Asbestos and Veterans
Throughout the twentieth century, countless numbers of the 22.7 million veterans have undergone exposure to asbestos during their service in the United States Armed Forces. Asbestos is a fibrous,naturally occurring substance known for its insulating and fire retardant properties. When the fiber particles break apart they become airborne and are easily inhaled. Asbestos exposure results in the development of a potentially fatal cancer known as mesothelioma, among other diseases.
FREE Mesothelioma Information
Once these fibers are inhaled they become embedded in protective tissues surrounding the lungs, heart and abdomen, acting as a carcinogen resulting in various illnesses and diseases. Mesothelioma, the devastating asbestos-related cancer that develops in this tissue, can lie dormant for anywhere from 20 to 50 years following exposure. Furthermore, its absence of obvious symptoms allows it to develop undetected until it has advanced to the later stages, when it finally becomes apparent.
This late diagnosis leads to a correspondingly poor prognosis, as the American Cancer Society points out mesothelioma patients currently only have an average life expectancy of four to 18 months. In addition, only about one in 10 patients will survive over five years with this cancer. Survival rates also continue to worsen as these patients age.
Connection to Veterans
Unfortunately, World War II saw the popularity of asbestos soar, as it was used extensively throughout every branch of the armed services. Naval shipyards, in particular employed asbestos and asbestos-containing materials as an insulator and fire guard in boiler rooms and other confined spaces. Furthermore, in the World War II era the Navy saw its fleet increase from under 400 active ships in 1939 to 6,768 by 1945. Navy vessels are now notorious for the high quantities of asbestos used in their construction. This has led to an especially high incidence of mesothelioma among Navy veterans, who spent extended periods serving onboard these contaminated vessels, sometimes even helping make repairs which might have involved the removal of old asbestos insulation.
However, due to the numerous beneficial properties of asbestos, including its tensile strength, resistance to corrosion, electricity and heat, and its ready availability, all branches of the military found countless uses for the material until the 1970s. At the height of asbestos’ popularity, the dangers associated with the substance were either unknown or disregarded, resulting in little to no safety protocol for minimizing risk. Veterans also unknowingly exposed family and loved ones to these deadly fibers through secondary contact when they brought the fibers home on their clothes and hair.
In addition to its use on Navy vessels, asbestos found frequent military use in the following areas:
- Automobile Parts
- Heat-Resistant Fabrics
Helping Veterans with Claims
Battling mesothelioma requires strenuous and expensive medical treatments. Unfortunately, many of these treatments are palliative in nature, meaning they are only meant to help relieve patient symptoms, not act as a cure. Currently, the federal government does not designate mesothelioma as a service-related illness because it remains difficult to prove exposure took place only during military service. This is due to the fact that many veterans took jobs that involved potential asbestos exposure following their service. This means that unless veterans can prove their asbestos exposure was confined to their military service, they cannot collect various government Veterans Administration benefits which are accessible to other injured veterans, such as Agent Orange exposure victims and Gulf War Illness sufferers.
Unfortunately, without VA assistance, many veterans may not be able to afford the expensive mesothelioma treatments they need, such as surgery, chemotherapy or radiation. Nevertheless, thanks to medical confirmation stating that 30 percent of all patients diagnosed with mesothelioma served in the armed forces, the government has acknowledged a connection. Therefore, veterans that can prove that they were exposed to asbestos while on duty may be entitled to compensation for medical care through the Veterans Affairs office.
However, claims obtained in this manner can be very complex. Therefore, most veterans find the assistance of a legal firm well versed in asbestos-related claims to be of great value. Furthermore, if no benefits can be obtained from the VA, an experienced attorney may be able to help these veterans collect compensation to help pay for medical treatments themselves.