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 age 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 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.
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 line 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.
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:
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 carriers 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:
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:
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 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:
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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Veterans who have been diagnosed with mesothelioma or other asbestos diseases as a result of military service have access to 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:
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.
Surviving spouses and dependents of veterans died who as a result of a service-related disease (including mesothelioma) can receive monthly financial payments. The compensation, which is tax-free, begins at $1,319 a month and can increase based on the service member’s pay grade and the number of dependents.
The VA employs some of the nation’s leading mesothelioma specialists at locations in Boston, Los Angeles and Houston. 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.
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:
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 and prescription medications. The programs are either state/federally funded or privately funded, as follows:
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 hospitals 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. Veteran must have a medical condition that will last at least a year or end in death to qualify for coverage.
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.
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 for co-pays, co-insurance and other prescription medication costs. Pharmaceutical companies as well have programs that offer free medication.
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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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.Learn More