Mesothelioma & Army 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 Army.

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:

• Brakes
• Gaskets
• Valves
• Cements
• Adhesives
• Floor and pipe coverings

Army veterans, like Navy veterans, were susceptible to suffering from asbestos exposure while serving their country. While Army 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 Army 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 Army Veterans Were Exposed to Asbestos

Many of the buildings on Army 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 Army housing, for example, a soldier’s entire family may suffer from asbestos exposure placing everyone at risk for developing an asbestos related disease.

Army Instruction Manual Regarding the Correct Way to Makes Repairs to Asbestos Roofs Endangered Soldiers

In the instruction manual titled "Roofing Repairs and Utilities" (United States Government Printing Office, June 1945), soldiers are instructed to replace broken cement-asbestos shingles by notching the new ones and using nails to fasten them into place. The cutting and hammering of these shingles would have loosened asbestos fibers, making them airborne and easily inhaled.

In the same manual, the section concerning the repair of asphalt-prepared roll roofings instructs soldiers to use asphalt plastic cement containing 27 percent asbestos filler, and an asphalt emulsion that is approximately 4 percent asbestos. Working so closely with these asbestos-containing materials would have exposed these men to extremely high levels of asbestos.

Although this manual has a page describing safety measures to be followed while working, it doesn’t include the wearing of protective gear like masks and respirators.

Army Transport Vehicles also Contained Asbestos

Tanks, jeeps and planes exposed Army mechanics to high levels of asbestos when they performed ordinary maintenance and repair. Asbestos-containing materials were used to insulate electrical wiring and in brake pads and clutch pads in most Army vehicles and planes.

World War II Protective Equipment Used in Battle Exposed Soldiers to Asbestos

Lightweight service gas masks M3 and M4 became standard equipment for Army soldiers on the battlefield. Nearly 13,000,000 of them were manufactured between 1943 and 1945. A feature of these masks was the use of asbestos filters as a replacement for carbon-containing filter paper. This modification was supposed to improve air flow. However, what the designers of this equipment didn’t realize was they were subjecting the soldiers who wore this equipment to as a big a health risk as the one the mask was intended to prevent.

Vietnam Veterans Experience the Legacy of Asbestos Exposure

The veterans who served in Vietnam were exposed to the asbestos that had never been removed from the base structures and vehicles that were used early on in the Vietnam deployments.

Many of these enlisted personnel actually took part in haphazard asbestos removal from barracks, base operations facilities and mechanical shops, exposing them to extremely dangerous levels.

Modern Day Paratroopers at Fort Bragg May Have Been Exposed to Dangerous Levels of Asbestos

In 2008, the U.S. Army reported that paratroopers in the 1st Brigade Combat Team were unknowingly exposed to asbestos. They had spent three weeks scraping tile and carrying out debris from a barracks storage room. Testing of the air quality in the room showed no hazardous levels of asbestos at the time. However, the soldiers’ health was going to be continually monitored, according to the Division surgeon, Dr. Bryan Sleigh.

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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