Military Asbestos Exposure

Quick Summary

Many vets don’t think they were exposed to Asbestos in the Military. However, between WWII and 1980, asbestos was used in any application that required heat resistance or fireproofing. Asbestos was used across every branch of the U.S. military.

Asbestos Use in the U.S. Military

Veterans in the U.S. military have a higher risk of developing mesothelioma than those in the general population. In fact, one-third of all mesothelioma patients are veterans. Veterans were exposed to asbestos in a variety of different environments in the military.

From the 1930s to the late-1970s, the U.S. military used asbestos for a variety of different infrastructure projects. Mainly, the military used asbestos for its heat resistant and insulating properties. Asbestos-lined products allowed the military to protect ships, aircrafts, tanks, transport vehicles, barracks and other infrastructure from the risk of fire. All of the military’s branches—the Navy, Marines, Army, Air Force and Coast Guard—used asbestos products liberally.

The following occupations have a high risk of asbestos exposure according to the Veterans Administration:

Did you know?

Most vets with mesothelioma are eligible for VA benefits. The VA says, “The evidence must show you have a disease or disability related to asbestos and a relationship exists between the exposure to asbestos in military service and the disease/disability.” This evidence is strong for most veterans with mesothelioma.

The military didn’t stop using asbestos products until the late-1970s. This is when all of the health dangers associated with the materials were revealed. The U.S. military did not know about the health risks of asbestos and were misled by asbestos manufacturers.

Asbestos Removal in the Military

Eventually, the military became aware of how deadly asbestos could be. It was in the late-1970s that the military began removing asbestos installations. This was a major project since the military had been using asbestos for about half a century.

It took time to remove asbestos from all the spaces where military personnel lived and worked. As late as the mid-1990s, many Navy personnel working in shipyards or below deck were still at risk for asbestos exposure. Some buildings and ships built before the 1980s still contain asbestos. In most cases, the risk of asbestos exposure is low if the material is left undisturbed.

“During my twilight tour in the Navy as the Executive Officer at a shore duty installation, our building underwent a major overhaul. However, before work could begin, the contractor had to have much of the building tested for asbestos. I was floored when I received the report that showed that our building had asbestos in the floor tiles, drywall, joint compounds, heating system and even in the window caulk. Work on any of these materials required the contractors to wear respirators, special clothing and cordon off the entire space in plastic with special ventilation. This was as recent as 2008, so if you don’t think you came in contact with asbestos while serving in the military, think again.”

– Retired Senior Veteran

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Asbestos in the Navy

The U.S. Navy used asbestos extensively. As a result, former Navy service members have the military’s highest risk for developing mesothelioma.

The Navy used asbestos during the processes of shipbuilding, repairs and maintenance. The material was used to line engine rooms, gaskets, walls, doors, deck flooring, piping and insulation. Asbestos was attractive to the military because it was highly effective at fireproofing and relatively inexpensive.

Some of the occupations that put members of the Navy in close proximity with asbestos include:

  • Shipfitters/Pipefitters
  • Boilerman/Boiler Technicians
  • Welders/Hull Technicians
  • Machinist Mates
  • Engineman
  • Seabees

When asbestos is disturbed, the fibers become airborne and can be inhaled or ingested. They can also stick to clothes or hair and then be breathed in secondhand even hours later.

Asbestos in the Coast Guard

Similar to the Navy, asbestos on U.S. Coast Guard ships was extremely common prior to the 1980s. Due to asbestos exposure while at sea veterans are at risk of developing mesothelioma.

While aboard, asbestos could be found in locations that were commonly occupied and within products that caused most of the crew to be exposed:

  • Boiler rooms
  • Engine rooms
  • Sleeping quarters
  • Insulation
  • Piping
  • Electrical wiring
  • Flooring and ceiling tiles

Asbestos in the Marines

Many former members of the Marines were exposed to asbestos during their time in service. They are also at risk of developing mesothelioma. Former Marines could potentially have been exposed on land or at sea.

Marines often supported the Navy and could have been exposed to the dangers of asbestos during their time on a Navy ship.

During their time aboard Navy ships, Marines could have breathed in the hazardous material in the following places:

  • Boiler rooms
  • Engine rooms
  • Fan rooms
  • Ammunition rooms
  • Galleys
  • Bunk rooms/berthing
  • Mess decks

Asbestos in the Army

Veterans of the U.S. Army have a relatively high risk of asbestos exposure. Unlike the other branches of the military, veterans of the Army also have a recent risk of asbestos exposure. Much of the Army’s asbestos containing infrastructure was changed out in the late-1970s, but Army veterans that served in the Iraq war may have been exposed to asbestos used for construction by Iraqi companies.

Countries in the Middle East have not yet stopped the practice of using large amounts of asbestos in the construction industry.

The majority of mesothelioma cases from the Army still come from veterans who served between the 1930s and 1970s.

Army veterans most at risk for asbestos exposure include:

  • Pipefitters
  • Plumbers
  • Aircraft and vehicle mechanics
  • Heating system workers
  • Insulation workers
  • Carpenters
  • Construction Workers
  • Demolition specialists

Asbestos in the Air Force

The Air Force has gone through extensive measures to stop service members from being exposed to asbestos in recent years. Most Air Force veterans with mesothelioma were exposed between the late-1940s and 1970s.

Asbestos was used to fireproof parts of aircrafts, including:

  • Brakes
  • Engine heat shields
  • Gaskets
  • Valves
  • Insulation
  • Electrical wiring

Asbestos could also be found in Air Force bases. The buildings at these bases had asbestos in floor tiles, piping, insulation, ceiling tiles, stucco and drywall. Asbestos was often used to solve mechanical problems. This endangered many mechanics that were around the material on a consistent basis.

Accessing Veterans Benefits

The chance of getting exposed to asbestos is higher for veterans than the average civilian, that’s why VA benefits cover veterans diagnosed with asbestos-related illnesses like mesothelioma. Mesothelioma has a 100% disability rating in the VA, which means that mesothelioma patients get the maximum payout for VA disability benefits. You may also qualify for other benefits like pension or VA health care.

Here are some ways VA benefits could help you:

  • Pay for bills while you’re out of work
  • Get free Mesothelioma Treatment, including surgery
  • Don’t pay for travel costs to see a specialists

The first step to getting your VA benefits is filing your claim. This is a complex process that involves providing medical documents and a detailed asbestos exposure history. The key to getting benefits is proving that your disease is related to asbestos exposure in the military. Our VA claims agent has years of experience helping veterans build their claims and get the most out of their benefits. Get your VA claim started today.

Author:Mesothelioma Veterans Center

Veterans Support Team

Mesothelioma Veterans Center

The Mesothelioma Veterans Center editorial team consists of experienced veterans, family members and medical professionals. Our work is focused on helping veterans with mesothelioma receive the benefits they need and the compensation they deserve. We love our country and are passionate about serving those who first served us.

Last modified: September 25, 2019

View Sources

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. “Compensation - Asbestos Exposure.” Retrieved from: Accessed on September 28th, 2017.

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. M21-1, Part IV, Subpart ii, Chapter 1, Section 1. “Developing Claims for Service Connection (SC) Based on Other Exposure Types.”

War Related Illness and Injury Study Center. Office of Public Health. Department of Veterans Affairs. “Exposure to Asbestos: A Resource for Veterans, Service Members and Their Families.” Retrieved from: Accessed on September 28th, 2017.

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