Asbestos Exposure in the Military

US Military Veterans saluting the American flag

In the late 1970s, the dangers of asbestos came to light, and most industries and manufacturers discontinued their use of it. Unfortunately, this realization came a little too late for many.

By the time asbestos was revealed to be extremely harmful to the human body, generations of people had been exposed to it. The veterans who served our country between 1930 and 1980, in particular, are considered to be at risk of developing mesothelioma and other asbestos-related illnesses due to their asbestos exposure during the time they served.

Dangers of Asbestos

Asbestos is a dangerous mineral that, when inhaled, can cause severe lung problems and cancer within the human body. It was once praised as the "miracle mineral" for its efficient resistance to heat, fire, water, chemicals, and electricity. Due to its desirable properties, it was used extensively by the following industries and trades:

  • Construction
  • Automotive
  • Merchant marine and naval vessels
  • Electricians
  • Maintenance mechanics
  • Plumbers
  • Pipefitters
  • Boilermakers
  • Steamfitters
  • Carpenters
  • Welders
  • Painters
  • Maintenance mechanics
  • Engineers
  • Aircraft mechanics
  • Manufacturing
  • Chemical processing
  • and more

Since all of these trades are present in the military, you can imagine the vast amount of asbestos many veterans were exposed to. Veterans make up nearly a third of all mesothelioma cases (an estimated 3000 diagnoses annually) and asbestos-related illnesses. Even veterans who had minimal exposure or veteran families who had secondary exposure are being diagnosed to this day.

You may wonder how it's possible to identify the correlation between exposure to asbestos and an asbestos-related illness so many years apart. Unfortunately, symptoms of mesothelioma and asbestos-related illnesses can take a very long time to appear (10-50 years) before they are diagnosable, as asbestos just sits in your lungs for years causing damage. So veterans and their families may not be able to tell if they've been affected by asbestos exposure until many years after they've already served their time in the military.

Asbestos Diseases and Disability Benefits

If veterans have been diagnosed with the following asbestos diseases, they may be eligible for disability benefits:

  • Mesothelioma
  • Asbestosis
  • Interstitial pulmonary fibrosis
  • Lung cancer
  • Bronchus cancer
  • Gastrointestinal cancer
  • Larynx cancer
  • Pleural effusion
  • Pleural plaques
  • Pharynx cancer
  • Urogenital cancers (except prostate)

If you have not received a diagnosis or are questioning whether or not you were exposed, read on to learn more about the usage of asbestos products in the different military branches.

Who May Have Been Exposed to Asbestos While Serving in the Military

All branches of the military used asbestos products between the 1930s and 1980s, and it took many years following that before they were able to replace asbestos products with alternatives. Even veterans who didn't necessarily operate in the trades expressed above were exposed to asbestos in their sleeping quarters, buildings, and in various ships, airplanes, and vehicles. The greatest risk, however, definitely lies with veterans in the trades listed above.

Let's take a look at how this breaks down in the different military branches.

Asbestos Exposure in the Navy

The United States Navy used more asbestos-contaminated products than any other branch of the military. When the Navy found out that their servicemen and servicewomen were put at risk, they took action to remove asbestos from their fleet and have ensured that veterans receive disability compensation payments starting at $3,100. These are paid out to veterans who have received a diagnosis of mesothelioma, lung cancer, and other asbestos-related illnesses.

Navy veterans are also entitled to sue the private companies that lied to the United States Navy about the risks of asbestos exposure. The average mesothelioma settlement pays around $1 million to $1.4 million. This is the type of claim that the lawyers at Cooney & Conway help veterans with.

Asbestos-contaminated products that were used in the Navy included:

  • Packing materials
  • Paneling
  • Paint
  • Pipe insulation
  • Pumps
  • Spray-on insulation
  • Thermal materials
  • Valves
  • Adhesives
  • Aggregate mixtures
  • Bedding compounds
  • Block insulation
  • Boiler insulation
  • Cables
  • Deck covering materials
  • Gaskets
  • Grinders

The Navy was aware there were risks involved with using asbestos in the 1940s. They didn't, however, realize how harmful asbestos was until many years later when confirmed asbestos-related illnesses started developing. They now know that service members were exposed to asbestos on their vessels, land vehicles, and buildings into the 1990s (at which point asbestos had mostly been removed or vessels with asbestos were decommissioned).

Jobs in the Navy that are assumed to have had the highest risk of exposure to asbestos include:

  • Boatswain’s mate
  • Boiler technician
  • Damage control worker
  • Electrician’s mate
  • Fire control technician
  • Gunner’s mate
  • Hull maintenance technician
  • Insulator
  • Lagger
  • Machinist’s mate
  • Metalsmith
  • Pipefitter
  • Water tender
  • Welder

Asbestos Exposure in the Air Force

Many United States Air Force veterans were exposed to high levels of asbestos between 1930 and 1970 on military bases and inside the aircraft in which they worked and may have even been exposed within the last five years. Upon diagnosis of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related illnesses tied to their service, Air Force veterans are eligible to receive disability compensation and free cancer treatment if they file a claim with the VA. Air Force veterans are also entitled to sue the private companies that lied to the United States military about the risks of asbestos exposure, which is something that our lawyers at Cooney & Conway can help with.

The Air Force had a long history of using asbestos products on their bases, radar stations, and aircraft. One of the more recent abatements of asbestos in the Air Force was performed on their Kadena Air Base in Asia in 2016. Asbestos exposure in the Air Force is still a concern for military personnel and civilian contractors to this day.

Jobs in the Air Force that are assumed to have had the highest risk of exposure to asbestos include:

  • Environmental support specialists
  • Firefighters
  • Vehicle mechanics
  • Welders
  • Aircraft electricians
  • Aircraft mechanics
  • Boiler workers
  • Construction workers

Asbestos Exposure in the Army

Veterans of the United States Army are at high risk for mesothelioma and other asbestos-related illnesses due to their exposure to asbestos while in service. Army servicemen and servicewomen who receive a diagnosis that is linked to their time in service can file a claim with the VA and receive 100% disability compensation and free treatment. They are also entitled to sue the private companies that lied to the United States military about the risks of asbestos exposure, which is something that our lawyers at Cooney & Conway can help with.

In the Army, the use of asbestos-contaminated products increased during World War II and the beginning of the Cold War. The Army used asbestos for much of their building construction, vehicles, and mechanical parts such as gaskets, clutch plates, and brake pads for decades. It wasn't until the 1970s that they stopped using it in new construction, and the toxic minerals remained in many Army installations for decades.

Jobs in the Army that are assumed to have had the highest risk of exposure to asbestos include:

  • Carpentry
  • Construction
  • Demolition
  • Insulating
  • Carpentry
  • Construction
  • Demolition
  • Insulating

In 1998, the Army launched the Installation Asbestos Management Program to protect its service members from further asbestos health risks. This has minimized risk in the United States, however, there is still a high risk of exposure to asbestos for Army personnel that are deployed to developing nations.

Asbestos Exposure in the Marines

Many service members and veterans in the United States Marines have been exposed to asbestos on ships (particularly Navy), aircraft, armored vehicles, and even within their barracks. Virtually every Marine installation was built with asbestos-contaminated products. Much of the contamination remains to this day. In May 2020, the United States Defence Department's Inspector General reported that 38,000 Marine housing units contained asbestos or lead.

Bases on which asbestos contamination has been documented include:

  • Base Camp Pendleton
  • Air Station El Toro
  • Base Camp Lejeune
  • Logistics Base Barstow
  • Air Station Yuma

Asbestos Exposure in the Coast Guard

Veterans in the United States Coast Guard have the same amount of risk as those in the United States Navy. While they are a tenth of the size of the Navy, the rate of mesothelioma cases are comparable. Coast Guard veterans with asbestos-related illness diagnoses can file a claim with the VA to receive low-cost treatment or free cancer treatment, among other benefits.

Coast Guard veterans who served during World War II face the greatest risk of asbestos-related illnesses and cancer, as asbestos was heavily relied upon at that time. Asbestos has been documented at Curtis Bay Coast Guard Yard and onboard vessels.

Jobs in the Coast Guard that are assumed to have had the highest risk of exposure to asbestos include:

  • Shipyard insulation work
  • Boiler and engine room maintenance
  • Cargo ship inspection

Asbestos Litigation

While the United States military has taken action to compensate their veterans for asbestos exposure and veterans aren't able to take action against the military, veterans can take action against the manufacturing companies who knowingly sold the military harmful asbestos-contaminated products. If you or a loved one served in the military and have received an asbestos-related diagnosis that is tied to military service, fill out our free case evaluation and we will get in touch with you to discuss your legal options!