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What Is Asbestos?

A person is working around asbestos in this image.Asbestos is a carcinogenic mineral that was mined in the United States until the late 1900s. The mineral’s strength, durability, and heat resistant properties led to its widespread use in commercial industries, homes, school buildings, and the military.

Many products that contain asbestos are still in use today:

  • Air duct coverings
  • Automobile clutches and brakes
  • Gutters
  • Insulation
  • Pipes
  • Popcorn ceilings
  • Roofing and siding shingles
  • Textured paint
  • Vinyl floor tile

Why Is It Dangerous?

A worker is ingesting asbestos fibers.Several agencies have labeled asbestos a carcinogen, including the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the National Toxicology Program (NTP), and the EPA.

When crumbled or disturbed, asbestos fibers create a dangerous dust cloud. It’s easy to inhale or ingest these microscopic fibers. The military used insulation and other products that were significantly friable or easy to crumble when renovated or repaired.

Once asbestos dust enters the body, the fibers attach to the mesothelium, a protective layer that lubricates the organs in the chest and abdomen. The fibers end up lodged in delicate tissue, creating friction against the organs, which eventually leads to the mutation of cells and the formation of mesothelioma or other diseases.

Not sure if you’ve been exposed to asbestos? Learn more about the signs and symptoms of mesothelioma in your new, mesothelioma guide.

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Asbestos Use in the Military

All five military branches relied heavily on asbestos and products that used the mineral from the 1930s until the 1970s, when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) restricted its use due to health concerns. However, some military construction used asbestos-products as late as 1991.
This is a picture of an Air Force aircraft.

Air Force

The Air Force became a separate military branch in 1974 when asbestos use was widespread. As a result, the Air Force used the material to build a majority of its structures. Ceiling insulation, walls, as well as floor tiles in buildings and barracks all contained asbestos. Air Force mechanics came into contact with materials like aircraft brake systems, engine valves, and gaskets.


This image shows an Army tank.
Army buildings and military vehicles also contained large quantities of asbestos. Veterans may have been exposed to the toxic fibers when coming into contact with insulation, cement flooring, roof tiles, and plumbing.


This image represents a truck driven by Marines.

Marine Corps

Insulation and plumbing pipes contained asbestos. Marines were exposed to the carcinogen in sleeping quarters, mess halls, and boiler and engine rooms. It was also common for Marines to live and work close to Navy shipyards, which contained the largest concentrations of the mineral.


This image shows a Navy ship.

Navy and Coast Guard

Members of the Navy and Coast Guard faced the highest levels of asbestos exposure. The insulation and paint used on vessels contained asbestos. Boiler and engine rooms on Navy ships, which were often dusty and small,  meant thousands of sailors and crew members inhaled or ingested it.


Who Was Exposed?

Decades of widespread asbestos use meant hundreds of thousands of service members were exposed to toxic dust and fibers. The amount of asbestos exposure often depended on the military job or location:

Air Force

  • Aircraft Handler
  • Aircraft Mechanic
  • Electrical Systems Specialist
  • Environmental Systems Specialist
  • Fire Control Technician
  • Metalsmith


  • Aircraft Mechanic
  • Artilleryman
  • Infantryman
  • Vehicle Mechanic

Coast Guard

  • Marine Inspectors

Marine Corps

  • Marines on Navy Ships Mechanics


  • Boatswain’s Mate
  • Damage Controlman
  • Gunner’s Mate
  • Hull Maintenance Technician
  • Machinery Repairman
  • Machinist’s Mate
  • Metalsmith
  • Pipefitter
  • Radioman
  • Seabee
  • Water Tender
  • Welder

Indirect Exposure to Asbestos

An asbestos worker is spreading the asbestos fibers to their family member.Service members could have potentially exposed their loved ones to asbestos. The microscopic fibers could easily attach to the clothing, hair, and skin of those who worked with the carcinogen daily, and carried it home. Medical professionals refer to this form of exposure as ‘indirect’ or ‘secondary’ exposure.


Veterans and Mesothelioma

This picture shows veterans of different branches standing together.Asbestos is fire resistant, durable, and cheap to produce. At first, the military used it to protect service members. Instead, many veterans now face a higher risk of developing mesothelioma, asbestosis, or lung cancer.

The United States didn’t start removing asbestos products until the mid to late 1970s when lawmakers began to restrict the carcinogen. As a result, the removal of the mineral came long after it was discovered to be harmful to humans.

Around 3,300 people are diagnosed with mesothelioma each year. Nearly a third of those patients are veterans exposed to asbestos during their service. The latency period, or time it takes to develop symptoms after asbestos exposure, is typically between 10 and 50 years. For this reason, veterans are likely to be diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease.

Veterans’ Benefits

This is an image of someone reading about their veterans benefits.The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers benefits to individual military members who have developed mesothelioma. Veterans will have to prove their eligibility to receive compensation for medical bills or loss of income. The VA requires a record of the following:

  • Time and location of service
  • Job or occupation in the military
  • A medical note confirming your service to your diagnosis

In some cases, the VA may deny benefits, or the benefits may not cover all of the patient’s expenses.

Legal Action

Lawyers are talking to a patient about their legal options.If VA benefits aren’t available, patients may be eligible to seek legal action against companies that manufactured or used asbestos. Asbestos trust funds from bankrupt companies are available for patients seeking compensation. Patients can also file a personal injury claim against the manufacturers that used the carcinogen knowingly.

Legal actions are not against the U.S. military or government and will not affect VA benefits. To learn more about taking legal action, fill out our free case evaluation form, and speak with a legal specialist.

Mesothelioma is a life-altering diagnosis. Request your free Mesothelioma Guide and take all the information we have to offer, where ever you go.

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