Mesothelioma and Military Veterans

One male Veteran wearing Korea-Vietnam Veteran hat and another mature man wearing Vietnam Veteran hat in front of American flags outside

Before a flood of asbestos-related lawsuits and regulations began around 1982, the toxic fiber could be found in many American homes and public structures. The use of asbestos was likewise widespread across all branches of the U.S. military in a variety of machine parts, insulation, building materials, and more. 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.

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.

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.

Ways Veterans Were Exposed to Asbestos

Primarily, 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 haven’t been exposed to the toxic fiber for decades. However, while serving, they may have worked in occupations like:

  • 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. Demolished and contaminated buildings in the region are public health hazards, and soldiers may have inhaled dangerous amounts of asbestos while near these crumbling structures.

The U.S. military was once one of the largest consumers of asbestos. If you’re a veteran, let us assess your case for exposure risks.
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Asbestos Exposure in the Navy

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 in 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 spent 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.

Are All Veterans at Risk for Mesothelioma?

While asbestos is the primary cause for mesothelioma, other risk factors (such as genetics) could put some veterans with no history of asbestos exposure at risk for mesotheliomas. 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 individuals:

  • Branch of service
  • Length of service
  • Occupation during service
  • Years of service

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.

Exposure in Civilian Occupations

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 on a regular basis would be at risk of developing mesothelioma after years of military and/or civilian work on the job.

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).

Secondhand Asbestos Exposure

In addition to asbestos risks to prior servicemembers, the families of veterans may have also been exposed to asbestos. Like the families of mineworkers in Libby, Montana, dust can travel on workers’ clothes, skin, and hair to their homes. Once there, it can be transferred to family members via direct contact, or it may become airborne and inhaled or ingested.

Like direct asbestos exposure, secondhand asbestos exposure may take decades before its resulting symptoms appear. Cough, chest pain, and/or abdominal swelling are early signs of internal injury caused by secondhand asbestos exposure.

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 benefits and services to military veterans. Its Veterans Benefits Administration accepts applications for an array of 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 in need of 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 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).

How Can Veterans File a Claim for 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 prior to enlisting, and serving worsened it
  • You have a current medical condition caused by service that didn’t appear until after discharge

What Treatments Are Available to Veterans With Mesothelioma?

After being diagnosed with mesothelioma, veterans have 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.

Because mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer, veterans may choose to enter a clinical trial to receive new types of emerging cancer therapy. Targeted therapy for mesothelioma, such as immunotherapy, may improve the quality of life for patients. Clinical trials offer new drugs for patients across every stage of cancer.

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 file a claim for VA benefits and make a legal claim for asbestos exposure at the same time? Yes. Filing for your benefits with the VA does not affect your eligibility to file a lawsuit for asbestos exposure and vice versa.
  • Will I qualify for VA benefits if my health problem started after I left service? 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.

Mesothelioma Support Team

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