Many veterans develop mesothelioma as a result of asbestos exposure during their military service. Navy veterans face the highest risk, but veterans from all branches should be aware of asbestos exposure.

Why Is Asbestos so Common in the Military?

The military depended on asbestos for decades because of its insulating properties. It was convenient for construction and manufacturing applications. Veterans working in construction and shipyard jobs for the military had a high risk of exposure.

What Veterans Need to Know About Asbestos

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    Asbestos Widely Used in Military

    Asbestos had a role during the 20th century in every branch of the military. Exposure to asbestos was extremely common until the late 1970s.

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    Secondary Exposure Risks

    Veterans serving in construction and labor occupations weren’t the only people at risk of asbestos exposure. Other personnel (doctors, secretaries, etc.) had secondary exposure or direct exposure if serving on a ship.

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    All Veterans Have Risk of Asbestos Exposure

    Exposure was unavoidable for these brave men and women who put our safety and comfort before their own. The latency period for mesothelioma is 20-50 years, meaning a majority of these service members are being diagnosed now.

Despite representing only 7% of the nation’s population, veterans make up more than 30% of the cases of mesothelioma in the nation.

Learn About Veterans Compensation

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Many of our country’s veterans were unnecessarily exposed to dangerous asbestos fibers during their service. If you are one of the many people who has developed mesothelioma after service in the military, we can help. Our VA-accredited claims agent, retired LCDR Carl Jewett, can help you file for benefits and receive compensation to help cover medical costs.

Commander Jewett can help you:

  • Navigate the filing process for faster payment of benefits.
  • Get benefits for spouses and children.
  • File for caregiver and housebound benefits.









Army Veterans

United States ArmyArmy veterans who served in the 20th century also face the risk of developing mesothelioma. Asbestos materials were in military barracks because of their fire resistance.

New uses of asbestos products were banned in the 1980s, but hundreds of military areas were left with asbestos in the cement, ceiling tiles and wall insulations for decades after. This “legacy asbestos” preserved the danger for Army veterans.

Soldiers who held certain occupations as part of their service were also at risk. These occupations included:

  • Construction engineers
  • Plumbers
  • Firefighters
  • Electricians

Air Force Veterans

United States Air ForceAir Force veterans were exposed to asbestos in aircrafts, barracks and more. Asbestos was used in military vehicles to protect brakes, gaskets and insulation from heat or fire damage. The Air Force even used asbestos in air-cooling systems. Air Force mechanics were exposed frequently because of asbestos in aircraft engines.

Marine Corps Veterans

United States Marines CorpsMarines had the combined risk of being exposed on naval vessels as well as on land. Exposure could occur occupationally, during transport (ships, aircraft, and other vehicles), and also in their barracks.

A report in 2007 discussed the use of asbestos materials at Parris Island (where most marines go for boot camp). The number of old buildings with asbestos on the base became a concern.

The report laid out plans for the safe removal of asbestos and lead-containing building materials, but the issue wasn’t fully addressed until the 21st century.

Marines are susceptible to exposure due to being the first deployed to a war zone following bombing raids, which disturbs legacy asbestos in old buildings and causes airborne fibers.

List of Wars

Veterans deployed to combat zones in foreign countries face a unique asbestos exposure risk. Many of these countries had a bevy of asbestos-laden buildings. Veterans in the vicinity could have unknowingly been exposed.

Men and women who served in Iraq are one group facing this risk. A large amount of asbestos mined in the United States was sent to Iraq in the decades prior to the Iraq War. As the war was fought, buildings built with asbestos were destroyed, causing asbestos fibers to contaminate the oxygen in military zones.

Other foreign conflicts leading to exposure are:

  • World War II
  • Korean War
  • Vietnam War
  • Gulf War (Desert Storm)
  • Grenada
  • War in Afghanistan (Operation Enduring Freedom)

At-Risk Jobs

Although secondary exposure to asbestos is possible, many veterans were exposed through direct contact. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard veterans who repaired or built ships or motor vehicles were the highest-risk military jobs.

Other work at a heightened risk of exposure were:

  • Pipefitting
  • Shipyard work
  • Insulation work
  • Demolition
  • Manufacturing
  • Carpentry
  • Equipment building
  • Welding
  • Boilermaking


Veterans with mesothelioma can learn whether their military service caused the cancer. This information is important for accessing monthly benefits through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Learn more in our free Veterans Support Guide.