Veterans, family members and those working on Army bases may have commonly encountered asbestos in old buildings and vehicles as late as 1980.
Asbestos and Army Bases Explained
Asbestos is a cancer-causing mineral that was widely used on Army bases across the world. From the 1930s to the late 1970s, the military used asbestos-containing materials in barracks, vehicles and weapons because they were cheap and effective.
Asbestos is an excellent insulator and fireproofing material. But the risks of asbestos weren’t known to the public until around 1980. This is when the Army began instilling regulations to limit and rollback the use of asbestos products. Anyone who lived on an Army base before 1980 may have been exposed to asbestos.
When exposed to asbestos, a person may develop mesothelioma. It can take up to 50 years for mesothelioma to develop. Veterans are still being diagnosed with diseases caused by asbestos exposure during their service. Families living on bases also had a risk asbestos exposure.
Even a small exposure to asbestos can be harmful. According to the EPA, “Up to date, no safe level of asbestos exposure has been determined, and it is generally assumed that ‘zero’ exposure is the level most protective of human health. Because of the small size of asbestos fibers, it is possible for the smallest to remain airborne for weeks.”
Army bases aren’t simply a place for military operations. Each base is a community, and some are large enough to be considered cities in their own right. Base life consists of families, stores, schools as well as day-to-day Army functions. The largest military bases even employ thousands of civilians.
Here are some of the largest Army bases in the United States:
- Fort Bragg. Built in 1918, this installation has the largest population of any Army base with over 230,000 people. Over 50,000 are active duty soldiers. It’s located in North Carolina and is home to the 82nd Airborne Division. Fort Bragg is home to 8 elementary schools and a junior and senior high school. Fort Bragg was essential to developing airborne troop tactics that helped win WWII. The base was also critical for operations during the Cold War and the Middle East wars. Pope Field, located on Fort Bragg, is one of the largest training centers for paratroopers in the U.S.
- Fort Campbell. This Army installation is situated directly on the border of Tennessee and Kentucky between Clarksville and Hopkinsville. This is another base renowned for its paratrooper division. Fort Campbell is home to the U.S. Army Dental Corps, the 5th Special Forces, the Tennessee Valley Corps of Engineers and the famous 101st Airborne, the Screaming Eagles. The base’s construction was finished in 1942 just as WWII was ramping up. In fact, the Army finished surveying the land for this base 1 month before Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. This base has the 5th largest military population in the Army.
- Fort Hood. Located in Texas, this is the Army’s largest active duty installation. The base can support 2 fully armored divisions. It was constructed in 1942 as a home for tank destroyers. Texas was the ideal location to test the anti-tank weapons because of its huge landmass. The base is situated north of Austin and south of Waco. It’s at least 50 miles out from the nearest large city. Now Fort Hood serves as a place to mobilize National Guard and reserve troops. There are multiple child and elderly care divisions located on base. It also has a population of more than 13,000 civilian employees and contractors.
- Fort Benning. Built approximately 100 years ago, Fort Benning is located on the border of Alabama and Georgia. It’s part of the “tri-community” area of Fort Benning, Phenix City and Columbus, Georgia’s second largest city. This Army base is the home to some of the most well-trained infantry in the world. It was home to nearly 100,000 soldiers, including officers and enlisted men, during WWII. Now, there are just over 27,000 active duty personnel on base, it is one of the main locations where soldiers attend basic training and home to thousands of families. The base even has its own renowned schooling system for military children up to grade 8.
- Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Located near Tacoma, Washington, this installation is a joint effort of the Army and Air Forces. Fort Lewis dates back to 1917 while the McChord airfield was established in 1930. However, the bases weren’t merged until 2010. As a joint base, it’s one of the largest in the U.S. military with over 50,000 family members, 27,000 military, 10,000 civilians and over 100,000 retirees. It’s location in the Pacific Northwest is a strategic benefit for deployment and humanitarian efforts. Most of the population of Lewis-McChord are located in Fort Lewis with only several thousand living on McChord Field.
The list above consists of some of the most well-known Army bases because they are located on U.S. soil. However, there are thousands of soldiers stationed at forts and joint bases around the world.
No matter where the Army base is located, asbestos may be a risk if the installations were built prior to 1980. Asbestos was definitely a risk prior to military regulations on the substance.
Other countries that are home to U.S. Army bases include:
- Japan (84 bases)
- Germany (38)
- Italy (3)
- South Korea
Asbestos Exposure Risks on Base
The bases listed above, like Fort Bragg, are old. Fort Bragg is home to some historical buildings like the Grey Whale Inn dating back to 1915 or the Guest House Museum built in 1892. And construction of new buildings continued right through the age of asbestos.
Old buildings, specifically those built between 1930 and 1980, pose the greatest asbestos exposure risks. This is true of any building on any Army base.
People most at risk of asbestos exposure on base include:
- Demolition/renovation workers
- Construction Workers
- Maintenance crew members
When the Army started regulating asbestos, it couldn’t solve the problem overnight. Asbestos products can still be found on Army bases. The Army tries its best to protect soldiers, but every now and then there is a risk of exposure.
The Army has issued warning statements of asbestos on base as late as 2010. One memo stated that, “The Army recently experienced a potential soldier exposure to asbestos while executing a self-help renovation/demolition operation conducted in a barracks. Because DOD facilities continue to contain asbestos products, Soldiers and civilians must be informed of asbestos hazards and proper handling and management requirements.”
Secondhand Exposure Among Family Members
Millions of family members have lived on an Army base. Those living in Army installations may have had asbestos exposure if there was renovation at the time. Family members may have also had secondhand exposure to asbestos on a soldier’s clothing. For example, an Army mechanic covered in brake dust containing asbestos could have exposed family unknowingly.
Help for Army Vets
Regardless of your job in the Army or the base on which you were stationed, there is help for your asbestos illness. Veterans with mesothelioma receive the maximum compensation for disability benefits if they’re eligible. There are also VA healthcare options and benefits for family members.
To qualify for VA benefits you must:
- Have been honorably discharged
- Have an asbestos-related disease like mesothelioma
- Prove that your disease is connected to time in the Army
Some veterans are also eligible for benefits based on income. Our VA-accredited claims agent can work with you to discuss which benefits you may receive. Our representative can also help you prove that you were exposed to asbestos in the Army. Talk to our rep today.