Veterans and mesothelioma infographics showing 30% of diagnoses being Veterans.

Military Veterans Exposed to Asbestos

Veterans across the United States have sacrificed an incredible amount for this nation for as long as it has been established. An unintended but very real consequence of this sacrifice includes exposing themselves to physical and secondhand danger. Asbestos exposure, for instance, is one way veterans have been exposed to mesothelioma, and for a long time, this reality was tossed by the wayside. Soon enough, though, a flood of asbestos-related lawsuits and regulations started to surface around 1982, even though the proof of its danger had been discovered decades ago.

This habit of using asbestos was prevalent in products and buildings that everyday citizens used but was also widespread across all branches of the U.S. military. Asbestos was used in a variety of machine parts, insulation, building materials, and barracks. In areas where asbestos is exposed to the air, inhaling its dust can send asbestos particles deep into breathing passages. Once there, the hazardous particles are impossible to remove. This unfortunate circumstance can lead to deadly results, which is why we are going to dive into what veterans and their families need to know if they may have been exposed to asbestos and diagnosed with mesothelioma.

How Veterans are Exposed to Asbestos and Mesothelioma

As stated earlier, asbestos was mixed into other materials (often added to metals) to strengthen them and make them resistant to fire. Throughout most of the twentieth century, the U.S. military was one of the largest consumers of asbestos-containing material (ACM) in the country. Veterans being diagnosed with asbestos-linked cancers today were usually enlisted beginning in the 1970s, during the Korean and/or Vietnam War.

The majority of veterans diagnosed with mesothelioma may not have been exposed to the toxic fiber for decades. This doesn’t prevent them from contracting mesothelioma, as the disease typically has a long latency period, and symptoms won’t begin to show until it’s too late. However, while serving, the occupations with the biggest risk of encountering asbestos included:

  • Automotive Mechanic
  • Carpentry
  • Cement work
  • Construction
  • Demolition
  • Flooring installation
  • Insulation work
  • Manufacturing
  • Mining or milling
  • Roofing installation
  • Shipyard work

More recently, army veterans who have been deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan have been put at risk of asbestos exposure as they navigated through buildings that could have been built with asbestos and other carcinogenic materials. Demolished and contaminated buildings in the region are public health hazards, and soldiers may have inhaled dangerous amounts of asbestos and dust while clearing these crumbling structures.

Asbestos Exposure in the Navy and Shipyards

Those who served in the Navy (especially those who worked in shipyards) have an increased risk of occupation-related cancers due to the materials used to manufacture and maintain naval vessels. As late as 1979, the Navy reported that all of its ships contained asbestos. The material could be found in the tons of clutches, piping systems, electric cables, thermal insulation, and more aboard many of its ships.

Shipyard work during and after World War II and the Korean War exposed Navy personnel to high airborne concentrations of asbestos. A 1970 study of workers at the Puget Sound Naval Yard revealed that one in five pipe coverers and insulators handling asbestos later developed respiratory problems. According to a letter from the Department of the Navy, Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, 224 active ships needed to undergo abatement activities by the 1980s. Overall, the following types of ships had tons of asbestos built into them:

  • Aircraft carriers
  • Amphibious assault ships
  • Combatant missile patrol boats
  • Destroyers
  • Frigates
  • Guided-missile cruisers
  • Large harbor tugs
  • Oceanographic research ships
  • Replenishment oilers
  • Submarines

If you spend prolonged periods of time building or aboard one of these ships, you have greater odds of being diagnosed with pulmonary complications like asbestosis, pleural plaques, and mesothelioma.

Air Force Veterans and Asbestos Exposure

For veterans of the Air Force, several risk factors determine which prior servicemembers are more or less at risk of being diagnosed with an asbestos-related illness. The level of risk for chronic diseases like mesothelioma is determined by the individual’s:

  • Branch of service length of service
  • Occupation during service
  • Years of service

Up to 40 years later, asbestos exposure can cause internal damage like tissue scarring among veterans. Though rare among cancers, mesothelioma is the most common result of exposure to asbestos in the military. Those who worked on or near certain bases or military installations may also have an increased risk for mesothelioma. Shipyards, in particular, often contained high concentrations of airborne toxins. Any veteran who is diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease as a result of their military service may be eligible for medical and financial benefits. Legal aid may also be available to help veterans and their families seek compensation.

Marines and Mesothelioma

Many military veterans, including marines, may have been likewise exposed to carcinogens outside of the service. A wide range of occupations in the military and civilian sectors are similarly dangerous to their workers. For instance, an automotive mechanic handling brake clutches regularly would be at risk of developing mesothelioma after years of military and/or civilian work. For years, rates of asbestos-caused diseases were high among workers in the following industries:

  • Aviation and auto mechanics
  • Boiler operators
  • Construction
  • Electricians
  • Mining
  • Railroad workers
  • Refineries
  • Shipyards and longshoring

If a veteran is diagnosed with an occupational disease caused by exposure in the civilian workforce, legal assistance is available for compensation. A qualified attorney can help you and your family file a lawsuit or make a legal claim against the responsible company (or companies).

Veterans can seek compensation without suing the government.
Evaluate My Case

What are Presumptive Diseases Recognized by the VA?

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) simplifies the process for veterans exposed to asbestos. If you have certain conditions, the VA assumes they’re connected to your military service without needing proof of direct exposure. Some of these conditions are asbestosis, mesothelioma, and lung cancer. Additionally, specific cancers like bile duct, breast, esophagus, gallbladder, pancreas, pharynx, small intestine, stomach, and thyroid, as well as leukemia, lymphomas, multiple myeloma, and primary liver cancer are considered presumptively service-connected by the VA.

What Benefits Are Available to Veterans With Mesothelioma?

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, more commonly referred to as the VA, is responsible for the management of veteran benefits and services to military veterans. Its Veterans Benefits Administration accepts applications for various medical and financial services. Depending on a few qualifying factors, a veteran and/or their family may be eligible for VA-provided:

Type of VA Benefit


Burial and memorial benefits Benefits for veterans and their families to help plan and pay for burial in a VA national cemetery, as well as memorial ornamentation to honor veterans.
Dependency and indemnity compensation A monetary benefit for the family of a veteran whose death was caused by their service.
Disability compensation Monthly payment benefits for veterans with service-connected or worsened injuries and conditions.
Financial assistance A broad continuum of services includes financial counseling, housing grants, educational training, mortgage delinquency assistance, veterans’ pension and survivors’ pension, and more.
Healthcare An individualized package of medical benefits to treat current health problems and keep veterans healthy for the future. May include medical, dental, vision, family, and long-term health care.
Special monthly compensation A supplementary benefit for veterans needing special disability assistance (such as in-home care).

If your illness can be connected to your military service, you could be eligible for between 10 and 100 percent disability benefits. VA disability compensation is a monthly, tax-free payment from the VA that compensates individuals for both physical and mental health conditions. On the VA Disability Compensation website, you can learn about the types of evidence you’ll need to prove your eligibility, add or remove dependents to your disability claim, and explore other types of VA benefits, such as housing grants.

PACT Act Asbestos Exposure Benefits

The PACT Act was signed into law in August 2023 and expanded support for veterans exposed to hazardous substances and toxic materials, including asbestos, during their military service. While not exclusively focused on asbestos, the PACT Act expands assistance for veterans dealing with health challenges from various toxic exposures, including those who were exposed while tending to burn pits and other trash burnings. It also enhances eligibility for VA health care and facilitates access to disability compensation for veterans diagnosed with presumptive conditions linked to toxic exposures.

The PACT Act even allocates resources for ongoing research and education, with the goal of deepening understanding of conditions arising from toxic exposures, such as mesothelioma. Individual benefits vary based on circumstances like service history, medical diagnosis, and disability rating. Veterans concerned about asbestos exposure or related health issues are urged to contact the VA for personalized guidance on benefits and healthcare options. They can reach out through the VA website or by calling 1-800-827-1000 to ensure they receive the deserved support and care.

Top Rated VA Hospitals for Mesothelioma and Lung Cancer

When facing mesothelioma or lung cancer, veterans can access top-rated VA hospitals for specialized care. Eligible veterans can benefit from health benefits at these hospitals, while the VA Community Care Network also provides treatment options a little closer to home. For those considering experimental treatments, clinical trials at these VA hospitals offer new therapies, including targeted options like immunotherapy, improving the quality of life for patients at every stage of cancer.

After being diagnosed with mesothelioma, veterans have also several options available for treatment. Seek cancer treatment at a VA hospital if you’ve qualified for health benefits. The VA Community Care Network may also offer treatment locations closer to home.

How Can Military Members File a Claim for Veteran Benefits?

You may be able to file a claim for VA health care benefits and/or disability compensation if you meet the VA’s eligibility requirements. You may be able to file a claim for VA benefits online or at a nearby VA office. Prepare for your application beforehand by collecting paperwork with your discharge status, medical history, any evidence of health problems related to your service, and any known history of exposure to toxins like asbestos.

To be eligible for VA health care, you must not have received a dishonorable discharge from active-duty service. Enlistment dates after September 7, 1980, or for those whose active duty began after October 16, 1981, need to have a continuous 24 months of service or the full enlistment period, unless:

  • Your discharge was for a service-related or worsened disability
  • Your discharge was for hardship or an “early out”
  • Your service occurred before September 7, 1980

If you were dishonorably discharged, you may still qualify for some VA benefits and services through a discharge upgrade or the VA Character of Discharge review process. To be eligible for VA disability compensation, your current injury or illness must meet one of the following criteria:

  • You became ill or injured during military service
  • You had a medical condition before enlisting and serving worsened it
  • You have a current medical condition caused by service that didn’t appear until after discharge

Frequently Asked Questions From Veterans

Commonly asked questions from veterans and their families filing for VA benefits, legal aid, and financial compensation.

  • Is there a time limit to file a claim for VA benefits? No, you can file for benefits at any time upon discharge from military service.
  • Which dependents are eligible for VA benefits? Surviving spouses, children, and parents are eligible for VA Survivor and Dependent Compensation (DIC). Certain qualified dependents are also available for VA disability benefits.
  • Can I simultaneously get VA benefits and pursue a legal claim for asbestos exposure? Yes. Filing for your benefits with the VA does not affect your eligibility to file a lawsuit for asbestos exposure and vice versa.
  • Do I qualify for VA benefits if my health issue emerges after serving? Yes. You are still eligible for VA health care benefits and disability compensation if your condition started after the date of your discharge if it was related to your service or made worse by it.
  • Will the VA help me file a lawsuit for asbestos exposure? While the VA does not provide lawyers for lawsuits against asbestos companies, legal resources are available for veterans and their families. Request a free mesothelioma guide with information about finding a qualified attorney before the statute of limitations has expired for your case.
  • What is the average settlement for an asbestos legal claim? The average settlement for an asbestos legal claim is between $1 million and $ 1.5 million.
  • What evidence will I need to submit with my claim? Evidence for your mesothelioma claim should include medical records, employment history, and documentation of asbestos exposure.
  • What is the VA Disability Rating for asbestos exposure? The VA Disability Rating for asbestos exposure depends on the severity of your condition but can range from 10% to 100%. These are just general estimates, and it’s important to consult with an attorney and the VA directly for specific details regarding your situation. If you still have questions our resource hasn’t answered, please reach out to one of our patient advocates, who would be more than eager to assist.

Mesothelioma Support Team

Mesothelioma Hub is dedicated to helping you find information, support, and advice. Reach out any time!