Were You Exposed to Asbestos During Military Service?

Posted by Eugene Powell on May 21, 2018 8:23:58 AM

Asbestos fibers on a dark backgroundWhen asbestos was originally introduced to the public, it was considered something of a miracle due to its ability to more effectively fireproof housing, machinery, automobiles, and more.

We are primarily used to hearing about asbestos being used in housing construction or automobile manufacture, but did you know every branch of the United States military used asbestos as a flame retardant, too? Long after the harmful effects of long-term asbestos exposure were known, its use continued unabated until nearly 1980.

Asbestos is either partially or fully banned in more than 17 countries. You may be surprised to learn, however, that the United States is not one of them.

While the military stopped utilizing asbestos in new construction by the end of the 1970's, it remains present in older installations, and even servicemembers who are based in the United States can still be exposed. The damage caused by asbestos can often be hidden for years or even decades, and many veterans have been blindsided by the development of asbestosis or mesothelioma.

Were you exposed to asbestos during military service? Did you serve in another branch of the United States military and believe you may have been exposed to asbestos? Have you developed symptoms of asbestos exposure or signs of serious illness?

You may want to take a closer look.

What Are the Symptoms of Asbestos Exposure?

Exposure to asbestos causes problems that are slow to develop and can take more than 20 years to become physically obvious. The most common illnesses to result after asbestos exposure are asbestosis and mesothelioma

What Are the Symptoms of Asbestosis?

Asbestos develops when an individual breathes in asbestos fibers. These fibers become embedded in the sensitive tissue inside the lungs of the person exposed. Over time, the individual's lungs will attempt to cover this with scar tissue, leading to the development of asbestosis. Symptoms include:

  • shortness of breath
  • a feeling of your chest being uncomfortably tight
  • a persistent dry cough
  • chest pain
  • appetite loss
  • finger clubbing (enlarged fingertips)
  • nail deformities

Asbestosis is incurable, but it is treatable. You may find that you need only a regular inhaler to help encourage your lungs to function at close to normal capacity, or your doctor may prescribe supplemental oxygen from a mask or tube. 

Another potential illness caused by asbestos exposure is mesothelioma.

What is Mesothelioma? 

Mesothelioma is an incredibly rare cancer that develops over the course of decades and can appear 50 years after asbestos exposure. There are three types of mesothelioma: pleural (in the lungs), peritoneal (in the lining of the abdomen), and pericardial (in the mesothelium around the heart, the rarest form)

Symptoms differ depending on where mesothelioma develops, but include:

  • Weight Loss (all)
  • Shortness of breath (pleural)
  • Irregular heartbeat (pericardial)
  • Persistent chest pain and dry cough (pleural)
  • Abdominal pain (peritoneal)
  • General fatigue (all)
  • Seizures (peritoneal)
  • Nausea and vomiting (peritoneal)
  • Difficulty breathing (pericardial)
  • Fever (all)
You can find a more complete list of mesothelioma symptoms right here at Mesothelioma Explained, as well as a look into potential treatment options. Mesothelioma is not curable, but a quick diagnosis and treatment can improve a patient's prognosis and allow for improved longevity and quality of life.

When Were Military Veterans Exposed to Asbestos?

It would actually be a shorter timeline to describe when military servicemembers weren't exposed to asbestos, since it's been in regular use in the military since the late 19th century.

It was widely used as a fire preventative by every branch of the military by the beginning of World War I, and its use did not dip until the end of the 1970's.

What Branch of the Military Was Most Exposed to Asbestos?

The United States Navy faced the greatest historical exposure to asbestos. Former Navy servicemen and women are facing down asbestosis and mesothelioma in the greatest numbers today.

The U.S. Navy kept its ships coated from bow to stern with asbestos, essentially exposing everyone on board. Exposure was worst below-deck in areas like boiler and engine rooms, ammunition storage, and even sleeping quarters. Nearly 30% of those who will develop mesothelioma are military veterans, and more than half of those spent at least some time in the Navy.

Vietnam veterans are especially vulnerable to exposure, as their time of service would coincide with the most widespread use of asbestos at any point in military history. If you were diagnosed with mesothelioma after serving in the Navy or any other military branch, even if it's been decades, you may still be able to access the benefits to which your service entitles you.

Asbestos Exposure in Iraq and Afghanistan

We tend to think of military exposure to asbestos as a thing of the past, but the truth is, the possibility of longterm damage due to exposure is actually beginning to rise as Middle East conflicts continue. 

These nations have suffered significant infrastructure damage over the course of decades, and the use of asbestos has been embraced as a low-cost construction material.  To the best of our knowledge, there are no laws in either nation that protect workers of U.S. military members from asbestos exposure, so ongoing unregulated use of asbestos poses incredibly serious long-term health risks for those serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

If you or a loved one served in Iraq or Afghanistan at any time, it is essential to watch for symptoms of asbestosis as time goes by. Early treatment can be the difference in quality of life and eventual prognosis. 

Can You File a VA Disability Claim for Mesothelioma?

There are multiple types of benefits available for military veterans who have developed asbestosis or mesothelioma as a result of their service. 

Available benefits include, but are not limited to:

Veterans Affairs is aware of the reality of asbestos exposure and its potential effects on veterans. If you believe you were exposed during your service and you have developed asbestosis or mesothelioma as a result, you may file a claim for VA Disability for asbestos exposure.

You may want some help moving forward, and it's important to consult with a VA Disability attorney with experience in these matters before you make a decision.

Exposed to Asbestos While Serving in the Military?

If you're filing a VA Disability claim for asbetos exposure or after developing mesothilioma as a result of asbestos exposure, Bluestein Attorneys is here to help. Our VA Disability team is made up of former servicemembers themselves, who understand the unique strain and pressures of military life. They have worked with veterans on issues ranging from PTSD as a result of military service to military TBI to Agent Orange exposure and more.

We'd be happy to sit down with you and go over your unique situation, working alongside you to help you choose the next best step for you. Give us a call at (877) 524-4675 or contact us online at any time to request your FREE consultation.

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Topics: Veterans Affairs