Mesothelioma & Marines 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 Marines.

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:

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

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

And just as in the other branches of the military, Marine transport vehicles contained asbestos in brakes, gaskets, seals, fittings and the insulation that lined the compartments.

Even after asbestos use was banned, the exposure didn’t end. Asbestos removal from barracks, base operations facilities and machine shops was haphazardly performed, allowing asbestos particles to become airborne where they could be easily inhaled. In many instances, the asbestos removal was performed by crews of enlisted men, exposing them to even greater health risks.

Military Base Housing Exposed Marines and Their Families to Asbestos

In an article titled "What U.S Marines Stationed at Camp LeJeune Need to Know About Toxins in the Drinking Water", published September 30, 2009 on Green, Marye Audet says that:
“The Marine Corps suspected that there was asbestos coating the pipes and leaching into the water, too. Tests were done at Camp Grainger, Tarrawa Terrace (one and two), and LeJeune and found that not only was asbestos present but a variety of other VOC compounds were present. The wells supplying this water were finally shut down in 1984 . . .”

Audet and her Marine husband lived on the base at Camp LeJeune between 1957-1987 when the presence of these toxins posed health risks.

Asbestos contamination was also a problem in the base housing at Camp Pendelton. The Mountain Wire I housing units, built between 1950 and 1980, contained asbestos and toxic mold, according to allegations made by Tom Calabrese, a former military base housing inspector. He noted the contamination problems were worse in the older units.

More on this below

The Navy’s Use of Asbestos for Insulation Impacted Those Who Served in the Marine Corps

It is well documented how extensively the Navy relied on asbestos in ship construction. It was used in boiler and engine rooms, and to create a heat shield between the living areas and the working areas aboard ship. It was also woven into the ropes that could be found everywhere on Navy vessels.

The Navy’s use of asbestos not only created health risks for its own personnel, but it also impacted on the health of those who served in the Marine Corp. Marine units were often assigned to Navy ships where they worked alongside Navy crews, employing Navy aircraft carriers as a base for the fighter-bombers that were flown on ship to shore missions. The Marines assigned to these operations would live aboard ship until the mission had been completed. This exposed them to the same level of asbestos as their Navy colleagues.

Under a law signed Aug. 6, 2012, Veterans and family members who served on active duty or resided at Camp Lejeune for 30 days or more between Jan. 1, 1957 and Dec. 31, 1987 may be eligible for medical care through VA for 15 health conditions:

Veterans already enrolled in VA health care, contact your local VA health care facility to receive care under the new law. Those not already enrolled should call 1-877-222-8387 for assistance.

Family members will receive care after Congress appropriates funds and VA publishes regulations.

Compensation benefits

The new law applies to health care, not disability compensation. At this time, there is insufficient scientific and clinical evidence to establish a presumptive association between service at Camp Lejeune during the period of water contamination and the development of certain diseases.

VA is closely monitoring new research. VA representatives regularly attend the quarterly Community Action Panel meetings hosted by The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR).

Veterans may file a claim for disability compensation for health problems they believe are related to exposure to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune. VA decides these claims on a case-by-case basis.

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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