Mesothelioma in the Army

Quick Summary

Throughout much of the 20th century, the U.S. Army and all other military branches were major consumers of asbestos-containing products. Today, veterans account for over 30% of all mesothelioma cases. U.S. Army veterans with mesothelioma may be eligible for health care benefits and financial compensation.

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High Risk of Mesothelioma in Army Veterans

Asbestos-containing products were widely used by the United States Army from the 1930s until the late 1970s. In turn, thousands of veterans have developed mesothelioma as a result of asbestos exposure during active duty.

When asbestos materials become worn or damaged, asbestos fibers are released into the air and can be breathed in or swallowed by those nearby. If the fibers become lodged in the lining of the lungs or abdomen, they can irritate healthy tissue for decades. This irritation can cause mesothelioma or another illness as late as 20-50 years after exposure.

Army veterans who have developed mesothelioma can file a claim with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for financial and medical benefits. These benefits can help cover the costs of treatment and provide support to veterans and their families navigating a cancer diagnosis.

History of Asbestos Use in the Army

Asbestos is an extremely effective fireproofing agent. All branches of the U.S. Armed Forces used asbestos extensively to insulate and fireproof their buildings, ships, planes, weapons systems, and equipment.

Common asbestos products used in the military include:

  • Brake pads
  • Cement foundation
  • Clutch plates
  • Flooring and ceiling tiles
  • Gaskets
  • Insulation
  • Plumbing
  • Roofing materials

Service members operating heavy artillery or weapons systems were often provided with gloves and suits laced with asbestos to prevent burns to their bodies. However, in an effort to protect soldiers and personnel from the dangers of fire, the U.S. Army unintentionally exposed them to a dangerous and toxic substance.

Did you know

Manufacturers of asbestos-containing products hid the dangers posed by asbestos from all of their customers, including the U.S. Army, until the late 1970s. Once the risks were known, the U.S. Army began removing and replacing asbestos-containing products.

Veterans diagnosed with mesothelioma have the option to pursue a legal claim against these manufacturers that knowingly put people at risk.

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Army Asbestos Exposure in the 21st Century

Although the Army stopped using asbestos in the 1980s, soldiers who served in the war in Iraq may still have been exposed to asbestos.

Some nations in the Middle East continue to use asbestos in buildings and other infrastructure. Whenever these structures were damaged or demolished, asbestos was likely released into the air and may have been inhaled by nearby soldiers.

Where Were Soldiers Exposed To Asbestos?

U.S. Army bases were laden with asbestos, and soldiers were probably exposed in a variety of different locations. Almost every building built by the U.S. military before the late 1970s contained asbestos.

Once those buildings were occupied, time and normal wear and tear caused asbestos-containing materials in the buildings to release fibers into the air. Thousands of people were put at risk while going about their daily lives.

Army Barracks

Soldiers living in Army bases may have come in contact with asbestos, as the mineral was a common component in construction materials when they were built.

Asbestos in Army barracks could be found in:

  • Insulation
  • Siding
  • Electrical wiring
  • Ceiling tiles

The use of asbestos was also common in other Army buildings, such as mess halls and office spaces.

Although the U.S. Army has removed or replaced most asbestos-containing products, it was impractical to get rid of all of them. Because the mineral is not generally considered a risk if it is not disturbed, some older barracks still contain asbestos.

Army Vehicles

Almost all U.S. Army vehicles built prior to the 1970s contained asbestos. Ambulances, buses, jeeps, and tanks all had asbestos-containing components.

Asbestos was used in:

  • Gaskets
  • Clutches
  • Brake pads
  • Heating systems

Using asbestos to create heat-resistant components kept vehicles safe from fires. When exposed to heat, components untreated with asbestos could expand, damaging the vehicle.

Asbestos reduced the risk of fire and heat damage but endangered the health of the drivers and mechanics who most often handled worn and damaged car parts.

Army Construction Sites

Army veterans who worked in construction or demolition were at high risk for asbestos exposure.

  • Construction and Asbestos Exposure

    Any time asbestos-containing construction materials were disturbed, those nearby were put at risk of inhaling the airborne fibers. This could happen during the construction of new buildings as well as during the repair or demolition of old ones.

In the late 1970s, once the risks associated with asbestos were known, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was tasked with removing asbestos from Army bases. Soldiers with this Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) who served at this time were very likely exposed to airborne asbestos fibers.

Army Jobs With Asbestos Exposure Risk

Anyone serving on an Army base may have come in contact with asbestos, but some jobs carried a higher risk of prolonged or significant exposure.

For example, mechanics and construction workers who took advantage of the insulation and fireproofing properties of asbestos generally had a more severe level of asbestos exposure.

Other high-risk Army jobs included:

  • Demolition
  • Installing military equipment
  • Manufacturing or repair of vehicle parts
  • Pipefitting
  • Shipyard work
  • Working on insulation

It’s not always obvious how a veteran was exposed to asbestos, especially if their military service took place decades ago.

Veterans who have developed mesothelioma but are unsure how or where they were exposed may want to speak to a claims agent or VA-accredited mesothelioma lawyer who can help them look back through their service history.

“Several years ago, I was contacted by an Army artilleryman with pleural mesothelioma. He was inquiring about any VA benefits for which he might be eligible. I explained that we could file for VA Disability, but at the time, he knew of no Army exposure, and we opted not to file the claim. However, several months later, he called me back and explained that his lawyer had managed to figure out that the gloves he wore while handling hot artillery shells for six years in the Army were actually made out of asbestos. We filed the claim, and he was approved. So, never say never.”

– Retired Senior Veteran

Secondhand Asbestos Exposure Risk in the Army

The dangers of asbestos exposure were not limited to soldiers working in high-risk jobs. Their family members were often put at risk as well, especially those who lived on military bases.

Did you know

U.S. Army bases used many asbestos-containing products, putting innocent family members at risk of inhaling or ingesting airborne fibers disturbed during construction projects, renovations, and simple daily use.

Family members also faced the risk of asbestos exposure from their contact with the soldiers themselves. When asbestos fibers stuck to a soldier’s clothes and equipment, they could be brought back to the family’s living quarters, potentially leading to secondhand exposure.

Compensation for Army Veterans

Veterans and their families have a wide range of options for seeking mesothelioma compensation and benefits. Some benefits are accessed through the VA Health Care System, while others are completely unconnected to it.

Specialized Treatment Options Through the VA

Treatment through the VA Healthcare System is often free, allowing mesothelioma patients to access care from experienced specialists.

One such specialist is Dr. Avi Lebenthal, who provides expert care to veterans from all over the country.

The VA also employs nationally-recognized surgeon Dr. Robert Cameron, who has developed new surgeries to treat this cancer.

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 Trust Funds

Asbestos companies knew the risks posed by their products but sold them to the military anyway. When the truth was exposed, these companies faced an influx of lawsuits but were ultimately court-ordered to set up trust funds to compensate victims.

Currently, more than $30 billion is available through asbestos trust funds.

VA Financial Benefits

The VA has several benefits to help Army veterans pay for the cost of living with mesothelioma.

VA benefits compensate veterans for an inability to work, easing financial strain and allowing them to focus on rest and recovery.

  • VA Compensation Amounts

    Eligible veterans can access over $3,000 a month in VA Disability Compensation.

The variety of benefit types and the process of determining eligibility can be confusing, but there are experts ready to help veterans get the compensation they deserve.

Get Help Filing for Mesothelioma VA Benefits

Filing a VA claim can seem like a daunting task, but it’s not something you have to do alone.

Our VA Support Team has years of experience determining how and where veterans were exposed to asbestos.

We can help you take the first steps to:

  • Creating a detailed asbestos exposure summary
  • Expediting your VA claim
  • Determining if you should file a lawsuit with a mesothelioma law firm

If you know or suspect that you were exposed to asbestos while serving in the Army, you may be eligible to file a legal claim. Compensation gained from legal action can provide valuable security and peace of mind for you and your loved ones.

Connect with a team member now, and get help filing your VA claim.

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.

View 7 Sources
  1. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. “Compensation - Asbestos Exposure.” Retrieved from: https://www.benefits.va.gov/COMPENSATION/claims-postservice-exposures-asbestos.asp. Accessed on September 27th, 2017.
  2. 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.”
  3. 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: https://www.warrelatedillness.va.gov/education/factsheets/asbestos-exposure.pdf. Accessed on September 27th, 2017.
  4. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (n.d.). Veterans Asbestos Exposure. Retrieved September 27, 2017, from https://www.benefits.va.gov/COMPENSATION/claims-postservice-exposures-asbestos.asp
  5. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (n.d.). Developing Claims for Service Connection (SC) Based on Other Exposure Types. Retrieved from https://www.knowva.ebenefits.va.gov
  6. Office of Public Health, Department of Veterans Affairs (2013). Exposure to Asbestos: A Resource for Veterans, Service Members and Their Families. Retrieved September 27, 2017, from https://www.warrelatedillness.va.gov/education/factsheets/asbestos-exposure.pdf
  7. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and Veterans Health Administration. (2013). Public Health - Military Exposures. Retrieved June 22nd, 2019 from https://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/benefits/index.asp
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