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Veterans and Mesothelioma

Veterans run a high risk of developing mesothelioma, a rare cancer caused by asbestos. As a group, they account for 30 percent of all diagnoses in the U.S.

Asbestos Use in the Military

Since the early 1900s, construction and manufacturing industries have used the naturally-fire resistant mineral in a variety of applications, ranging from insualtion to spray-on adhesive. To protect its armed forces from fire-related damage, the military purchased large amounts of asbestos-containing materials from these industries, using them in ships, vehicles, and bases. In doing so, they exposed servicemen and women to asbestos, unknowingly increasing veterans’ risk of developing mesothelioma in the future.

If you’re a veteran who served between the 1930s and the 1970s, knowing how and where the military used asbestos will help you determine if you’re at risk. If you’ve already been diagnosed with mesothelioma, or another asbestos-related disease, you’re entitled to benefits and disability compensation from the VA — benefits and compensation that can pay for treatment and help improve your life expectancy.

Asbestos Exposure by Branch

There are some branches of the military, like the Navy, that endured more exposure than others. Even so, all veterans should understand how they may have come into contact with asbestos during active duty.


Since its founding, the Navy has considered fire at sea one of the greatest hazards to its ships and the men and women serving on them. At the outbreak of World War II, the Navy used asbestos in almost every part of their rapidly-growing fleet to protect against damage caused by fire.

Navy Veterans

Navy servicemen and women had many opportunities to come into contact with the toxic mineral. The largest battleships and the smallest patrol crafts contained this material in some form. Shipbuilders installed asbestos-containing insulation in the walls of boiler rooms, storage rooms, sleeping quarters, and mess halls. Asbestos was not only used in ships — the Navy constructed land bases and housing units with asbestos-containing materials as well.

The War Related Illness and Injury Center, a division of the VA, identified the following at-risk Navy servicemen:

  • Navy servicemen who served on ships constructed before before 1983.
  • Navy servicemen who worked in shipyards from the 1930s to the 1990s.
  • Navy personnel who worked below deck before the early 1990s. Asbestos was often used below deck where cramped quarters lacked proper ventilation.
  • Navy personnel worked without respiratory protection in engine rooms. They often removed damaged asbestos pipe covering, known as lagging, and re-wrapped the pipes with asbestos paste.

Navy personnel who came into contact with asbestos-containing materials on a daily basis include:

  • Boiler Technicians
  • Engine Mechanic
  • Hull Technician
  • Gunner’s Mate
  • Shipfitter
  • Steelworkers
  • Welders


Veterans of the U.S. Army are also at risk of developing mesothelioma from service-related asbestos exposure. Like the Navy, the Army valued asbestos for its fire–resistant and insulative properties. It used materials containing the dangerous mineral in sleeping areas and mess halls within barracks; in the cement foundations, caulking, flooring, and roofing of bases; and in the insulation surrounding pipes running through installations.

Army Veterans

Men and women who served in the Army also came into contact with asbestos in helicopters, tanks, and transport vehicles. Workers coated parts of these vehicles — like brake pads and engine compartments — with asbestos-containing spray to protect against fires caused by friction and overheating. As a result, mechanics ran a high risk of exposure, because they serviced damaged and deteriorating parts on a daily basis.

Army personnel who experienced exposure to asbestos include:

  • Infantry
  • Artillerymen
  • Vehicle Mechanics
  • Aircraft and maintenance technicians

As recently as the past few decades, asbestos endangered the lives of men and women in the Army. Inspectors identified it as a major contaminant during a large-scale clean up effort carried out by the military in the 1990s. The total cleanup cost for the 32 closed, or realigned, Army installations amounted to one billion dollars — a testament to how widespread and intensive the use of the mineral was.

Air Force

Air Force Veterans

Men and women who served in the Air Force came into contact with asbestos in bases, barracks and airplanes, many components of which contained the dangerous mineral. Because of its exceptional heat resistance, the Air Force used the asbestos in:

  • Cockpit heating system
  • Heat shields for engines
  • Wiring insulation
  • Insulation for cargo bays
  • Gaskets
  • Cooling systems

Air Force personnel who frequently came into contact with asbestos–containing materials include:

  • Vehicle Mechanics
  • Aircraft and maintenance technicians
  • Environmental support specialist

Marine Corps

Marine Corps veterans also risked exposure to asbestos. During the 1930s to the 1970s, most bases housing Marines contained asbestos in the floors and ceiling tiles of common rooms; in the walls of mess halls and sleeping quarters; and around the pipes running through entire installation.

Marine Corps Veterans

The risk of exposure for Marines continued at sea. Marines served with Navy servicemen and women in cramped boats with poor ventilation. Their duties also took them to shipyards, where the construction, destruction, and maintenance of Navy vessels occurred; shipbuilders and maintenance crews accidentally released large amounts of microscopic asbestos fibers into the air when they maintained or deconstructed ships built with asbestos-containing materials.

Recent Asbestos Exposure

Veterans of wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the surrounding Middle Eastern region are also at risk of exposure to asbestos. The destruction of older buildings in combat areas my have released asbestos fibers into the air, increasing soldiers’ risk of mesothelioma and other asbestos–related diseases. If you’re a veteran of these wars, contact a member of our Veterans Help Team for more information about asbestos, mesothelioma, and treatment.

VA Benefits for Mesothelioma

As a veteran who’s been diagnosed with mesothelioma, you’re entitled to benefits and disability compensation from the VA. You must file a claim with the VA , and meet certain criteria to get these benefits.

To qualify for benefits, you must have been:

  • Honorably discharged from the Navy, Army, Marines, Air Force or Coast Guard
  • Exposed to asbestos during military service
  • Have a service-connected disease or disability related to asbestos exposure

Our Veterans Help Team can help you navigate the VA claims process, and get the benefits you deserve. Get started on improving your prognosis and contact a member of our team for free VA benefits assistance.

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