Veterans may still be struggling with the effects of asbestos exposure


Because the U.S. Armed Forces used asbestos-containing products over the last century, veterans of the Navy, Army, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard have been exposed to asbestos while defending our country. The growing number of toxic exposure cases among former military personnel underscores the health risks they took in addition to the challenges of military service. Many years after fulfilling their duty, they may now be faced with developing life-threatening asbestos-related diseases stemming from their time in the military.

Asbestos has been discovered at most military installations across the state

The toxic mineral, once praised for its fire-resistant and insulating properties, was in high demand as the U.S. prepared to enter World War II. As the military redoubled its attrition efforts, no one thought that asbestos posed a threat when its microscopic fibers became airborne and were inhaled. For this reason, asbestos exposure continues to be a health concern for all veterans who may have toxic fibers in their lungs, including New York State's large veteran community and Westchester County's veteran population. While the military primarily used asbestos to insulate vehicles, aircraft, ships, barracks and various tools, the Navy used it most often. Ships had to be fireproofed from bow to stern, and therefore veterans who served aboard naval ships in the last century were at exceptionally high risk of asbestos exposure. New York State led all states in the production of war materials and in the number of personnel drafted into the U.S. Armed Forces by 1945. Westchester County's World War II history demonstrates significant manufacturing and human military contributions to the nation's war effort.

Slowly deteriorating health of veterans after long-term exposure to asbestos

During the military, veterans lived and worked near asbestos-containing materials, particularly at naval bases, shipyards, and ships, without realizing the danger they posed. When disturbed, asbestos releases microscopic particles into the air that, due to their structure and size, can float in the air for hours. These tiny threads can easily be inhaled or ingested. Once they enter the body, they cause permanent damage to major organs and lead to devastating disease.

One of the most frightening features of asbestos-related diseases is that they only manifest after a decades-long latency period between exposure and the first symptoms. Even though veterans may not have had any health problems during their service, they will only feel the effects of asbestos exposure over time when they are diagnosed with associated medical conditions such as asbestosis, lung cancer, mesothelioma or other respiratory diseases.

Veterans' ongoing struggle after asbestos exposure

Although many years have passed since the armed forces overused asbestos, veterans who came into contact with it during their service must now fight for their health. Many have to face the harsh reality that asbestos diseases shorten their life expectancy. Knowing that early detection can improve treatment outcomes and add years to life, veterans should proactively protect their health by:

  • Scheduling pPeriodic check-ups: regularly Medical examinations and open discussions about military service and possible asbestos exposure are critical. The inhaled asbestos fibers initially damage the lungs, so veterans should have chest X-rays or CT scans, as well as pulmonary function tests (also known as breathing tests). These imaging tests show changes caused by the toxic asbestos fibers and are a diagnostic procedure for both benign and malignant asbestos-related diseases.
  • Learn her lno matter rights: Veterinarians who know that they have worked with or near asbestos during the course of their service, or who suspect that they have been exposed to asbestos, should be informed of the legal options and compensation programs available. Individuals diagnosed with asbestos malignancies have the legal right to seek compensation from asbestos trust funds and apply for VA disability benefits.
  • Spread awareness: Former military personnel can greatly help educate others about the risks of asbestos exposure by sharing their knowledge. In this way, they can help inform others who have protected our country.

Not only do we express our gratitude to veterans, but we are also responsible for protecting their health and well-being. Awareness of asbestos exposure is an important part of this responsibility. By bringing this still-lurking danger to light, we can ensure that those who have served receive the care and support they rightly deserve.

About the author:

Cristina Johnson is a Navy veterans advocate Asbestos Ship Organization, a nonprofit organization whose primary mission is to raise awareness and educate veterans about the dangers of asbestos exposure on Navy vessels and to help them navigate the VA application process. Further information can be found on our site.