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Mesothelioma in the Army

Quick Summary

Asbestos was heavily used in the U.S. Armed Forces during World War II, Vietnam, and Korea. In fact, military veterans account for one-third of all mesothelioma diagnoses. Luckily, all Army veterans are eligible for VA benefits if they were exposed to asbestos while serving in the Army and then later developed mesothelioma.

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Army Veterans With Mesothelioma

Many veterans have developed mesothelioma as a result of asbestos exposure during their time in the Army. Mesothelioma was used in the U.S. Armed Forces from the 1930s until the early 1980s. During that time, soldiers were often exposed to asbestos through their Military Occupational Specialty (MOS).

Mechanics and those doing construction often came into contact with asbestos because it was used for insulation and fireproofing purposes.

When materials containing asbestos are used or disturbed, spores are released into the air. These spores can circulate in the air and are breathed in or can stick to a person’s hair, skin, and clothes for hours after exposure.

Asbestos exposure wasn’t the Army’s fault. The dangers of asbestos weren’t widely known until the early 1980s because asbestos companies kept them secret. Once they were discovered, the Army began removing asbestos from places where soldiers could be harmed.

Did you know

Manufacturers of asbestos-containing products are responsible for victims of asbestos exposure in all walks of life. 

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has benefits available for veterans who can prove their mesothelioma was caused by asbestos exposure during their time in the military.

These benefits are both financial and medical and exist to relieve the burden of living with mesothelioma for veterans and their loved ones.

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  • Treatment Options
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History of Asbestos Use in the Army

Army veterans are at risk of getting mesothelioma because the U.S. Armed Forces used asbestos extensively because of its ability to insulate and fireproof nearly all of their buildings, ships, planes, weapons systems, and equipment.

Some of these asbestos-containing materials include:

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

When asbestos-containing materials are damaged or degraded, asbestos becomes airborne. Airborne asbestos fibers can be breathed in and lodge in the lining of the lungs. Years later, these fibers can turn healthy cells into mesothelioma.

Asbestos can also get caught on clothing, hair, and skin, exposing others. Service members operating heavy artillery or weapons systems often wore gloves and suits laced with asbestos to prevent burns to their bodies.

“Service members who worked with, handled, damaged, or disturbed any [asbestos-containing materials] may have had some asbestos exposure as a result.”

– Office of Public Health

The health dangers posed by asbestos were hidden from the military until the late 1970s. Since then, the Army has removed most of the products that were made from asbestos. Unfortunately, those exposed to asbestos during their time of service are at risk for developing mesothelioma 20-50 years after exposure.

Barracks and other buildings all contained asbestos for insulation purposes and Army bases were laden with asbestos. Thankfully, almost all asbestos has been removed or refitted.

“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

Army Asbestos Exposure in the 21st Century

Most military members have not been exposed to asbestos since the 1980s. However, soldiers that served in the Iraq War may have been exposed to asbestos.

Nations in the Middle East still use asbestos in buildings and other infrastructure. When buildings were demolished or damaged during the war, asbestos was likely released into the air.

Where Were Soldiers Exposed To Asbestos?

Soldiers were exposed to asbestos in a variety of different locations.

Almost every building built by the military before the late 1970s contained asbestos. As the infrastructure degraded, it became easier for asbestos to be released into the air.

Below, learn more about places where Soldiers may have encountered asbestos.

Army Barracks

Soldiers living in barracks may have come in contact with asbestos. The mineral was used in construction materials when the barracks were built. Asbestos on Army bases could be found in insulation, siding, electrical wiring, and ceiling tiles.

Although most of the asbestos in the Army has been replaced, it was impractical to get rid of all of the asbestos used. The product remains in some older barracks, though it is generally not a risk if it is not disturbed.

Army Vehicles

Army vehicles that were built prior to the 1970s contained asbestos. Virtually all vehicles had used the hazardous material. This includes vehicles ranging from ambulances, buses, and tanks.

Asbestos was used in gaskets, clutches, brake pads, and heating systems to create a heat-resistant infrastructure safe from fires. When exposed to heat, vehicle components could expand, which caused damage to the vehicle, and asbestos reduced that risk.

Army Construction Sites

Army veterans involved in building, remodeling, and repairing barracks are at risk for asbestos exposure.

During construction, asbestos materials were disturbed, and Soldiers were put at risk of inhaling the airborne fibers.

In the 1970s, the Army Corps of Engineers was tasked with removing asbestos from Army bases, and soldiers with this MOS during this time period were very likely exposed to the dangerous asbestos fibers.

Army Jobs With Asbestos Exposure Risk

There were a variety of jobs where Army veterans could have been exposed to asbestos during their time of service.

Here are some of the jobs where an Army veteran could have been exposed:

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

Secondhand Asbestos Exposure Risk in the Army

The dangers of asbestos were not limited to Army soldiers who worked in jobs with a high risk of exposure. Their family members were often put at risk as well, especially if they lived on Army bases containing asbestos.

Since Army bases contained many asbestos products, innocent family members could have inhaled the fibers if they were disturbed through construction projects, accidents, or renovations.

In addition, family members may also have been exposed to asbestos from contact with the Army soldiers themselves.

Asbestos fibers and dust could stick to the clothes and equipment of Army workers. If these fibers were brought back to the family’s living quarters, they were at risk of secondhand asbestos exposure.

Compensation for Army Veterans

There are many benefits available to veterans and their families.

Veterans may be eligible for a free medical assessment for possible long-term health problems related to specific environmental hazards, but you do not need to be enrolled in VA health care to take part.

Army veterans can also access special benefits, including: 

  • Mesothelioma Specialist Treatment in the VA: Treatment through the VA Health Care system is often free. With mesothelioma, it’s a necessity to get treated by an experienced doctor. Luckily, there are two top mesothelioma surgeons in the VA, Dr. Robert Cameron and Dr. Avi Lebenthal. They treat veterans from all over the country.
  • VA Financial Benefits: The VA has several benefits to help pay for the cost of living with mesothelioma. These VA benefits are meant to compensate veterans for an inability to work. In addition, disability benefits and pensions can allow Army veterans to focus on rest and recovery without worrying about finances.
  • Asbestos Industry Trusts: Asbestos companies sold their products to the military knowing that they could be deadly. When the truth was exposed, these companies faced a huge number of lawsuits. They were ultimately court-ordered to set up asbestos trust funds to compensate their victims. Currently, more than $30 Billion is available through these trusts.

Especially in the case of Army veterans who had occupational asbestos exposure after their military service, legal claims are just another form of financial compensation to provide peace of mind to mesothelioma victims.

Getting Help Filing VA Benefits

Filing a VA claim is a daunting task for many veterans. However, you don’t have to file alone. Our Claims Agents are VA-accredited to help you make sure your claim is complete. This is the best way to make sure you get your benefits fast.

Our VA Claims Agents can help you:

  • Create a detailed asbestos exposure summary
  • Expedite your VA claim
  • Determine if you should file a mesothelioma lawsuit

Our VA Claims Agents have years of experience finding out how and where veterans were exposed to asbestos. They can tell from your exposure summary if you have a substantial amount of occupational exposure. If this is the case, you may want to consider filing a legal claim.

Get in touch with our VA-accredited service representatives now.

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 3 Sources
  1. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. “Compensation - Asbestos Exposure.” Retrieved from: 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: Accessed on September 27th, 2017.
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