis.

Remember, you may be entitled to: 

  • Free or low-cost mesothelioma treatments
  • Monthly VA compensation
  • Potentially millions of dollars through private claims

You don’t have to file for VA benefits or private forms of compensation alone.

Get connected with a VA-accredited Claims Agent for help with your claim now.

FAQs About Mesothelioma & Air Force Veterans

Can aircraft mechanics receive VA disability compensation?

Possibly, yes. U.S. Air Force veterans that served as aircraft mechanics may qualify for VA disability compensation if they have mesothelioma.

Aircraft mechanics that served in the U.S. Air Force before the early 1980s are at a higher risk of mesothelioma since they likely worked with a lot of asbestos-based aircraft parts, including brake pads and insulation.

Call (877) 450-8973 now to learn if you or a loved one qualifies for VA mesothelioma disability compensation.

Are there private benefits available for U.S. Air Force veterans with mesothelioma?

Yes. Air Force veterans with mesothelioma can seek additional compensation (besides filing a VA claim) through private claims or asbestos trust fund claims.

Private claims typically award $1 million or more for mesothelioma.

Trust fund claims can pay out thousands of dollars (or more) as there's $30 billion available — you might qualify to file claims with multiple trusts and get some of this money.

Our team does not file legal claims or lawsuits against the Air Force, military, or government. Instead, we file claims with the makers of asbestos-containing materials that hid the deadly truth from the military and general public.

What happened after the U.S. Air Force learned asbestos was dangerous?

Once the dangers of asbestos became well-known, steps were taken to remove the substance from U.S. Air Force bases, planes, and other assets. These efforts began in the 1980s.

In some cases, sturdy asbestos-based products were left alone as it was unlikely they would release asbestos fibers into the air.

In the 1990s, the Air Force commissioned its Facilities Asbestos Management study on how to deal with asbestos throughout Air Force barracks and aircraft.

This study was completed in 1994 and established management principles and practices for dealing with hazardous materials across the Air Force.

Veterans Support Team
Eric P.W. Hall (Major USAFR) PhotoReviewed by:Eric P.W. Hall (Major USAFR)

VA-Accredited Attorney

  • Fact-Checked
  • Legal Editor

Eric P.W. Hall (Major USAFR) 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 Major in the United States Air Force Reserve (USAFR), 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 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.