Military & Mesothelioma – Asbestos Exposure

Updated: March 31, 2020
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    The Department of Veterans Affairs has a set of illnesses and medical conditions believed to be caused by exposure to harmful conditions while troops serve their country.

    This list includes Agent Orange, mustard gas, and nuclear radiation, but it also includes asbestos exposure which can lead to a condition known as mesothelioma.

    If you were exposed to asbestos, you are at risk for a variety of medical issues, not just mesothelioma, but that condition (which describes as a form of cancer that can develop in a thin layer of tissue surrounding the body’s internal organs) is fatal and directly linked with such exposure.

    Mesothelioma is an “aggressive” and terminal disease that can be treated, but is not curable at the time of this writing.

    Anyone who has been exposed to asbestos should discuss that exposure with a primary care provider and consider a referral to specialists who can evaluate any possible damage as a result. You may be eligible for VA compensation, treatment, and other benefits.

    What Is Asbestos?

    Asbestos is a naturally-occurring mineral that is useful in heat-resistant products due to sturdy fibers resistant to heat. That heat resistance and resilience is what made asbestos a natural choice for roof tiles, insulation, “fireproof” gloves and outerwear, etc.

    Unfortunately, the same properties that make asbestos fibers so useful are also part of what makes them so harmful in the human body–strong fibrous material that is very difficult to destroy.

    Why Is Asbestos Dangerous?

    When something that contains asbestos is broken, pulverized, or otherwise compromised, asbestos dust can form. When that dust is ingested through breathing, accidental swallowing, etc., the dust settles into the body.

    This can lead to irritation of the internal tissues which may further lead to the development of mesothelioma. Irritation and inflammation are thought to be potential causes of cancer; there are medical studies evaluating this possibility and related issues.

    The government website discusses chronic inflammation as one possible culprit, so it’s no surprise that exposure and ingestion of a long-term irritant could be to blame for mesothelioma cases.

    How Do Ordinary People Get Exposed To Asbestos?

    In general, asbestos is more common than you might think. A January 2018 report by states that some products are created with asbestos on purpose, other products may have been contaminated by asbestos.

    The “contaminated” list includes talcum powder, which the ConsumerSafety site says may carry a risk of asbestos contamination; “…talc deposits occur together with asbestos, and mined talc can easily become contaminated with asbestos.”

    Other products are made specifically with asbestos in mind, including car parts. Brake pads contain asbestos to this day. So do many fire safety products, insulation, tile, and roofing products.

    It should be noted here that we are discussing the presence of asbestos in goods that are currently being manufactured, not just in things that once were permitted but now are illegal such as lead paint.

    How Do Military People Get Exposed To Asbestos?

    Consumer safety laws in the United States do not necessarily have their equivalents in overseas locations. Troops who serve in other countries may be exposed to asbestos through the previously mentioned building materials, insulation, roofing materials, tile, etc.

    This is some of the most obvious exposure possible but consider what other types of asbestos contamination might occur during firefights, combat operations involving ordnance, drone strikes, building demolitions of any kind, etc.

    Houses and offices buildings constructed with asbestos that are destroyed or demolished will definitely release some form of asbestos contamination. Troops stationed at, in, or near such sites are at an elevated risk.

    Remember, it does not take a combat operation to destroy a building. A fire, flood, a planned renovation, or complete demolition of a building to make way for new developments can all potentially release asbestos.

    What Is Mesothelioma?

    As mentioned above, mesothelioma is an aggressive, terminal form of cancer that is commonly linked to asbestos exposure as a primary cause. There are multiple varieties of the condition, which are named according to the parts of the body attacked.

    Mesothelioma is commonly found in the tissue surrounding the lungs. This variety is known as pleural mesothelioma. More rare forms include peritoneal mesothelioma (found in the tissue that surrounds the heart) and there is another rare form that attacks the tissue surrounding the testicles.

    Is Mesothelioma The Only Condition To Worry About Related To Asbestos?

    No. There are a variety of physical complications that can arise from being exposed to asbestos including “folded lung” or rounded atelectasis, asbestos-related lung cancer not described as mesothelioma, asbestosis (scar tissue in the lungs), and thickening of certain respiratory system tissues just to name a few.

    How Long Can It Take For Asbestos Exposure Symptoms To Appear?

    Depending on the condition, it may take a long time to notice the effects of asbestos exposure. In the case of mesothelioma in particular, symptoms may not be noticeable for decades. There are ways to test a patient to see if there is an existing condition or symptoms of one.

    A doctor or specialist may recommend chest x-rays, a pulmonary function test to measure current lung capacity, or a CT scan may be in order. If there is material that requires a biopsy, you may determine what the cause of any current symptoms are.

    Mesothelioma symptoms can include the usual lung-related coughing, trouble breathing, etc. But these symptoms may also include fluid buildup in the lungs, rib cage pain, lumps or discomfort in the stomach, and constipation.

    Who The VA Recommends To Get Tested For Damage Related To Asbestos Exposure Or Mesothelioma

    The Department of Veterans Affairs strongly recommends seeking medical advice for those who are at risk including anyone who has ever worked in the following environments or with the materials or projects listed below. Get tested if you have ever worked in:

    • Mining
    • Milling
    • Shipyards
    • Construction
    • Carpentry
    • Demolition
    • Auto repair

    The VA advises getting tested if you have ever worked with the following materials:

    • Flooring
    • Roofing
    • Cement sheet
    • Pipes
    • Insulation
    • Clutch facings
    • Brake linings
    • Any other type of “friction product” aside from facings and linings

    Who May Claim Disability Benefits For Asbestos Exposure/Mesothelioma

    Contact with asbestos during military service may result in a legitimate claim for VA health benefits, but both of the following statements must apply:

    • The veteran’s asbestos contact was the result of military service
    • The veteran does not have a dishonorable discharge

    The type of disability benefits available in this area (at the time of this writing) include care and compensation payments, but it’s necessary to file a VA medical claim with documentation and supporting evidence. That paperwork must include the following as required by the Department of Veterans Affairs:

    • Medical records that address the medical issue
    • Service records that include details on the servicemember’s career field
    • A doctor’s opinion (in writing) noting the connection between asbestos exposure during military service and the claimed condition

    Important Factors About Establishing Asbestos Exposure As A Result Of Military Service

    The website MayoClinic.Org notes that asbestos exposure may happen in a variety of ways. This is an important area to be aware of not only for future claims, but also for those who may be currently at risk of exposure (see below).

    One person’s asbestos risk may translate into a problem for others, too, depending on how the exposure is managed.

    • Personal exposure: The danger of mesothelioma or other asbestos-related medical issues is greatly increased if you work, live, or travel in environments that put you at risk.
    • Living with someone with asbestos exposure: When you are exposed to asbestos, those fibers may travel home via contaminated skin, shoes, or clothing. The Mayo Clinic official site advises, “Exposure to these stray fibers over many years can put others in the home at risk of mesothelioma.”
    • Family history: If a parent, sibling, or child has mesothelioma, your own risk may be higher.
    • Radiation therapy to the chest: Some radiological procedures may put you at an increased risk for mesothelioma.
    Written by Team