Until the 1970s, the U.S. military used a number of asbestos products in each of their branches. Boilers, cooling systems and friction parts all commonly contained asbestos – as did many of the materials used to construct military bases.
Around the time that government organizations linked mesothelioma to asbestos, the military began phasing out asbestos products. They recognized that the high rates of occupational asbestos exposure placed service men and women at high risk for a number of health concerns. By the time they realized this, however, they had already exposed millions of veterans to the carcinogenic fibers.
Although the exposure risk in the modern military is lower than it was during World War II or the Vietnam War, current veterans may encounter old asbestos-containing products. If they repeatedly handle them in a way that releases asbestos into the air, they place themselves at risk for several different diseases, including:
Often, these slow-developing diseases arise 20 to 50 years after asbestos exposure occurs. This means that veterans who served while the military was still using asbestos could develop an asbestos-related condition as late as the 2020s.
Resources for Asbestos-Exposed Veterans
Because of this prolonged health risk, veterans should be especially cautious about any abnormal changes in their health. Coughing, chest pain or difficulty breathing may indicate the presence of an asbestos-related disease. If they occur, veterans should immediately discuss these concerns with an oncologist.
However, these symptoms rarely show up in earlier stages. Because it is entirely possible for mesothelioma to remain asymptomatic until stage III or IV, veterans should register for asbestos-related disease screenings even if they do not currently display any symptoms. If a disease does develop, these screenings can detect it before it progresses to a later, less treatable stage.
Veterans who have asbestos-related diseases can obtain care from the VA Health Care System. They may also file for other VA benefits, such as disability compensation or VA pension, to help cover the costs of care for service-connected diseases.
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Author bio: Faith Franz researches and writes about health-related issues for The Mesothelioma Center. One of her focuses is living with cancer.