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Help for Veterans

What’s the Link Between the Military and Mesothelioma?
What Veterans are at Risk?
What’s the Risk for War Veterans?
Where Can I Get Treated?
What Benefits Can I Receive?
How Can I File a Claim?

Asbestos was commonly used in military structures from the 1930s to 1970s. Because mesothelioma can lie dormant for decades, many veterans are now experiencing symptoms from exposure that happened during their years of service. Learn what kind of compensation veterans may be able to receive.

The connection is well-documented. Asbestos, a naturally occurring group of minerals that occur as bundles of fibers, was used heavily in the U.S. Armed Forces for decades. A common material for building and manufacturing, it was popular for its strength, affordability, sound absorption, and resistance to fire and other damage.

Unfortunately, its cancer-causing properties weren’t discovered immediately, and it was used in the military until the late 1970s. Even today, some military structures still have asbestos in their flooring, ceiling tiles, wall insulation, and cement foundations.

From the 1930s through the 1970s, veterans in all branches were exposed to asbestos-containing materials during military service, whether it was in fire-protective aprons or in the buildings themselves.

And it wasn’t just the construction and labor workers who were exposed. Doctors, secretaries, and other employees may have had direct or secondary exposure.

Today, it’s well known that asbestos can cause mesothelioma, a potentially deadly cancer that affects the lining of the lungs, abdominal cavity, or heart. Because symptoms do not appear until 20 years or later after exposure, veterans who were exposed to asbestos decades ago are just now showing signs of the disease.

Asbestos exposure has caused a high rate of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases in veterans. Veterans make up only 8 percent of the country’s population, but they represent 30 percent of all known mesothelioma deaths in the U.S.

What Veterans are at Risk?

All veterans may have had asbestos exposure at some point during their service. Particular branches of the military have specific risks:


Of all the branches, Navy veterans had the most frequent exposure to asbestos. Consequently, they have the highest number of mesothelioma cases.

Because of its valuable fire-resistance qualities—and because fire is a serious threat for ships at sea—asbestos was used frequently in ships, from submarines to cargo ships to gunboats. Boiler rooms, engine rooms, and sleeping quarters all contained asbestos.

Nearly every Navy ship between 1930 and about 1970 had several tons of asbestos insulation throughout it, from the walls to the engine room. The main victims of exposure were the sailors who staffed these ships and the men who repaired them in Navy shipyards.


U.S. Army veterans are also at risk of developing mesothelioma. Asbestos was used liberally in military barracks, including in ceiling tiles, cements, and wall insulation.

Soldiers with certain jobs had frequent exposure to asbestos, making them particularly at risk. These roles include:

  • Firefighters
  • Electricians
  • Construction Engineers
  • Plumbers

Asbestos was a major contaminant at 32 U.S. Army sites before they were shut down or realigned during the late 1990s. This was part of an estimated $1 billion environmental cleanup that included asbestos and other contaminants.

Although asbestos was banned in new construction, much of the older structures were used for decades after being built.

Air Force

Although other military branches had higher levels of asbestos exposure, Air Force veterans are still at risk. Airmen who served between 1947 and the 1980s have the highest risk of exposure.

Asbestos was used to protect against fire and heat in aircraft building and maintenance, including in:

  • Cockpit heating system
  • Heat shields for engines
  • Aircraft cargo bays
  • Gaskets and valves within the engines
  • Air-cooling systems

Additionally, veterans may have been exposed in their military barracks or through their jobs. Mechanics were particularly at risk because of the use of asbestos in aircraft engines.

Marine Corps

Because they were exposed both on land and on naval vessels, Marines had many opportunities to be exposed to asbestos.

Asbestos was present in the airplanes and armored vehicles used for training and transportation. Exposure also occurred in the barracks. But because the Marine Corps coordinated with the Navy, ships were the most common site for Marines to come in contact with asbestos.

A 2007 report acknowledged the presence of asbestos and other contaminants in old buildings at Parris Island, where most Marines attend boot camp. The report outlined plans for the safe removal of contaminated building materials, but by then countless recruits had already been exposed.

What’s the Risk for War Veterans?

Veterans who were deployed for overseas combat faced a specific asbestos exposure risk. Many of these countries had asbestos-contaminated buildings, and veterans living, sleeping, and spending time near these buildings could have been exposed.

Some specific examples of asbestos used during wars are:

World War II (1939-1945). In the 1940s, asbestos was used widely as a fireproofing and insulating material in shipbuilding. The World War II industrial expansion triggered a sharp rise in the amount of asbestos. Twenty years later, mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases began to appear in shipyard staff and other naval workers.

Vietnam War (1959-1975). America’s use of asbestos peaked during the Vietnam War. Veterans were exposed in transport ships, on bases, and in vehicles used early in the Vietnam deployments. According to hundreds of reports, base operations facilities, barracks, and mechanical shops have undergone haphazard asbestos removal. Well-known Vietnam veterans who have died from mesothelioma include Admiral Elmo Zumwalt, Jr., U.S. chief of naval operations during the war, and Hamilton Jordan, White House chief of staff for Jimmy Carter.

Iraq War (2003-2011). More recently, soldiers who served in Iraq are at risk for asbestos exposure. In the decades before the war, a large amount of asbestos mined in the U.S. was sent to Iraq. During the fighting, buildings made with asbestos were damaged and destroyed. As a result, asbestos fibers were released into the air, posing a potential threat to soldiers and civilians.

Veterans may have been exposed to asbestos—through the destruction of buildings or otherwise—in other foreign conflicts, including:

  • Gulf War (Desert Storm)
  • Invasion of Grenada
  • War in Afghanistan (Operation Enduring Freedom)

Where Can I Get Treated?

If you’re a veteran concerned about previous asbestos contact, first talk to your doctor or environmental health coordinator at your local Veterans Affairs (VA) clinic. It’s important to do this immediately—even if you’re not having mesothelioma symptoms.

There are more than 1,400 VA medical facilities nationwide. Although VA healthcare has had an unfavorable reputation in the past, the quality of care is much better than it has been, and it continues to improve.

The following are major VA healthcare facilities on par with private-sector hospital and healthcare centers. Some are especially equipped to handle mesothelioma cases:

VA Boston Healthcare System. Located in Roxbury, Massachusetts, this is a well-known facility for treating cancers caused by asbestos exposure. It’s close to the acclaimed International Mesothelioma Program at Brigham and Women’s Hospital / Harvard Medical School, the largest program of its kind.

VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System. Serving 1.4 million veterans in the Greater Los Angeles area, this is the largest, most complex healthcare system in the Department of Veteran Affairs. It’s also where surgeon Robert Cameron resides. Cameron has led the way in using the potentially curative Pleurectomy/Decortication surgery for mesothelioma patients.

Miami VA Healthcare System. This system serves three Florida counties and an estimated veteran population of 285,000. Thoracic surgeon Dao Nguyen, a pioneer in targeting molecular therapy for pleural mesothelioma, is on staff here as well as the renowned Sylvester Cancer Center.

Michael DeBakey VA Medical Center-Houston. About 120,000 veterans in the Southeast Texas area rely on the DeBakey Center for everything from cardiovascular surgery to spinal cord injury treatment. Many of the facility’s programs have received national recognition, including long-term care, behavioral healthcare, and substance abuse.

Atlanta VA Medical Center. In 2011, this center was named a top performer by the Joint Commission, an independent accrediting body for healthcare organizations in the U.S. Affiliated with the Morehouse School of Medicine and Emory University School of Medicine, it’s also a teaching hospital.

Finding the right treatment center can be an exhausting, complex process. Our support staff can give you free, expert advice about the VA healthcare system, allowing you to get the care you need quickly. Call us at 888-629-0613 and we’ll be happy to help.

What Benefits Can I Receive?

Veterans with mesothelioma or another asbestos-related disease may qualify for a variety of VA benefits, including VA Disability Compensation, Dependency and Indemnity Compensation, and VA Health Care. Veterans’ dependents and survivors also may be eligible.

To qualify for benefits, you must have served full time in the Navy, Marines, Army, Air Force or Coast Guard. Commissioned officers of the Public Health Service, Environmental Science Services Administration, or National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (or its predecessor, Coast and Geodetic Survey), also may be eligible.

Compensation for veterans with mesothelioma varies among branches. The following estimates can give you a general idea of what veterans receive:

  • Navy: $2,800+ per month, depending on marital and parental status
  • Marines: $3,000 per month
  • Army: $3,000 per month
  • Air Force: $3,000 per month

Veterans may qualify for additional compensation as part of the $35 billion in trust funds created by U.S. corporations. This money has been set aside to help patients of asbestos-related diseases and their families. Most veterans with mesothelioma seek both VA benefits and legal compensation.

How Can I File a Claim?

Filing for VA benefits involves completing and submitting various forms, including a VA Form 21-526, your discharge paperwork, your medical records, and a copy of your marriage certificate. It can be a complicated process, because patients must show that their mesothelioma is the result of active-duty service.

We provide free help for veterans filing for VA benefits or trust fund compensation. Our team of independent veteran service representatives can handle all the paperwork and cut through the red tape. Contact a veteran representative and quickly learn what financial benefits you’re eligible for—at no cost to you.