Veterans Mesothelioma: Asbestos Lingers in the Military

By now it’s old news that asbestos is a hazardous substance and that inhaling fibers from the material can create all sorts of health problems for humans.  It’s also known that asbestos was a popular choice for insulation products, for electric wire insulation, for roofing, flooring, in wallboard, caulking and in fire prevention material.  Fire protection suits for men working around extreme heat were made from material woven from asbestos fibers.

Most domestic asbestos products were taken off the market during the 1990s and in 1989 the EPA banned its use.  In 1991 however, a federal Appeals Court declared the EPA ruling to be illegal.  And in millions of existing structures asbestos insulation, asbestos coating on pipes, asbestos fire protection material, tiles and some mechanical devices are still in place.

A Widespread Product for Bases and Vessels

United States military installations are prime locations for structures that still contain asbestos components because so many of the buildings were erected prior to 1970.  The most concentrated use of asbestos in the military, however, has been in the Navy.  Virtually every ship commissioned between 1930 and the early 1970s had asbestos coating on engine room pipes and boilers, on piping throughout the ship, and asbestos insulation throughout the vessel that also served to provide fire protection.

While much of the asbestos has been removed from military bases and Navy vessels, its effects are still very much in evidence.   For a sense of how widespread asbestos was in domestic products, take a look at the EPA analysis conducted in 1990. The two principal diseases that are caused by asbestos are asbestosis – a scarring of the lungs leading to reduced lung capacity – and mesothelioma, a lethal form of cancer that usually develops in the membrane lining the outside of the lungs, the heart and the walls of the abdominal and chest cavities.

The Damage Asbestos Does

Asbestosis is a progressive, incurable disease that slowly steals breathing ability.  Malignant mesothelioma, on the other hand, is an aggressive and lethal form of cancer that usually turns up in the lining of the lungs.  This variety of the disease is called pleural mesothelioma, caused as are most asbestos related diseases by inhaling asbestos fibers.  One of the most insidious features of mesothelioma cancer is the fact that mesothelioma symptoms don’t begin to appear until many years have passed after the asbestos exposure has occurred. 

For most veterans who develop asbestos related afflictions they appear years after the end of active service.  It is not uncommon for mesothelioma symptoms to appear twenty years after the end of active duty.  All veterans from World War II forward to the present have been subject to the possibility of asbestos exposure; for Navy veterans serving on board ship or in ship repair details hazardous asbestos exposure was virtually unavoidable.

The Impact on Military Men and Women

The statistics reflect the impact that asbestos use has had on America’s veterans.  Mesothelioma has been a relatively rare but increasingly evident form of cancer that has been increasingly diagnosed in the United States over the last forty years.  Of all U.S. citizens that have developed malignant mesothelioma, thirty percent of them have been veterans.  Most of those served in the Navy.  As the fleet is refitted and ships decommissioned the danger of asbestos exposure has lessened.  It is still present in many of the older ships however – the USS Enterprise still has an onboard crew trained in asbestos removal and will retain that crew until the ship is retired in 2011 or 2012.

When you consider all the miners, construction workers and heavy industry employees that were exposed to asbestos and asbestos products, the fact that veterans mesothelioma represents almost a third of the affected population is a remarkable statistic.  The long latency period for mesothelioma cancer has resulted in a continuing stream of veteran mesothelioma diagnoses every year.

The Department of Defense maintains a program for asbestos management, but for tens of thousands of veterans the damage is long since done.  If you are a veteran that served or worked on any Navy vessel built before the mid-1970s it is probably a good idea to see a physician, discuss all the potential impacts of asbestos exposure and learn more about the symptoms.

Compensation for Veterans with Mesothelioma

The VA has taken a mixed approach to the effect that decades of asbestos exposure has had on veterans.  The VA health facilities will treat veterans with lung problems and may even diagnose mesothelioma, but there is no disability eligibility unless the veteran can prove that his or her mesothelioma was caused by asbestos exposure during active duty.  Twenty years or more after the fact, that is almost impossible.

Veterans with asbestos related disease can, however, file claims against the asbestos companies for compensation.  Hundreds of thousands of Americans have done so successfully and plenty of those individuals have been veterans.  If you are a veteran with an asbestos related affliction, get experienced representation that can file your asbestos claim quickly and get you your compensation in a timely manner.

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