Asbestos was used in many materials up until the 1970s. Although used across dozens of industries, those working in a military career are at a higher risk of asbestos exposure compared to other occupations. Military veterans are at risk of developing asbestos-related diseases such as mesothelioma and asbestosis due to asbestos-containing materials commonly being used in shipyards and older buildings.

Asbestos Use in the Military

Up until the 1970s, asbestos was regularly used in materials used within industries such as the shipbuilding, automotive, and construction industries.

Asbestos was a useful material that was favored to help create products such as electrical, construction, and insulation products. During this time period, veterans were often working in environments where asbestos was commonly used and handled. Some of these occupations include mining, shipyard, insulation, and demolition work. 

Veterans deployed outside of the U.S. where older buildings were damaged are also at high risk of asbestos exposure. Asbestos fibers are dangerous when the materials that contain asbestos are disturbed, moved, and cut, releasing the fibers into the air around them. Because of the common handling of asbestos materials in the military, military service members are one of the highest risk occupations of asbestos exposure and asbestos-related illnesses.

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Military Occupations with High Exposure Risk

Certain jobs within the military are considered higher risk occupations for asbestos exposure compared to others. Veterans who served in the following occupations may have unknowingly been exposed to asbestos:

  • Miners
  • Shipyard workers
  • Insulation workers
  • Demolition specialists
  • Carpentry workers
  • Construction workers
  • Installation workers(flooring and roof)
  • Welders
  • Vehicle Mechanics

Asbestos Exposure in the Navy

Navy veterans are one of the most high-risk branches of the military for exposure to asbestos. This is because asbestos-containing materials were often used and handled by members of the Navy while working on ships and within shipyards. The building, maintenance, and repair of ships containing asbestos materials put many of these members at risk of exposure. These asbestos-containing materials were important for ship materials as they provided insulation and were water and fire-resistant, resulting in the materials being used in a large number of naval ship equipment.

Asbestos Exposure in the Marines

Although previous members of the Navy are at the highest risk because of the likelihood of direct contact with asbestos building materials, other branches of the military are also at risk of exposure. Marine Corps veterans may have been exposed to asbestos while spending time near and traveling on Navy ships or at shipyards, working in construction, and working on vehicle repairs. Traveling and being transported via Navy vessels put those among its ships at risk of exposure through its many asbestos-containing materials such as flooring, ceiling tiles, insulation, and more.

Asbestos Exposure in the Air Force

Similar to the way Navy veterans were exposed, Air Force veterans were exposed to asbestos through the maintenance, repair, building, and general use of Air Force aircraft. Asbestos was commonly used in these aircrafts within the brakes, electrical insulation, wiring, clutches, and more. Air Force veterans who had worked on aircrafts and handled aircraft components between the 1930s and the 1970s are considered at high risk of asbestos exposure, as asbestos was commonly used within military aircraft materials during this period of time.

Asbestos Exposure in the Coast Guard

Coast Guard veterans who worked within shipyards helping build and repair ships are also at high risk of asbestos exposure. Members of the Coast Guard are at the same level of asbestos exposure risk as Navy veterans, both having many members who worked directly with ship materials. Up until the 1970s, ship materials such as insulation, roofing, and electrical materials contained asbestos. If you worked in the Coast Guard between the 1930s and the 1970s and worked on ships or with shipbuilding materials you may be at risk of exposure and developing asbestos-related illnesses.

Benefits for Veterans with Mesothelioma

You may be eligible to receive certain disability benefits from the Department of Veteran Affairs if you were exposed to asbestos while in the military. Many service members are at a high risk of asbestos exposure. Servicemembers who served overseas in locations such as Iraq, the Middle East, or Southeast Asia may have been exposed through older asbestos-containing materials in worn down or damaged buildings. Additionally, certain jobs such as shipyard workers and aircraft repair workers may have had contact with asbestos-containing products as well. 

Exposure to asbestos can result in a number of serious health effects such as mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer commonly caused by asbestos exposure. There are various types of VA claims and benefits for veterans eligible for compensation due to exposure. Among these benefits include financial assistance to assist with paying for bills while out of work, treatment costs, travel costs, and more.

What You Need to File a VA Disability Compensation Claim

If you believe that you may have been exposed or had contact with asbestos you should discuss with your doctor about your potential testing options. Your doctor will be able to help identify whether or not you are experiencing an illness related to asbestos exposure, such as mesothelioma. If you believe that your health issues caused by asbestos exposure are from time spent in the military, contact your health care provider and local VA Environmental Health Coordinator.

Military veterans are able to file a disability compensation claim if they believe their health issues are due to asbestos exposure from time spent within the military. Veterans must be able to prove that their asbestos-related illness is due to exposure during military service. The VA comes to a conclusion on these claims on a case-by-case basis. In order to receive health care or compensation disability benefits from the VA, you will need to file a claim and provide medical records stating your illness, service records stating your job or specialty, and a doctor’s statement claiming that there is a viable connection between your illness and asbestos exposure during military service. 

VA disability compensation claims differ from other mesothelioma compensation options that a victim may normally seek. VA claims are not considered legal claims but are still able to provide compensation to veterans exposed. Asbestos trust funds on the other hand involve filing claims against one or more asbestos trust funds (companies), and asbestos lawsuits involve filing a personal injury and wrongful death claim. Speak with an attorney about what your best settlement options may include, as you may be eligible for more than one type of compensation.

If you worked in one of the high-risk military occupations or with high-risk materials, it is recommended that you consider getting tested for asbestos-related illnesses and speak with a medical professional about your treatment options.

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Written by Richard Stewart

Writer, Content Coordinator and Outreach Director

Richard Stewart is a writer, content coordinator and outreach director with over 12 years of experience covering asbestos exposure, mesothelioma, and treatment options. He is passionate about spreading awareness for asbestos and mesothelioma and helping victims find the information and resources they need online.

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