In recent years, tens of thousands of former Army, Air Force, Marine, Navy, and Coast Guard personnel and their spouses have begun to develop mesothelioma. Every year, in fact, thousands of new cases are discovered among our veterans. More tragically, these veterans are getting hit with the devastating news that their service to their country in World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and other conflicts is the source of their cancer. The association between veterans and mesothelioma cancer is especially strong among men who served in the navy on board ships or in shipyards during the aforementioned conflicts, but members of other branches of service have not escaped the problem of mesothelioma. Veterans should know of their exposure, cancer risks, and what can be done about their illnesses.

Asbestos Exposure and Veterans

Asbestos, a naturally occurring mineral, was considered an ideal material for a number of applications because of its resistance to fire and heat. This extremely durable, malleable, and useful substance can be made into a variety of forms and compiled with a wide spectrum of ingredients to make thousands of asbestos products. It has been used for hundreds of years as a fire-resistant insulator, but it wasn’t heavily mined and used commercially until the turn of the twentieth century. Its use really exploded in the World War II years, as it was used in products manufactured for the military.

Regrettably, asbestos has cancer-inducing properties. The millions of individual fibers that make up asbestos are too small to be seen with the naked eye, and when asbestos is disturbed in any way (as it is being mined, manipulated for a product, installed, or removed), the fibers are released into the air. The fibers are so lightweight that they hang suspended in the air for hours, even days. Inhaling these fibers begins the process of lung damage that often leads to cancer, specifically mesothelioma.

Although there were some individuals who knew of or suspected the toxic nature of asbestos, until the 1970s, the carcinogenic nature of asbestos was not widely known, and they were certainly not publicized. The asbestos mines, asbestos processing plants, and factories for manufacturing asbestos-containing products were operated by owners and managers who may or may not have known of the cancerous nature of asbestos. These executives usually provided no special safety precautions for those working with asbestos.

Members of the military who worked with asbestos, the civilian contractors who were also exposed to this toxic mineral, and the family members who breathed in the asbestos dust that was inadvertently brought home to them on the clothing, shoes, and hair of workers, did not know that asbestos was sowing the seeds of mesothelioma cancer in their bodies.

Those who spent weeks, months or years working with asbestos-containing products in the decades before it was banned may well have ingested a toxic amount of this mineral. Certain military jobs exposed workers to an extraordinarily high amount of asbestos during the period in which the mineral was in wide use. These jobs include:

  • aviation mechanics and electricians
  • boiler operators
  • boiler room workers and others who worked below deck
  • brake or clutch repairmen
  • ceiling or flooring tile installers
  • construction workers
  • deckhands
  • demolition workers
  • drywall installers, drywall tapers
  • electricians
  • firemen
  • insulation installers
  • machinery repairmen
  • machinists
  • machinists’ mates
  • mechanics (auto, aviation, marine, maintenance)
  • plumbers
  • ship crews
  • shipyard workers
  • steamfitter
  • submarine engineers
  • workers on navy ships

Asbestos was used in the military in hundreds of applications, including:

  • ships like cargo vessels, troop ships, submarines, destroyers, cruisers, and aircraft carriers
  • military vehicles such as jeeps, tanks, troop transporters, cars and trucks
  • military housing on bases, for dormitories, camps, family housing, and overseas
  • buildings such as mess halls, stores, offices
  • weapons

Whether military members or civilian contractors worked on a base here at home or in places like Korea, Japan, Guam, Germany, and elsewhere, they were in many cases exposed to a toxic level of asbestos. This is due to the fact that the military used asbestos in more than 300 different products.

Mesothelioma does not require an intensive workplace filled with asbestos; veterans who have developed mesothelioma may have been exposed to asbestos cancer during the time they spent in sleeping quarters, mess halls, and navigation rooms that had asbestos components. Many shipyards were also full of asbestos, especially during the 1930s and 1940s.

Mesothelioma Develops Years after Asbestos Exposure

The symptoms of mesothelioma take up to 60 years to develop, but the mesothelioma-asbestos link can be identified and confirmed even when the patient hasn’t had any contact with asbestos for decades. The increasing numbers of veterans with mesothelioma diagnoses continue to confirm the causal link between asbestos and mesothelioma. A good lawyer can help you determine whether your mesothelioma diagnosis entitles you to compensation.

The Navy, Asbestos, and Mesothelioma

Veterans of every branch of service were exposed to asbestos. Navy veterans, however, are at an especially high risk of developing mesothelioma because of the extensive use of asbestos on naval ships for things such as:

  • boiler rooms
  • brake pads and clutches
  • cables
  • ceiling and flooring paneling
  • cements, adhesives
  • electrical fittings
  • firebrick, fireproofing sprays
  • gaskets, valves
  • insulation materials
  • incinerators
  • pipe coverings and other plumbing materials

Particular service areas in the navy carried with them their own unique asbestos exposure risks:

Mesothelioma Cancer and Particular Conflicts

The major wars in which the U.S. participated during the twentieth century each featured unique asbestos-related dangers to those who fought in the conflicts.

World War II

World War II veterans have a mesothelioma rate that is significantly higher than that of the general population of the same generation. Their family members also have a higher rate of mesothelioma.

During WWII, millions of men and women worked in the U.S. and overseas, in the military, for military contractors, and in private companies in a broad spectrum of jobs that caused significant asbestos exposure. The factors that led to a high use of asbestos during the period include:

  • the need for thousands of new buildings on military bases, such as housing and other military structures
  • the construction of a record number of ships for the Navy and merchants
  • repair work on military vehicles’ brakes and clutches

Factories, steel mills, and shipyards were particularly active as the war progressed, so much so that many women were called into the workforce to make up for the absence of men, who had been called to military service. WWII workers and veterans were frequently completely unaware of the asbestos exposure in these jobs. Today, many people who suffered asbestos exposure during WWII, including veterans and their family members, are just now being diagnosed with diseases such as mesothelioma, lung cancer, and asbestosis. In fact, the diagnosis of WWII veterans with mesothelioma is one of the key factors helping scientists to make the connection between asbestos and mesothelioma. In the years between 1973 and 1984, there was a threefold increase in the diagnosis of mesothelioma (pleural mesothelioma) among white males in the United States – that is, about 30-35 years after World War II, the mesothelioma cancer rate tripled. As people started to show the symptoms of asbestos cancer diseases, science was bound to sit up and take notice of the causes of mesothelioma. Veterans now have some treatment options as a result of these scientific studies.

Korean War

Hundreds of thousands of Americans and their families served in the Korean War effort. Although this war is sometimes called “the Forgotten War” because it receives less attention than World War II, there were 36,000 American combat casualties during the Korean War.

Asbestos exposure during the Korean War has left many veterans, civilians, and members of their families with diseases that are directly traceable to asbestos exposure: mesothelioma cancer, small-cell and non-small-cell lung cancer, and asbestosis, among others. Due to the long latency period for asbestos-related cancers, asbestos exposure during the Korean War years (1950-1953) may manifest itself now, some 60 years later. If you or someone you love served in the Korean conflict, the asbestos fibers inhaled during those years may be a contributing factor to respiratory disease.

Vietnam War

Many thousands of civilian and military personnel supported the U.S. involvement in Vietnam, serving in Vietnam itself, in Japan, and on other fronts (including domestic military bases), in jobs that exposed them to toxic levels of asbestos – the sole confirmed cause of mesothelioma, a deadly cancer with no cure. As a result, the number of Vietnam War veterans with mesothelioma cancer is increasing. In the years between 1980 and 2000, the rate of death due to mesothelioma cancer in the U.S. increased from 2,000 to 3,000 a year. Since mesothelioma takes decades to develop after exposure to asbestos, Vietnam War veterans with mesothelioma cancer are most likely among the individuals who have contributed to this increase.

We are accustomed to counting the casualties of the Vietnam War according to the numbers reported at the end of the war. The war’s end, with the fall of Saigon, left more than 58,000 American troops dead, 2,000 missing, and 300,000 wounded. However, we cannot stop our counting of casualties there. Many more American casualties of the war can be added, as men and women who served during the 12 or so years of the war are now being diagnosed with fatal mesothelioma cancer and lung cancer, directly traceable to their asbestos exposure more than 30 years ago.

Symptoms of Mesothelioma Cancer

Some soldiers, sailors, marines and other veterans with mesothelioma are already being treated. Other veterans are experiencing the first symptoms and signs of mesothelioma but are not yet aware that cancer is causing the symptoms. If you’re a veteran and you’re experiencing mesothelioma symptoms such as chest or abdominal pain and shortness of breath or wheezing, get tested immediately for mesothelioma. Veterans will want to pay especially close attention to these dangers and look for treatment.

Help for Veterans with Mesothelioma

Because mesothelioma can take decades to develop, thousands of retired veterans will continue to develop the fatal cancer even though asbestos use has been banned. If you or someone you love served in the military before the late 1970s, you are at risk of developing mesothelioma. You should visit your physician immediately for a complete physical. If you are diagnosed with mesothelioma, contact Mesothelioma Treatment Centers today to speak with an experienced asbestos attorney who specializes in representing veterans affected by asbestos.