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Veterans and Mesothelioma

Of all of the groups susceptible to asbestos-related cancers, veterans run the highest risk. This is because asbestos was so abundantly used in the military, from pipe lagging on ships to the gloves used to handle hot artillery shells. As a result, of veterans comprise the single largest group Americans affected by asbestos diseases.

Beginning in the early 1900s, asbestos could be found in all United States military applications and divisions. By the early 1940s it was so coveted for its ability to resist heat and its fire retardant properties that some military branches authorized that it be used in every vessel and vehicle. Today, about 1,000 veterans a year are diagnosed with mesothelioma, accounting for up to 30 percent of all diagnoses.

There are potentially thousands of military veterans who will develop mesothelioma as a result of their exposure to asbestos in the military. Because of the long latency period of mesothelioma, those serving in the 1940s through the 1970s are at the highest risk and are only now being diagnosed with the disease. Those who have served more recently, including in Iraq and Afghanistan, are also at a high risk because of poor asbestos regulation in foreign lands.

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Military Asbestos Exposure

Every branch of the military used asbestos in one form or another. It was once touted as the miracle mineral for its strength, heat-resistance capabilities and affordability. It was used so widely that every veteran serving onboard a ship, in a shipyard or on a military base was at risk for exposure to the deadly fibers. It was cheap, easy to use and proved to be the perfect insulating material

Asbestos producers knew the risks associated with asbestos-fiber inhalation as early as the 1910’s. These producers purposely hid the risks for fear that such warnings would cause them to lose their huge government contracts and cause the military to seek alternative products. Current estimates put the number of Americans exposed to asbestos products between 27 million and 100 million, with a large percentage of them serving in the military or working on military installations.

  • Navy - More than 4 million Americans, both military and civilians, worked in shipyards, onboard ships, submarines and other vessels throughout the majority of the 1940’s through the 1970’s. Often they worked in areas with poor ventilation like engine rooms and boiler rooms, which contained a vast amount of asbestos materials. Sailors were also exposed by using asbestos paints, pipe lagging and gaskets and in firefighting suits, gloves, tiles, insulation and blankets. These workers were never given any protection to prevent them from breathing these dangers asbestos fibers.
  • Air Force - Air Force personnel are continually faced with long-term exposure to asbestos. Many Air Force bases were built in the early 1940s through the 1970s. Asbestos was widely used in building construction. Asbestos was widely used in vehicle and aircraft brakes as well as engine insulators, wire runs and fire barriers.
  • Marines - As one of the most versatile branches of the military, members of the Marines run a high risk of asbestos exposure. That’s because Marines often worked on vehicles and served onboard Navy ships.
  • Army - Most Army buildings and vehicles have been made with an abundant amount of asbestos. While modern-day asbestos use has been scaled back, asbestos-laden buildings, vehicles and clothing are still in service.
  • Coast Guard - Like Naval personnel, members of the Coast Guard are at a high risk for exposure. Most members of the Coast Guard work on vessels in cramped quarters with poor air circulation, and work on the same types of ships systems as Navy veterans.

Life After Military Service

Because of the training and skills learned in the military, many veterans seek employment in industries that continue to expose them to asbestos for years after their military service. Many veterans find that their asbestos-related work from the military provides a natural transition into civilian occupations that continue to involve asbestos work. Military ratings and occupations such as Boilerman, Mechanics, Seabees, Welders, Electricians, Pipefitters and Hull Technicians provided these vets with the skills to easily transition into asbestos-related civilian professions. These professions include the following:

  • Plumber - Exposure risks include thermal insulation and pipe lagging.
  • Electrician - Exposure risks include insulation, electrical conduits and motor-controller boards.
  • Construction Worker - Exposure risks include drywall, joint compounds, floor and wall tiles and demolition.
  • Mechanic - Exposure risks include brakes, clutches and gasket materials.
  • Industrial Worker - Exposure risks include welding work, construction products and caulking compounds.

Top Doctors and Specialists

Veterans are in a unique position to receive quality medical care. Some of the leading mesothelioma specialists work at medical facilities run by the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA). From coast to coast, there are quality physicians who specialize in asbestos-cancer care:

Dr. Abraham “Avi” Lebenthal - VA Boston Healthcare System Dr. Lebenthal’s strong interest in helping veterans partially stems from his own military service. After graduating from the prestigious Hebrew University Medical School in Israel, Lebenthal worked as an active duty physician in the Israeli Army. Now he splits his time between the Boston VA and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, where he specializes in treating pleural mesothelioma.

Dr. Robert Cameron - Women’s Hospital in Boston, where he specializes in treating pleural mesothelioma. VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare A vocal opponent of the highly invasive extrapleural pneumonectomy, Dr. Cameron says the pleurectomy/decortication is the safer and better choice. Since 1998, he has been the chief of thoracic surgery at the West Los Angeles VA Medical Center. Cameron has authored several peer-reviewed papers regarding asbestos-cancer treatment. They include, “Immunotherapy for Malignant Pleural Mesothelioma: Current Status and Future Prospects” and “Intraoperative hyperthermic chemotherapy perfusion for malignant pleural mesothelioma: an in vitro evaluation.” He is continually working to develop new treatments that will destroy mesothelioma cancers and help patients.

Veteran Support

Veterans who have been diagnosed with asbestos-related cancers have the right to have the best medical care available. If you or a loved one have been diagnosed with this disease, it’s important to seek a second opinion. This is especially important if your local oncologist said you are not a candidate for life-saving or life-extending surgery. Most local oncologists are not qualified to diagnose or treat a rare cancer like mesothelioma and don’t know the most current and advanced treatments available.

We have helped hundreds of veterans and their families gain access to the best medical care available through the VA healthcare system, including getting appointments with Dr. Lebenthal and Dr. Cameron. We work tirelessly to guide veterans through the confusing world of starting a VA Disability Compensation (VADC) claim and helping veterans setup appointments with the leading mesothelioma surgeons, both in the VA Health Care system as well as through the veterans private health insurance. Contact us now for help with setting up an appointment with a mesothelioma specialist.


Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Abraham Lebenthal. Retrieved from http://doctors.dana-farber.org/directory/profile.asp?pict_id=3977624

Linkedin.com. Robert Cameron. Retrieved from https://www.linkedin.com/pub/robert-cameron/20/a32/34b

U.S. News & World Report. Dr. Robert B. Cameron. Retrieved from http://health.usnews.com/doctors/robert-cameron-8312