About 30% of all mesothelioma victims are veterans. Asbestos was extensively used in vehicles, housing, clothing and weaponry – nearly anything service members touched, used or wore. As a result, mesothelioma and other asbestos diseases are rampant among those who served.

Anyone who served (or continues to serve) in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard are at the highest risk of contact with asbestos and developing asbestos cancer when compared to the general population. The most recent census data shows there are 18.2 million veterans in the United States. About 50% are 65 or older. Since asbestos disease symptoms typically don’t appear for 10 to 50 years after exposure, many veterans may not know they have asbestos cancer until later in life when the disease is in the final stages.

Asbestos-product manufacturers, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and health experts have acknowledged the link between veteran contact with asbestos and severe illness. Veterans diagnosed with mesothelioma – a preventable cancer — may be eligible for VA benefits, trust fund compensation and health care services, even if their active duty assignments ended decades ago. Military leaders, lawmakers and the court system are acutely aware of the connection between mesothelioma and the armed services.

Why the Military Used Asbestos

Asbestos was used in all military branches because it could withstand the extremes of heat and fire and resist problems caused by chemical reactions. Asbestos is known as the best natural insulator.

In the early 1930s, military leaders realized asbestos would provide the insulating properties and heat protection needed for heavy machinery, flooring, roofs, construction equipment, mining operations and building products. Asbestos was embedded into clothing, bedding and gas mask filters to protect members of the armed forces from burns and other injuries. It was also used because it was lightweight, allowing military vehicles to carry more fuel and weaponry. It was cheap and resistant to water damage and bug infestations.

At the height of World War II, the military required asbestos be used in scores of applications. Each navy ship alone carried tons of asbestos. It covered every pipe and lined every ventilation duct in Army barracks. It lined Air Force aircraft cockpits. Military use of asbestos continued into the early 1980s.

Even though asbestos was used for decades, troops were not told about the dangers or offered safeguards that would protect against the minuscule fibers that became airborne and could later cause mesothelioma.

The damages caused by asbestos are not limited to military service decades ago. Even today, service members run the risk of crippling injuries as a result of mesothelioma. Some military members who served in Kosovo, Bosnia, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan and other parts of the world were possibly exposed to asbestos fibers that were released in war-torn areas when buildings were destroyed during military encounters. 9/11 first responders are also at risk for developing asbestos-related cancer.

Military Branches Affected by Asbestos

Asbestos was used in each military branch in different ways, depending on individual needs. During World War II alone, the U.S. military used an average of 783 million pounds of asbestos per year.

More specifically, each military branch relied on asbestos as follows:


The Navy has been aware of the dangers of asbestos since the 1920s but did not stop using it until the late 1970s. Instead of removing the toxic materials from vessels and vehicles, the Navy instead painted all asbestos-containing insulation magenta to alert workers to a potential hazard. However, when these materials become dry and brittle over the years, they crumble and release asbestos fibers into the air.

Shortly before the start of World War II, military leaders ordered asbestos to be used in every U.S. Navy vessel. A 2019 International Journal of Radiation Biology study showed the following occupations most at risk for exposure:

  • Fireman
  • Boiler technician
  • Pipefitter
  • Machinist
  • Water tender

Several naval officers, including retired U.S. Navy Admiral Roger B. Horne, Jr., and retired U.S. Navy Rear Admiral David P. Sargent Jr., testified in court that asbestos was extensively used in turbines to protect from the extreme heat the machinery produced. Naval personnel were instructed to wrap large asbestos blankets around the turbines to reduce the heat. Court testimony also states asbestos was used on pumps, condensers and blowers. Horne and Sargent’s statements are frequently used as evidence in mesothelioma court cases.

In a court affidavit, Horne also said each Navy destroyer required about 22 tons of asbestos thermal insulation each and each Navy aircraft carrier had up to 300 tons of asbestos thermal insulation.

“Navy specifications demanded the use of asbestos thermal insulation with its turbines and auxiliary equipment for most of the 20th Century,” Horne said.

Even naval ground operations were laden with asbestos. In 2018, officials at Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland said asbestos has been inside some of the buildings on the site for about 75 years. The installation, commissioned in 1943, is home to the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) and the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School (USNTPS).


Asbestos was used in all modes of Army transportation, including Jeeps, tanks, trucks, automobiles and tactical vehicles. Soldiers who repaired vehicles came in contact with asbestos when overhauling brakes (asbestos brake pads) and transmissions (asbestos gaskets and belts). Asbestos insulation blankets were wrapped around pipes and furnaces to protect from excessive heat in military installations. It was added to flooring, concrete and siding and added to paints in Army barracks.

Among those at risk for asbestos exposure from Army service:

  • Mechanics
  • Firefighters
  • Plumbers
  • Infantrymen
  • Artillerymen

Air Force

Air Force pilots and ground crews were exposed to asbestos while inside aircrafts, working on engines and inside barracks. Asbestos was also used in protective clothing, sheets, towels and blankets. Air Force careers at risk for asbestos exposure includes:

  • Mechanic
  • Environmental specialist
  • Pilot


Marines worked across all terrains, so they are exposed to asbestos in all forms. While traveling on naval vessels, Marines faced similar exposure risks as their Navy counterparts. On land, they were met with asbestos dangers similar to Army soldiers.

Coast Guard

Coast Guard members spend a lot of time on ships and cutters to enforce maritime law. They face the same exposure risks as naval personnel. Some of the at-risk Coast Guard occupations include:

  • Sailors
  • Electricians
  • Damage control and machinery technicians

In 2018, Coast Guard officials sent notices to crew members assigned to cutters constructed before 1991 warning of possible asbestos and lead exposure.

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VA-Recognized Asbestos-Related Diseases

While asbestos is the only known cause of mesothelioma, there are a number of other cancerous and non-cancerous diseases that are caused by asbestos exposure. The VA has recognized a number of asbestos-related health conditions which include:

  • Mesothelioma
  • Lung Cancer
  • Certain Gastrointestinal Cancers
  • Asbestosis
  • Interstitial Pulmonary Fibrosis
  • Pleural Plaques & Effusions

VA Benefits for Veterans with Mesothelioma

Veterans who have been diagnosed with mesothelioma or other asbestos diseases as a result of military service can file a claim for a variety of VA benefit programs. The military recognizes the risks associated with asbestos and provides benefits to support disabled veterans through programs that include:

VA Disability Compensation

The VA provides financial compensation for veterans with mesothelioma. A mesothelioma diagnosis typically qualifies veterans for 100% coverage on the VA disability scale. In 2019, a veteran who is deemed 100 percent disabled is eligible to receive $3,057 a month. The compensation rates increase for veterans who are married and have dependents.

Dependency Indemnity Compensation (DIC)

Surviving spouses and dependents of veterans who died as a result of a service-related disease (including mesothelioma) can receive monthly financial payments. The compensation, which is tax-free, begins at $1,357.56 a month and can increase based on the service member’s pay grade and the number of dependents.

It should be noted that DIC benefits are not automatic for spouses and dependents. In order to receive these benefits, surviving family members must apply for them through the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Health Care

The VA employs some of the nation’s leading mesothelioma specialists in treatment centers around the country: 

  • VA Boston Health Care System
  • Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center
  • West Los Angeles VA Medical Center

Veterans subjected to asbestos during their military service can be treated by these mesothelioma specialists at any facility they choose without paying fees above the rates at their local VA hospitals.

Aid and Attendance

Veterans with mesothelioma and their spouses are eligible to receive financial assistance to pay for their everyday needs, including personal care, cooking and medication management.

Also, veterans and their families may also be entitled to other benefits that can pay for additional expenses:

  • VA Burial and Military Headstone
  • Funeral Reimbursement
  • Survivor’s Pension
  • VA Pension
  • VA Geriatric & Extended Care Services
  • VA Caregiver Benefits
  • VA Fiduciary Program

Receiving VA Benefits

While victims of asbestos-exposure typically qualify for a number of public and private benefits, VA benefits are reserved exclusively for veterans. Even among veterans, there are a number of criteria that must be met in order to qualify. These criteria include:

  • Veteran Status: Those dishonorably discharged from either the U.S. military, NOAA, or the Public Health Service are not eligible for VA benefits.
  • Medical Diagnosis: Claimants must be able to present medical records proving they have an asbestos-related disease
  • Exposure History: Claimants must be able to prove that 50% or more of their lifelong asbestos exposure occurred during their military service.

Filing a VA claim can be difficult to do on your own. In order to ease the process, service member representatives who understand how to file a VA claim are available to serve as advocates for sick and disabled veterans.

Other Government Benefits for Veterans

Veterans can access benefits that can help pay for necessities that are usually only covered partially by insurance, including health care travel, lodging, medical equipment,prescription medications, and other medical expenses. The programs are either state/federally funded or privately funded, as follows:

State and Federally Funded Programs

Medicare provides health insurance for anyone age 65 or older and some people under age 65 with specific disabilities. Medicare is funded through the federal government and covers hospital stays (Part A), physician visits (Part B), private medical insurance (Medicare Advantage) and prescription medications (Part D).

Veterans are permitted to use both VA medical benefits and Medicare, but they cannot be used together. Veterans often used VA insurance for services not covered by Medicare, including hearing aids and eyeglasses.
Medicaid provides health care for low-income people. Veterans use Medicaid to limit their out-of-pocket medical expenses. Medicaid, a state-federal funded program, also helps veterans who do not have access to VA benefits, including those who have served less than 24 months, do not live close to a VA clinic or have been dishonorably discharged.

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)
SSDI provides stipend money to disabled people who cannot work. Due to federal regulations, veterans are allowed to draw on SSDI and VA benefits at the same time. Veterans must have a medical condition that will last at least a year or end in death to qualify for coverage.


Family members of deceased or disabled veterans can receive The Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veteran Affairs  (CHAMPVA).

Privately Funded Programs

Travel grants
Charitable organizations provide grants aimed explicitly at helping mesothelioma patients get to treatment. For example, the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation provides $1,000 grants to cover medical travel costs, including meals and lodging. Grants do not need to be paid back.
Temporary housing
Some hospitals and medical centers work with charitable organizations to provide free housing to patients undergoing long-term treatment.
Home medical equipment
Some charities help patients pay for medical-equipment costs not covered by Medicare. Other charities provide loaner medical equipment.
Prescription medication assistance
Charitable organizations, including NeedyMeds and the Patient Advocacy Foundation, assist with co-pays, co-insurance and other prescription medication costs. Pharmaceutical companies as well have programs that offer free medication.

Other Options for Asbestos Victims to Receive Benefits

Mesothelioma victims can pursue legal action against the companies who knowingly put them in harm’s way. Some victims choose to file mesothelioma lawsuits against manufacturers and former employers that exposed them to asbestos in the first place. While the payouts of lawsuits are typically high, the process can be long and difficult.

Alternatively. dozens of asbestos trust funds have been established by negligent companies to compensate all of the victims. Mesothelioma victims can file legal claims to receive compensation from multiple trust funds dependent on their case.

It is important to consider the fact both of these legal options are subject to a statute of limitations. If a victim of asbestos exposure waits too long, they may not be able to file their legal case for compensation. Statutes of limitation do not affect VA benefits.

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Our Patient Advocates and VA-accredited claims agents help sick and injured veterans move through the complicated process of getting benefits for injuries caused by exposure to asbestos. We match patients with providers and help with everything from finding a treatment specialist to getting financial assistance. Contact us today.

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Written and legally reviewed by Samuel Meirowitz

Attorney and On-Site Legal Advocate

Samuel Meirowitz is a member of the “Top 100 Trial Lawyers.” Mr. Meirowitz was named a “Rising Star” in 2013 & 2014 by Super Lawyers and then a Super Lawyer every year since 2016. In 2013, Mr. Meirowitz obtained what is believed to be the first multi-million-dollar asbestos verdict seen in more than two decades in a New York federal court. In that highly contentious matter, Mr. Meirowitz was able to convince the jury to hold a boiler manufacturer responsible for 60 percent of the $3.8 million awarded, despite the defendant’s attempt to escape all blame by pointing fingers at the plaintiff’s employer and the U.S. Navy (in which the plaintiff admirably served from 1966-70 during the Vietnam conflict). This verdict was upheld by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

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