Mesothelioma in the Air Force

Quick Summary

Until the late-1970s, the U.S. 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.

Air Force Veterans With Mesothelioma

Airmen were exposed to asbestos found in barracks, ground vehicles and aircraft. Decades later, this asbestos exposure triggered cellular mutations in some veterans that led to mesothelioma. All branches of the military used asbestos, which is why veterans make up a large number of mesothelioma sufferers.

Benefits available to former Airmen include:

  • Treatment from a Mesothelioma Specialist in the VA. All veterans with mesothelioma should get treatment from a specialist. This disease is rare and few doctors have experience treating it. You can access one of the Mesothelioma Specialists in through VA health care. Not only could your treatment be free, it will come from one of the best mesothelioma doctors in the world.
  • VA Benefits. The Department of Veterans Affairs offers a range of important benefits for Air Force vets diagnosed with mesothelioma. In the VA, mesothelioma is classified with a 100% disability rating. This means vets with mesothelioma get the maximum amount of compensation. This monthly financial benefit can support you and your family if you can’t work or are in recovery from treatment.
  • Trusts Funds for Asbestos Victims. Many aircraft parts were built with asbestos-containing products. However, the makers of these parts did not reveal that asbestos was dangerous. Once the health risks became widely known, asbestos companies had to establish trust funds for those who were harmed. Today, there is more than $30 Billion available in these funds.

The Air Force isn’t responsible for your condition. Although the branch used asbestos in its buildings and aircraft, the risks weren’t known until the late 1970s. Before that time, however, the asbestos industry knew asbestos was deadly. That’s why mesothelioma sufferers file legal claims against companies that were responsible for their exposure.

Did you know?

An Air Force veteran received VA benefits in an appeal to the VA. He had 20 years of experience working around asbestos after the military, yet he still proved his exposure was sufficient during his service. In the final case statement, the VA said that he “provided competent evidence that the fire protective suits were made of asbestos cloth during the time that he served as a firefighter in service.”

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History of Asbestos Use in the Air Force

Today, one-third of all mesothelioma victims are veterans. Most Air Force veterans who fought in WWII or Korean and Vietnam wars were exposed to asbestos at some point. The Air Force was at the height of its asbestos use during these wars. Some veterans of those wars are mesothelioma patients today.

Most Airmen were exposed to asbestos in aircraft or barracks. Construction Workers who built military barracks were exposed to asbestos over a long period of time. Asbestos was used in insulation, piping, drywall, joint compounds, caulk, ceiling tiles and flooring tiles.

Some jobs that posed the highest risk of asbestos exposure in the Air Force include:

  • Aircraft Handler
  • Aviation Fire Control Technician
  • Electronic Technician
  • Jet Engine Mechanic
  • Metalsmith

Asbestos was also used in order to protect aircrafts from fires. It was used to line engines, brakes, gaskets and electrical wiring. Aircraft mechanics that had to install and repair these components were at the highest risk for asbestos exposure because they consistently worked on aircraft.

Did you know?

When asbestos is disturbed, it can become airborne. It can then be inhaled and become lodged in the lungs. Asbestos can also attach to someone’s clothes, hair or skin. People with asbestos on their clothes by have exposed other people or family members to the substance.

In the late-1970s, the U.S. military learned about the long-term health risks posed by asbestos exposure. As a result, the military began to remove asbestos from its infrastructure. In the 1980s, the Air Force started to replace asbestos in aircraft with substitute materials.

In 1994, the Air Force had a study commissioned on how to deal with asbestos throughout Air Force barracks and aircraft. The “Facilities Asbestos Management” study established “management principles and practices” for dealing with the hazardous material across the Air Force.

Where Air Force Veterans Were Exposed To Asbestos

Established in 1947, the Air Force is the youngest branch of the military. There is only a 20 to 30 year period where asbestos was actively used in the Air Force. Other branches used the material for significantly longer periods of time. Still, a significant number of Air Force veterans are at risk for developing mesothelioma.

Here are some of the places where asbestos might have been encountered by an Air Force veteran:


The Air Force’s barracks were often lined with asbestos. The material was used in the construction of the barracks. Typically asbestos wasn’t released into the air unless construction was being done. The construction teams that worked on buildings and repairing the barracks are at the highest risk of developing mesothelioma due to extended exposure.

They routinely disturbed asbestos as they worked on sheetrock, insulation, piping, flooring and ceiling tiles and roofing materials. As the infrastructure degraded, the asbestos fibers were more easily disturbed and released into the air.


The Air Force used asbestos for a wide variety of functions inside its aircraft. From the Air Force’s inception in 1947 to the late-1970s, virtually all of its aircraft contained asbestos. Asbestos helped to protect key components of the aircraft, such as the engine, from excess heat. The mechanics that installed and repaired these components had the highest risk in the Air Force of asbestos exposure.

Here are some of the components where asbestos could be found inside of an aircraft:

  • Adhesives
  • Brakes
  • Electrical wiring
  • Engine firewalls
  • Gaskets
  • Heating systems
  • Insulation
  • Valves

Most of the aircraft used throughout the Cold War were lined with asbestos for its fireproofing properties. Asbestos protected aircraft components from catching fire. But as the components wore down, the risk of asbestos being released into the air increased.

Aircraft components weren’t regularly replaced, and the mechanics that repaired them were often put at risk of direct asbestos exposure.

Some of the aircraft that used asbestos in that time period include:

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

  • Treatment Options
  • Mesothelioma Specialists
  • Veterans Benefits

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Getting Your VA Benefits

Air Force veterans can take advantage of VA benefits to relieve financial stress. These benefits are meant to offset lost-wages or incurred medical expenses and allow you to live comfortably while going through treatment.

Here are some of the best parts of VA benefits:

  • Disability usually pays $3,057 per month for mesothelioma patients
  • Low-income veterans may be eligible for pension
  • Treatment from a specialist in the VA is often free

You don’t have to file for your VA benefits alone. There are people with years of experience who can help you quickly put together a complete and accurate claim. Get connected with a VA-accredited claims agent for help with your claim now.

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 27th, 2017.

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. “Citation Nr: 0524100. Decision Date: 09/01/05. Archive Date: 09/13/05” Retrieved from: Accessed on September 27th, 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.”

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