Military veterans have regularly been exposed to asbestos, and this means that they are at increased risk of developing mesothelioma, asbestosis, and other asbestos-related illnesses. In fact, the levels of pleural mesothelioma in Vietnam vets is higher than in any other population group. Because asbestos was able to fireproof, insulate, and strengthen virtually everything, it was considered to be a very useful substance for the military and was used in various items. Unfortunately, exposure to asbestos fibers has been found to be particularly dangerous because these fibers are carcinogenic.

Asbestos in the U.S. Military

For a long time, it was believed asbestos could prevent injuries and burns. While this is true, the reality is that it has also puts lives at risk. As soon as asbestos is damaged or broken, it releases fibers into the air, which can be inhaled or ingested. Once in the body, these fibers can cause tumor growth, including pleural mesothelioma. Now that it has been recognized that military personnel have had substantial exposure to asbestos fibers, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has put a number of solutions in place to ensure that those who have been affected by asbestos-related illnesses receive a variety of benefits.

The VA’s chief mission is to ensure military veterans are aware of the benefits that are available to them, and to provide them with the necessary tools to apply for these. Unfortunately, the process of applying for these benefits can be very long and drawn out. Having some awareness of the three types of benefits that exist will help to speed up that process.

  1. Disability Compensation – The first type of compensation that is available is disability compensation. This is provided to those who have sustained an injury connected to their service. Pleural mesothelioma is considered as an injury that is service connected, although Vietnam vets do have to prove that they were exposed. Usually, compensation for someone with mesothelioma starts at $2,800 per month, although it does depend on the number of dependents the veteran has, and how severe their disability is.
  2. Dependency and Indemnity Compensation – Next, there is dependency and indemnity compensation. This is offered to the survivors of veterans who died because of a service-related injury or disease. They are entitled to a monthly payment, the value of which depends on whether or not they are house bound and if they have any children, and if so, how many.
  3. VA Health Benefits -Last but not least, there are the VA health benefits. This means that Vietnam vets are able to receive treatment in various centers across the country. There are more than 1,700 sites that they can go to, and some 8.7 million vets are treated here each year.

Are You Eligible?

If you have been discharged or released from the military under a condition that is not dishonorable, then you are classed as a ‘veteran’. To be a Vietnam veteran, you must have served during the Vietnam War and have had at least one tour there. A number of other criteria are also of importance to determine eligibility and these include:

  • How long you served
  • Whether the asbestos exposure is considered as service-connected
  • What your income level is
  • How many dependents you have
  • What VA resources are available to you
  • Proof of diagnosis of mesothelioma

The key is that you must be able to demonstrate that your asbestos exposure happened during your time in the military and therefore could not have been avoided. This can be achieved through a document provided by an accredited physician. In this document, they should state there is in fact a mesothelioma diagnosis and that asbestos exposure during military service caused the illness.

Commonality of Mesothelioma in Vietnam Veterans

Anyone who served in the U.S. military before 1980 is potentially at risk of developing asbestos-related illnesses. It was used in all areas of the military and it is believed that millions of veterans were exposed. Those with the highest level of exposure are believed to be the U.S. Navy.

  1. Navy – The U.S. Navy had the most potential to cause asbestos exposure. Most of the Navy ships constructed until the middle of the 20th century, used asbestos from bow to stern. In fact, at least 300 different asbestos-containing materials were used in Navy ships. The areas with asbestos included the boilers, bedding materials, paneling, grinders, gaskets, valves, deck covering materials, cables, thermal materials, packing materials, millboards, adhesives, insulation, and pie covering. The highest risk of exposure was found in those who repaired any of these elements.
  2. Marine Corps – Asbestos was also extensively used in the U.S. Marine Corps, where men served both on land and at sea. The sleeping quarters, including piping and bedding, contained asbestos. All Marine Corps buildings were built and repaired using asbestos products, from floor to ceiling. Additionally, their land vehicles used them, and Marines spent a lot of time in those vehicles, which was when their chance of exposure was at its highest.
  3. Air Force – Those in the U.S. Air Force repaired and operated aircraft, many of which had asbestos in many of their parts. Anyone who worked on repairing planes were at risk of being exposed to asbestos. Additionally, many of the Air Force bases had buildings constructed with asbestos materials. Asbestos was found in joint compounds, tapes, adhesives, paints, and insulated pipes. Some of the bases were found to have particularly high levels of asbestos, including Arizona’s Williams AFB, Oklahoma’s Tinker AFB, South Dakota’s Ellsworth AFB, and Colorado’s Lowry AFB and Buckely AFB. Chanute Air Force Base currently still has high levels of asbestos.
  4. Army – Lastly, there is the U.S. Army, where asbestos was used to insulate many barracks and other buildings. This means soldiers slept and lived surrounded by asbestos fibers, often for many years. Whenever any type of repair was made to these buildings, the asbestos would get disturbed, leading to particles becoming airborne. The Army’s vehicles, including support vehicles, tanks, and helicopters, had very high levels of asbestos in them, including on the valves, gaskets, and breaks. The mess halls were constructed using materials that contained asbestos, and so were the barracks. Furthermore, Army personnel frequently had to help with the demolition of these types of buildings, where the asbestos would get disturbed.

Why Place Soldiers at Risk?

The fact that asbestos is dangerous is nothing new. However, it seems as if manufacturers and other businesses have been burying their heads in the sand for many years, not taking any steps towards eliminating the use of asbestos in their products. During the Vietnam War, asbestos was considered to be a miracle mineral and was therefore used in the construction of just about everything. It was versatile and affordable, which meant that it was perfect for the military to use. Unfortunately, the military personnel were placed in the unenviable position of possibly developing various asbestos-related illnesses, although the VA is offering a number of solutions to those who have indeed been diagnosed of having asbestos-related illnesses.