U.S. military veterans are far more likely to suffer from mesothelioma than people who never served. In fact, some experts estimate that well over 40,000 U.S. veterans have died from mesothelioma, nearly as many as died in the Vietnam War.
Why is this the case? What makes service members particularly vulnerable to this rare cancer? The answer is quite simple. The United States military made extensive use of asbestos for many years. That asbestos put our service members at risk.
Asbestos is the one key factor
A study in the International Journal of Radiation Biology explored the causes of mesothelioma among atomic veterans. These people came most closely in contact with atomic tests, and the study asked how their participation in these tests affected them. What impact did it have on mesothelioma rates?
The answer was surprisingly mundane. The study found that participants were more likely to die from mesothelioma. However, these deaths rose only among three groups:
- Enlisted men
- People who served in the Pacific Proving Grounds
- Navy personnel
These mesothelioma deaths had little to do with the atomic radiation. Instead, it had everything to do with asbestos. Those who spent time aboard ships in the Pacific were more likely to suffer asbestos exposure.
A long history of asbestos use
The U.S. Veterans Administration notes that the U.S. military extensively used asbestos in buildings, vehicles and ships. Accordingly, it says that asbestos exposure was common among those who worked in shipyards, vehicle repair and construction. The truth, however, is that some jobs were far more exposed than others.
As the lobbying group Asbestos Nation notes, the veterans most at risk include:
- Electrician’s mates
- Hull maintenance technicians
- Fire controllers
- Vehicle and aircraft mechanics
- Airplane mechanics
- Other mechanics
By the early 1990s, the U.S. Navy decided to strip the asbestos from its ships. However, this meant the Navy waited for decades after the science had clearly shown that asbestos was a deadly carcinogen. And because asbestos fibers can rest in the body for decades before someone develops mesothelioma, veterans who served in the early 1990s may still be at risk.
Tracing asbestos exposure
The Veterans Administration, like many other places, has resources available to mesothelioma victims. However, veterans often need help to access these funds. The application process can be confusing, and it can be difficult to show how you suffered asbestos exposure. This is especially true if you worked other jobs that could have led to your exposure.
It is also worth noting that you may qualify for compensation from more than one source. Accordingly, it can be helpful to work with an experienced mesothelioma attorney to review your options. Only then can you choose the one that’s best for you.