Veterans of the United States Air Force, along with veterans of all branches of our country’s Armed Forces, have been diagnosed with mesothelioma and other asbestos-related illnesses at very high rates in recent years. Unfortunately, during the 20th century, the Air Force used asbestos across a variety of settings and service areas, leading many veterans to be diagnosed with devastating cancers and conditions upon reaching old age.
Mesothelioma, a form of cancer, is the most common of these conditions, and mesothelioma disproportionately impacts veterans. In fact, one in every three new mesothelioma diagnoses every day in the United States is received by a veteran of the Armed Forces – including veterans of the Air Force.
Nearly all mesothelioma diagnoses are caused by an unfortunately preventable experience: exposure to toxic asbestos.
Mesothelioma and Exposure to Asbestos
Asbestos is a material that was used for many purposes between 1930 and 1980, including in construction, insulation, and manufacturing. Asbestos is made up of microscopic fibers woven together to create a material that is inexpensive, fire-resistant, durable, and waterproof, in addition to being very inexpensive. Before 1980, asbestos was used widely because of its price and effectiveness – including in the Air Force – but the dangers associated with using asbestos were not known at that time.
In the 1970s, scientists discovered that asbestos fibers are extremely toxic to humans. When exposed to open air, these fibers can break free from the material and remain airborne until they are inhaled or become attached to another surface. When inhaled by humans, asbestos attaches to a person’s lungs and stays there for many years, leading to mesothelioma later in life – sometimes even decades after exposure.
While the general public did not learn about asbestos toxicity until the 1970s and 1980s, asbestos manufacturers may have been aware of the material’s toxicity since it was introduced on the market. These manufacturers allowed countless numbers of Americans, including veterans, to be exposed to toxic asbestos fibers for decades. For that reason, victims of asbestos exposure who have been diagnosed with mesothelioma and other asbestos-related conditions now have options to seek compensation for their injuries.
Other Asbestos-Related Illnesses
Mesothelioma is the most common asbestos-related condition. As an aggressive form of lung cancer, mesothelioma is a devastating illness that frequently results in death. But in addition to mesothelioma, common asbestos-related conditions include the following:
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Stomach cancer
- Throat cancer
- Colorectal cancer
- Non-mesothelioma lung cancers
- Pleural plaque and thickening
- Ovarian cancer
Every year in the United States, more than 3,000 people are unfortunately diagnosed with mesothelioma and other asbestos-related conditions. More than 1,000 are veterans of the United States Armed Forces.
Asbestos Exposure in the Air Force
During the 20th century, asbestos was used in construction and manufacturing all across America, including in the Armed Forces. Specifically, the Air Force frequently used asbestos materials on bases, in buildings, and in aircraft between 1930 and 1980, but primarily during the 1940s and 1950s.
Most often, asbestos was used in the Air Force as an insulator for buildings and aircraft, and in other construction materials such as cladding, floors, ceilings, and drywall. Asbestos was also used in aircraft parts such as brakes and gaskets on jets, helicopters, planes, and other aircraft. Even though the Air Force stopped using asbestos in the 1980s and began removing the material from then-existing uses, any Air Force veteran who served before 1980 may have been exposed to asbestos during their service.
Because the Air Force was not aware of asbestos toxicity before 1980, many veterans who were exposed to asbestos interacted with the material without any type of protective gear. That exposure has led many of these veterans to be diagnosed with mesothelioma later in life.
Asbestos on Air Force Planes and Helicopters
While asbestos was commonly used as a construction material, asbestos was also frequently used in machinery and engine parts. In the Air Force, asbestos exposure commonly occurred during the manufacturing, maintenance, and operation of aircraft, meaning that pilots and mechanics may be at higher risk for developing mesothelioma than other Air Force veterans.
Because asbestos products were lightweight, fire-resistant, and able to withstand high temperatures, they were in many ways ideal for applications on aircraft. More specifically, asbestos was used by the Air Force in brakes, brake pads, tires, engine shields, cockpit materials, fuel line insulation, and fireproof coatings and sealants.
When these products became worn down, when they were applied, or when friction was applied to them, asbestos fibers frequently released into the air, thus causing mass exposure. Due to the nature of operating aircraft, asbestos exposures were frequent and sustained for Air Force service members during the 20th century.
Types of Air Force Aircraft with Asbestos Usage
Asbestos was used on almost every Air Force aircraft operated before 1980, but the most commonly affected types of aircraft include:
- Bomber planes, such as B-25, B-29, B-36, B-47, and B-52
- Fighter jets, including F-104
- Tanker jets, including KC-135
- Helicopters and utility aircraft
- Anti-submarine jets
Air Force Bases with Known Asbestos Exposure
Nearly every Air Force base that operated in the 20th century contained asbestos in some way, shape, or form, but specifically, almost 100 Air Force bases have been identified as having contained asbestos. These bases are located across the country, but prominent locations include:
- Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio
- Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland
- Cape Kennedy Air Force Base in Florida
- Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii
- Plattsburgh Air Force Base in New York
- Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma
- Beale Air Force Base in California
On an Air Force base, asbestos could be located anywhere – including in drywall, insulation, flooring, shingles, and stonework. Additionally, asbestos exposure can occur by secondhand exposure. Because the material clings to clothing, skin, and hair, an Air Force veteran who was directly exposed to asbestos could inadvertently bring the material home to their family. Many of these families lived on Air Force bases, dramatically increasing the risk of toxic exposure to asbestos. For that reason, the families of Air Force veterans are also affected by mesothelioma at significantly high rates and may be eligible to receive compensation.
Jobs in the Air Force with the Highest Risk of Asbestos Exposure
Nearly anyone who lived or worked on an Air Force base during the 20th century is now at risk for developing mesothelioma due to exposure to asbestos. But Air Force veterans who worked in certain jobs may be at higher risk due to the nature of their work. Veterans who were directly handling asbestos materials are at the highest risk, and in the Air Force, those veterans include service members who completed the following jobs:
- Aircraft mechanics and technicians
- Construction workers
- Facilities maintenance workers
- Engineers and welders
- Aircraft pilots
Air Force veterans who worked in these positions are likely to have directly handled asbestos materials with little or no protective equipment, thus leaving them completely exposed to toxic asbestos fibers.
Air Force Mesothelioma Victims Can Seek Compensation
If an Air Force veteran was exposed to asbestos during their time of service and later develops mesothelioma or another asbestos-related condition, compensation may be available. While the Air Force itself cannot be sued for the asbestos exposure, the federal government has set up many different programs that may be helpful to affected veterans and their families. Beyond those federal programs, the law also provides opportunities for compensation through traditional personal injury lawsuits and settlements with asbestos manufacturers.
Department of Veterans Affairs Programs
Through the Department of Veterans Affairs, the federal government has established a variety of programs to provide compensation to veterans and their families in response to asbestos-related conditions. Generally, these programs provide direct payments to veterans and their families. Each program is designed to accommodate a specific type of need, but to access VA benefits, affected veterans generally need to meet the following qualifications:
- He or she served on active duty and was honorably discharged
- He or she was diagnosed with mesothelioma or another asbestos-related illness
- He or she was exposed to asbestos during military service
VA Pension Claims
VA pension funds provide financial payments to low-income disabled veterans. Disbursed each month, payment amounts vary depending on a veteran’s financial status. These payments are designed to offset medical bills, loss of income, and other financial effects of a service-related disability – including mesothelioma.
VA Disability Benefits
Disability benefits are available through the VA to all disabled veterans regardless of financial status, so long as the disability was caused or worsened because of the veteran’s military service. Mesothelioma and other asbestos-related conditions qualify a veteran for these benefits, which are disbursed monthly. The program is designed to assist with any and all costs associated with a veteran’s disability, including lost wages, medical expenses, and home health care costs.
Aid and Attendance Benefits
Commonly known as “A&A” benefits, aid and attendance benefits are VA benefit programs that provide assistance toward in-home health care. These benefits can be “stacked” with other VA benefit programs, but their use is restricted to in-home health care. Veterans who are affected by mesothelioma and require the assistance of in-home care can benefit greatly from A&A benefits, as in-home care can be very costly.
VA Hospitals and Clinics
The VA also provides veterans with access to their network of hospitals and clinics, which provide healthcare to veterans at low or no cost. As part of that network, the VA operates mesothelioma treatment centers for affected veterans which provide specialized care for mesothelioma and other asbestos-related illnesses.
Compensation from Asbestos Manufacturers
The Air Force was not aware that asbestos materials were toxic when it began using asbestos in aircraft and on bases, but asbestos manufacturers were aware of the material’s toxicity for decades. Because those manufacturers allowed a toxic product to be sold, and in turn cause thousands of people to develop lung cancer, thousands of mesothelioma-related lawsuits have been filed in recent years. These lawsuits are completely separate from VA benefit programs, and many veterans may be able to access VA benefits in addition to direct compensation from asbestos manufacturers.
Due to the high number of mesothelioma lawsuits, many former asbestos manufacturers have created trust funds that pay out settlements to affected individuals. In essence, these trust funds allow victims to access compensation without the time and effort of filing a lawsuit. Each asbestos trust fund has its own eligibility requirements for accessing funds. A mesothelioma attorney can assist you in assessing your eligibility for asbestos trust funds, and if you are eligible, in filing your claim for compensation.
If a mesothelioma victim is not eligible for asbestos trust fund assistance, or if a manufacturer has not set up a trust fund, other remedies may be available. If a manufacturer still exists, the victim may be able to file a traditional lawsuit against the manufacturer and seek compensation directly. These cases are less common, but an attorney can assist you in assessing all of your options for compensation to ensure that you receive any money which you may be entitled to receive.
Contact a Mesothelioma Attorney Today
The first step in seeking compensation for mesothelioma and other asbestos-related illnesses is to contact an experienced mesothelioma attorney. Our team of attorneys is dedicated to seeking justice on behalf of Air Force veterans who were exposed to asbestos during their time of service to our nation. We understand the devastating nature of mesothelioma, and that understanding drives our practice in assisting affected veterans.
We are committed to assisting Air Force veterans and their families in pursuing all of the compensation that they may be entitled to receive – from VA programs and asbestos trust funds alike. We offer free consultations to prospective clients at no cost, and we’re ready to hear from you. Contact our office today to set up an appointment with a member of our mesothelioma compensation team.