Asbestos use has caused untold sorrow and loss of life both here and internationally, but perhaps none of the damage done has been so tragic as that experience by our community of veterans. The U.S. military made extensive use of asbestos between the years following World War I and the Vietnam war. The material, which was prized for its strength and its ability to insulate against sound, flame and heat, also had the advantage of being inexpensive. It was used in shipbuilding, in the construction of barracks and mess halls, in a variety of automobile and jet engine parts, and a number of other applications.
During the years between the first World War and the Vietnam War, asbestos’ dangers were not widely known. Though suspicions had been raised about mysterious illnesses striking those who worked with the material, asbestos mining companies and manufacturers covered this information up in order to continue making a profit. Nobody knew in the government knew that the materials that the armed services was purchasing and using was highly toxic, and that exposure to it could lead to serious and often fatal conditions. These conditions included mesothelioma, asbestosis, asbestos-related lung cancer, and more. As service men and women inhaled or ingested the microscopic fibers that rained down on them from inside ships and submarines or while eating their meals, asbestos was insidiously embedding itself into the cell linings of their lungs and internal organs, slowly causing cell death and mutations that would eventually grow into deadly tumors. Today, veterans make up the largest percentage of America’s mesothelioma victims.
Asbestos Use During and After World War II, the Korean War, and Vietnam
In the years leading up to, during, and after World War II, every branch of the American military was exposed to asbestos in one form or another, but the branch that suffered the most was the U.S. Navy. Asbestos was a material that was commonly used in shipbuilding, not only to insulate and protect against fires but also to diminish sounds within the ships and to strengthen the steel that their hulls were made from. Boiler room equipment on vessels of all kinds was insulated with asbestos, and the inexpensive product was also used on land to build bunk houses, mess halls, and administrative buildings. Electrical wiring, plumbing, and entire infrastructure systems were heavily reliant on asbestos contaminated materials (ACMs). Not only were those who served on the ships and who worked, slept or ate within the buildings exposed, but so were those who were assigned to fabricate the structures. As America entered World War II and dramatically expanded its fleet of warships, more and more people working in the war effort were exposed to the toxic material.
The impact of asbestos was by no means restricted to the Navy. Service members in the Maines, the Army, the Air Force and the Coast Guard were all exposed to asbestos in similar ways: whether as a result of working within a building or because of the job they were required to do putting out fires, servicing vehicles or constructing and insulating work areas, all who were putting their lives on the line in the war effort were also unknowingly risking their lives on a day-to-day basis simply because of their working and living environment. As years went by, exposure to asbestos expanded to include those who were doing repair work on buildings, vehicles, and even schools and office buildings that were locate on military bases. The use of asbestos was ubiquitous: the material could be found in vehicle gaskets and brake shoes, in protective gear and ceiling tile.
Veterans Being Diagnosed with Mesothelioma
Mesothelioma is a condition that has a long latency period. This means that there is an extended period of time between when the exposure to asbestos takes place and when the symptoms of the condition begin to arise. For some this can be thirty years, while for others it can take as long as fifty years for mesothelioma symptoms to appear. World War II veterans who served in the 1940s generally began to show signs of mesothelioma in the 1970s and 1980s, and for many the connection between asbestos and their condition was never realized. By the time that the Korean War veterans began to be sick, doctors and health advocates were making the connection between asbestos exposure and illness. They realized that the veterans had been exposed to asbestos in the same ships and facilities that the World War II vets had been, and that the same would likely hold true for Vietnam veterans in the future. That has unfortunately been the case.
Veterans of the Korean War and the Vietnam conflict began to show symptoms approximately thirty to forty years after their service, at an approximate age of 65 or 70. There are roughly 3,000 cases of mesothelioma diagnosed each year, and about one third are military veterans. Since the discovery that asbestos is a carcinogen and that it was so widely used in military settings, the U.S. Armed Forces made a concerted effort to remove the dangerous material from all of its infrastructure and equipment. Unfortunately, these efforts – which came in the 1970s – came too late for many. It is expected that the number of cases of asbestos that are diagnosed in American veterans will continue to rise until the year 2020, after which it is expected to begin to slowly decline.
Veterans and Mesothelioma Claims
Veterans who were exposed to asbestos and who have been diagnose with mesothelioma or other asbestos-related diseases are eligible for a number of veterans’ benefit programs to provide them with medical care and treatment. Though they are not able to file a claim against the government for the harm that they have suffered, they are able to file mesothelioma lawsuits against companies that supplied the military and whose products they were exposed to during their years of service. They are also able to file mesothelioma claims against the asbestos bankruptcy trusts that have been set up to provide compensation for victims of asbestos exposure. The experienced and compassionate mesothelioma law firm of Danziger & De Llano has expertise in how to apply for veterans’ benefits, as well as about the compensation that you may be eligible for. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help.