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U.S. military veterans make up about 30 percent of all diagnosed mesothelioma cases every year. The military has established benefits and services specifically for military asbestos victims.

Veterans who have been injured by asbestos–diagnosed with mesothelioma or another asbestos-related injury—may qualify for disability compensation, financial benefits and other services through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The benefits and services come with eligibility requirements and restrictions.

Asbestos was widely used in the United States throughout all branches of the military, mostly from 1935 through 1975. Asbestos manufacturers are responsible for exposing veterans to the dangerous substance since these companies continued to make asbestos-containing products despite the known dangers. Veterans who were exposed decades ago are being diagnosed today.

Navy Veterans and Asbestos Exposure

U.S. Navy veterans are most at risk of developing an asbestos-related disease because asbestos was used in large quantities in shipyards and aboard naval vessels. Ships were constructed with asbestos in every crevice because the fibrous mineral contains heat-, chemical- and fire-resistant properties.

Even today, asbestos remains a threat in some military applications. Asbestos can be found on older naval ships and military installations despite remediation efforts. The material is still being used overseas so current members of the military remain at risk.

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Hazardous Military Occupations

The VA has acknowledged that veterans may have been exposed to “chemical, physical, and environmental hazards during military service.” The following military jobs are considered high risk for asbestos exposure.

  • Mining
  • Milling
  • Shipyard work
  • Insulation work
  • Building demolition
  • Carpentry
  • Construction
  • Flooring or roofing manufacturing/installation
  • Cement sheet installation
  • Plumbing
  • Mechanic (servicing of clutch facings and brake pads)

High Risk Jobs for Navy Veterans

The Navy started using asbestos in 1938 and later mandated it be installed on every ship in the fleet. The following naval professions are particularly vulnerable to mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases:

  • Boatswain’s Mate (BMs) – BMs were exposed when performing maintenance duties above and below deck, including sanding asbestos paints and grinding asbestos tiles.
  • Boiler Technician (BT) – In operating and maintaining Navy vessel boilers, technicians handled asbestos products including raw asbestos that was used to coat joints.
  • Electrician’s Mate (EM) – In operating the ship’s electrical system, EMs were in daily contact with asbestos-coated wiring, insulation and motors.
  • Fire Control Technician (FT) – FTs operated and controlled weapons aboard naval vessels. In performing their duties, they were exposed to asbestos in systems maintenance and while wearing asbestos-coated protective gear.
  • Hull Maintenance Technician (HTs) – While fabricating and installing various metal structures, including sanitation systems, HTs were exposed while using asbestos materials and while wearing asbestos-coated gear.
  • Machinery Repair (MR) – MRs worked with asbestos gaskets, insulation, flanges, sheets and packing materials while repairing vessel machinery.
  • Pipefitter – Pipes that spanned Navy ships needed constant maintenance. Pipefitters worked with asbestos in all forms to ensure the piping system was running.
  • Seabee – As members of the U.S. Navy Construction Battalion, Seabees were responsible for construction projects, including building roads, destroying buildings and clearing land. They used asbestos-containing materials in all aspects of the job.

Asbestos Exposure in the Army

In performing land-based operations, Army service members were exposed to asbestos in installations around the world. Even today, the threat of exposure remains. Countries in the Middle East, including Iraq, continue to use asbestos in construction projects. In addition, several U.S.-based Army installations, including Fort Jackson in South Carolina and Fort Knox in Kentucky, still contain asbestos. The following are Army occupations that are susceptible to asbestos exposure:

  • Infantryman – In defending against land-based threats, members of the Infantry used asbestos products to maintain vehicles and weaponry.
  • Mechanic – When performing routine vehicle maintenance, mechanics were exposed to Asbestos used in brake pads and clutch plates.

Asbestos Use in the Air Force

With the main goal of performing aviation missions, the Air Force maintains heavy bombers, fighter jets and other supporting aircrafts. Most Air Force bases used asbestos in the concrete landing strips, buildings and aircrafts, including the brakes and engines. At-risk Air Force occupations include the following:

  • Airman/Aviator – Aircrafts built through the 1980s contained asbestos, including in the heating systems, engine firewalls and adhesives and glues used for repairs.
  • Aircraft Maintenance and Mechanic – To upkeep aircrafts, mechanics overhauled engines, wiring, gears, brakes and other friction parts that were coated with asbestos.

Asbestos in the Marines

During the prime asbestos-use years, Marines often traveled overseas aboard U.S. Navy vessels. Because these vessels had poor ventilation and excessive amounts of asbestos, anyone aboard was at risk for exposure. Marines are also at risk in sleeping quarters, common rooms, mess halls and barracks.

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