Mesothelioma & Air Force Veterans

The War-Related Illness and Injury Study Centers (WRIISCs) were established in 2001 by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to provide various types of health services to veterans. One of the duties that is included in the agency’s mission is to make educational material regarding possible environmental exposures that may adversely affect veterans’ health available.

In November of 2009, the WRIISC located in East Orange, New Jersey published a pamphlet titled Exposure to Asbestos: A Resource for Veterans, Service Members and their Families that explained the exposure risks associated with military service, especially the Air Force.

Asbestos-Containing Material was Widely Used by the Military

As in private industry, the heat and fire resistant qualities of asbestos made it popular with the military for use in:

Air Force veterans, like Army or Navy veterans, were susceptible to suffering from asbestos exposure while serving their country. While Air Force veterans, in general, did not complete their tour of duty aboard ships, they did spend considerable time in government constructed military installations and vehicles that were built using asbestos containing materials prior to the 1970’s. As a result, many Air Force veterans may have been exposed to high levels of asbestos and today, they could be at risk for developing the asbestos cancer known as mesothelioma.

Where Air Force Veterans Were Exposed to Asbestos

Many of the buildings on Air Force bases, including sleeping barracks, mess halls, ammunition storage facilities and training facilities, to name a few, were built with products that contained asbestos. The primary purpose for the use of asbestos containing products in the construction of military installations was to provide insulation and protection from fire and extreme heat. Examples of the types of products used in buildings include flooring and flooring tiles, wall insulation, ceiling tiles and asbestos cement and siding. Even though the use of asbestos was eventually banned in the United States there are many military installations existing today that were built well before that point in time. As a result, there may be extra building materials stored in the facilities. Because it may not be entirely clear whether or not these materials contain asbestos, those asked to work with them may know to take necessary safety precautions. Asbestos exposure doesn’t affect soldiers alone. If there are asbestos hazards in Air Force housing, for example, a soldier’s entire family may suffer from asbestos exposure placing everyone at risk for developing an asbestos related disease.

While the U.S. Air Force was not recognized as a separate branch of the military until the enactment of the National Security Act of 1947. Under this law, the Department of Defense was created and it was to be made up of three distinct branches, the Army, Navy and Air Force. This new military service came into existence during the time the military was heavily reliant on asbestos.

Asbestos Was a Major Component in Plane Parts

Air Force veterans who served as crewmen or mechanics were continuously exposed to asbestos because it was used throughout the planes manufactured since World War II. Asbestos-containing parts included:

In addition to these exposures, aviation crash crews wore A-1 asbestos suits to fight fires and rescue personnel from burning planes. The suit was made of thick layers of asbestos and had an attached hood with a heat-resistant lens that was made with tinted glass. The crash crew also wore asbestos-containing gloves and boots.

The Burns Sir Force Radar Station is Declared a Public Health Hazard Because of Asbestos Contamination

The Air Force acquired this property in the 1950s to be used by the Air Force Aerospace Defense Command as an early warning ground radar site and communications receiver. It was in operation until 1970.

In 2002, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality asked the Oregon Department of Human Services Superfund Health Investigation & Education Program to help in the assessment of health risks from asbestos exposure at the now abandoned site.

The assessment uncovered the following uses of asbestos at the station

Ellsworth Air Force Base Housing Contained Asbestos

After the Air Force performed an inspection of military housing, it discovered that asbestos was present in the Eagle Ridge housing area on Ellsworth Air Force Base. The survey revealed that asbestos was in floor tile mastic, the HVAC system, light fixture reflectors, wallboard joints and water pipes.

The Air Force advised residents of this housing to avoid any activities like drilling into walls that would loosen asbestos fibers and make them airborne

VA Benefits

The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs now recognizes mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases as service-related medical conditions.  This means that veterans with mesothelioma are able to apply for Veteran Affairs (VA) benefits to pay for their treatment. 

The application process for VA benefits is arduous, and some veterans who have mesothelioma or another asbestos-related disease you may have a claim.  A veterans' Service Officer can help you with the VA benefits claims process and can guide you through the process of compensation for your military occupational exposure to asbestos.

Contact a Veterans' Service Officer

Because of the long latency period of mesothelioma, many veterans whose tours of duty ended decades ago may just now be facing a mesothelioma diagnosis.  We at the DAV have a deep respect and gratitude for the men and women who have served our country in times of war and in times of peace.  It is our honor as veterans to help veterans pursue justice after asbestos exposure.  If you have been affected by military asbestos exposure, you may be eligible for compensation.  Please contact a Veterans' Service Officer to schedule a FREE consultation.

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