Mesothelioma is an aggressive form of cancer caused exclusively by exposure to asbestos, a fibrous material used in construction and manufacturing during the 20th century. Asbestos was commonly used across all branches of the United States Armed Forces, including the largest branch: the Army.
In the Army, asbestos was very commonly used on bases, in vehicles, and in equipment. As a result, thousands of Army veterans have now developed mesothelioma and other conditions related to asbestos exposure.
Exposure to Asbestos and Mesothelioma
Asbestos was very commonly used by the Army for multiple reasons: it is inexpensive, fire-resistant, waterproof, extremely durable, and versatile. Asbestos is a fibrous material that can take many different forms, as it can be used in sheet insulation, but also in cements, flooring, and other sturdy materials. During the peak of asbestos use, between 1930 and 1970, the dangers of asbestos were not known, and a countless number of Americans were exposed to the harmful material.
Asbestos is composed of very small fibers that can break loose when exposed to air, and then cling to skin, clothing, and hair, in addition to floating through the air. Asbestos is extremely toxic to humans, and any contact with asbestos fibers is extremely harmful. Mesothelioma is often caused by asbestos fibers that are inhaled or ingested and then remain in the lining of the stomach or lungs for many years.
In addition to mesothelioma, asbestos exposure can cause other asbestos-related conditions, including:
- Other cancers, including throat cancer, ovarian cancer, stomach cancer, colorectal cancer, and lung cancer
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Pleural plaques and thickening
Today, more than 3,000 people are diagnosed with mesothelioma every year in the United States, and almost one-third of them are veterans of our Armed Forces. Given that the Army is the largest branch of the military, many of these mesothelioma diagnoses are Army veterans who were unfortunately exposed to asbestos during their time in service.
Asbestos in the Army
Before the news of asbestos’ toxicity became known to the general public, it was used by almost every industry and sector in the American economy – including the military. Because the Army was not aware that asbestos was harmful, it used the material in all kinds of ways due to its cost effectiveness and durability. Unfortunately, the Army’s usage of asbestos exposed thousands of Army veterans to the cancer-causing material during the time it was in use.
Jobs in the Army With Highest Risk of Asbestos Exposure
Nearly everyone who lived or worked on an Army base between 1930 and 1990 was at risk for being exposed to asbestos due to the extremely common use of asbestos products. However, soldiers that worked in jobs which directly handled asbestos materials were at the highest risk of harmful exposure to asbestos. Those types of jobs include:
- Construction workers
- Building maintenance and facilities workers
- Mechanics and pipefitters
- Electricians and carpenters
- Mechanics and vehicle maintenance workers
Army veterans who performed these jobs on bases during the 20th century likely handled asbestos materials with no protection from the cancer-causing fibers. Thousands of these veterans thus inhaled asbestos fibers and placed themselves at very high risk for developing mesothelioma and other asbestos-related conditions later in life.
Asbestos Exposure on Army Bases
When used as building insulation in walls, asbestos was fireproof, well insulated for heat, and long-lasting. Thus, it was commonly used as insulation in Army barracks and buildings across the world during the 20th century. Anyone who lived on an Army base before the 1990s was likely exposed to asbestos, and if a person lived on an Army base and later develops mesothelioma, it is highly likely that they were exposed to asbestos on base.
Asbestos was used in nearly every building on every Army base that was constructed between 1930 and 1980, including barracks, office buildings, chapels, mess halls, schools, libraries, and storage facilities. More specifically, Army bases commonly used asbestos in the following construction materials:
- Insulation in walls
- Electrical wiring insulation
- Tile and flooring materials
- Drywall and sheetrock
- Ceiling tiles
- Pipework and plumbing
- Cement and shingling materials
Essentially every Army base that was active in the 20th century used asbestos materials in some fashion, but some of the largest of these bases include the following:
- Fort Benning, Georgia
- Fort Bragg, North Carolina
- Fort Campbell, Kentucky and Tennessee
- Fort Dix, New Jersey
- Fort Hood, Texas
- Fort Knox, Kentucky
In addition to Army bases and forts, asbestos materials were also used on smaller Army facilities throughout the United States and abroad. These Army facilities include the Blue Grass Army Depot in Kentucky, the US Military Academy at West Point, New York, and the Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth.
Asbestos Contaminated Parts and Equipment
In addition to construction materials, asbestos was also used on Army bases in durable parts and equipment for vehicles and munitions. Because asbestos was fireproof, it was well suited for use in parts that required high levels of heat tolerance, especially with respect to automotive parts. Asbestos materials could be found in vehicle brake pads, engine gaskets, insulation materials, and clutch plates. These materials were commonly used in vehicles of all sizes, including humvees, tanks, and other combat vehicles.
In the same way as asbestos fibers could shed from construction materials, asbestos fibers can also shed from durable materials, especially when exposed to wear and tear. When maintenance workers performed work on army vehicles, they were commonly exposed to asbestos. A common example is brake dust generated from asbestos brakes. If a mechanic works on a vehicle with asbestos brakes, they are likely to inhale microparticles of brake dust which contain harmful asbestos fibers.
Secondhand Exposure to Asbestos
One unfortunate reality of the use of asbestos on Army bases is that families of active service members also live on the base. Thus, even individuals that were not actively working in or around asbestos materials may have been exposed, later contracting mesothelioma. In part, these “secondhand” exposures to asbestos were caused by asbestos’ highly mobile nature. Asbestos fibers cling to skin, hair, and clothing, and can be carried and transferred by the person who is exposed to the substance.
If an Army base veteran was exposed to asbestos repeatedly during the work day, it is highly likely that the veteran also inadvertently carried asbestos fibers into his or her living quarters on base, thus exposing everyone else who lived there.
Victims of secondhand exposure to asbestos may be entitled to compensation in the same way as a mesothelioma victim with a primary exposure.
Compensation for Army Mesothelioma Victims
Thankfully, Army veterans who have been diagnosed with mesothelioma are not left without recourse. Mesothelioma is a devastating and life-changing condition that was entirely preventable. The companies that manufactured asbestos products were aware of its harmful properties for years before that information was revealed, thus allowing a countless number of Americans to be exposed to cancer causing asbestos fibers.
The fact that many of these Americans turned out to be veterans makes those companies’ actions all the more reprehensible. When someone is injured due to the wrongdoing of another person or entity, the law provides that the injured person should be fully and fairly compensated for their injuries. While no amount of money could truly compensate a victim who has been diagnosed with mesothelioma, there are several different ways that mesothelioma victims can seek compensation for their injuries.
VA Benefits and Programs
Even though the Army was not aware that asbestos was harmful, the Department of Veterans Affairs has established a number of programs that can benefit mesothelioma-affected veterans and their families. These programs include VA disability benefits, VA pensions, and VA health care. To access these benefits, veterans generally need to demonstrate that:
- He or she served on active duty and was honorably discharged
- He or she was diagnosed with mesothelioma or another qualifying illness
- He or she was exposed to asbestos during service in the military
VA Disability Compensation
The VA’s disability benefits program is designed to compensate disabled veterans for conditions that were either caused or worsened by active service in the military. Mesothelioma and asbestos-related conditions are qualifying disabilities, and eligible veterans receive a monthly check from the VA to assist with medical care, lost wages, and other costs associated with their disabilities.
VA Pension Claims
VA pension claims can be made by any disabled veteran who is also of low-income status. The amounts disbursed to eligible veterans is dependent upon the financial status of the claimant, and payments are made on a monthly basis.
Aid and Attendance Benefits
Aid and attendance benefits, otherwise known as “A&A” benefits, are a monthly cash benefit to assist eligible veterans with paying for in-home health care. A&A benefits can be awarded to veterans who are already receiving other benefits, such as a pension or disability payments.
VA Health Care
The VA also provides veterans with low-cost or no-cost healthcare through a vast network of hospitals and clinics. With specific respect to mesothelioma, the VA operates mesothelioma treatment centers that provide highly-rated specific treatment and care to veterans who have been diagnosed with mesothelioma.
Legal Action Against Asbestos Manufacturers
Importantly, the Army cannot be sued for its role in exposing service members to asbestos, but the manufacturers of asbestos materials can be sued. In fact, in the years since we’ve learned about asbestos toxicity, thousands of lawsuits have been filed against asbestos manufacturers, seeking to hold these companies accountable for withholding information about the harmful risks of asbestos exposure.
Because such a large number of Americans have been affected by asbestos exposure, many former manufacturers of asbestos have created asbestos trust funds which pay out settlements to affected people. These claims for compensation are entirely independent of VA programs and benefits, and they can be sought in addition to VA benefits. Each asbestos trust fund has its own requirements for accessing compensation, but an experienced mesothelioma lawyer can assist claimants in accessing asbestos trust fund money if they are eligible to receive it.
Otherwise, if companies have not set up a trust fund, mesothelioma victims may be able to file a personal injury lawsuit directly against the company. While these cases are less common, an attorney can assist you in weighing all your options to ensure that you seek as much compensation to which you may be entitled.
Programs for Surviving Family Members
The VA also offers programs and benefits for surviving family members of Army veterans who have passed away from mesothelioma or another asbestos-related illness. Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (“DIC”) is the most common VA family benefit program, and it is available to surviving spouses and dependents of veterans who died after being diagnosed with mesothelioma.
In addition, the VA offers health care for family members in some cases, a survivor’s pension benefit, and funeral and burial expense reimbursement for service-related deaths. A mesothelioma attorney can assist you and your family in determining whether you may be eligible for these programs and benefits.
Contact an Army Veteran Mesothelioma Lawyer Today
If you are legally entitled to receive mesothelioma-related benefits, you shouldn’t wait to access them. An experienced team of mesothelioma lawyers can assist you in figuring out which types of programs you may be eligible for, and then pursuing compensation where applicable.
The first step in that process is setting up a free consultation with an attorney. Our team of attorneys and legal professionals is ready to assist you and your family today, and we offer free consultations at no risk and no commitment to prospective clients.
Contact us today to set up an appointment.