Written By: Devin Golden

Asbestos Exposure and Mesothelioma for Air Force Veterans

Air Force veterans are at risk of developing mesothelioma due to the widespread use of asbestos in the military, specifically in aircraft and vehicles. Air Force mechanics, pilots, aircraft workers and other service members who served in the armed forces during the 20th century were routinely exposed to asbestos.

Retired LCDR Carl Jewett

Reviewed By

Retired LCDR Carl Jewett

VA-Accredited Claims Agent

Retired LCDR Carl Jewett

Reviewed By

Retired LCDR Carl Jewett

VA-Accredited Claims Agent


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Important Facts About Asbestos Exposure for Air Force Veterans

  • The Air Force is the third-largest military branch behind the Navy and Army with approximately 321,000 active Air Force members.
  • Air Force members were exposed to asbestos in military aircraft and other vehicles. The U.S. government and military bought and used asbestos-containing materials for engine housings, insulation, wiring, brakes, clutches and many other components.
  • Air Force veterans with mesothelioma can file for VA benefits to receive monthly compensation, among other benefits, depending on their asbestos exposure history and military service record. Veterans with mesothelioma can also file legal claims with the help of an experienced mesothelioma attorney.

Rates of Mesothelioma Among Air Force Veterans

There are nearly 321,000 active Air Force members (“active-duty airmen”) with approximately 147,900 civilian personnel, 69,000 reserve airmen, 105,000 Air National Guard airmen and 65,000 Civil Air Patrol auxiliarists. The Air Force is the third-largest branch of the military by member size, behind the Army and the Navy.

According to the Boston VA, specialists treated 56 veterans with mesothelioma between 2011 and 2016, and three of them were Air Force veterans.

Each year, there are nearly 3,000 cases of mesothelioma diagnosed in the U.S. and approximately 1,000 cases involve veterans.

Air Force Asbestos Exposure

The United States Air Force was officially established in 1947, meaning the official branch was not involved in World War II when asbestos rose to prominence. However, the U.S. military had different versions of small air combat branches throughout the beginning of the 20th century. It wasn’t until World War II that the U.S. military understood the power of the German Air Force and knew it needed a comparable force.

The military’s use of asbestos reached an all-time high during World War II. Asbestos is a mineral with two properties that appeal to various functions: durability and resistance to heat. Despite these two useful qualities, microscopic asbestos fibers – when broken apart from the source – can contaminate the air, and anyone nearby can unknowingly inhale or swallow the tiny fibers.

Asbestos exposure was a common risk for U.S. Air Force members since asbestos materials were often built into various aircraft and vehicles during the 20th century. The operation and maintenance of these aircraft and vehicles can disturb asbestos and cause asbestos fibers to become airborne.

Air Force aircraft containing asbestos throughout the Cold War period included the:

  • B-36 Peacemaker
  • B-47 Stratojet
  • B-52 Stratofortress
  • B-58 Hustler
  • F-104 Starfighter
  • KC-135 Stratotanker
  • SR-71 Blackbird
  • U-2 Spyplanes

Exposure to asbestos can lead to serious health issues, such as cancer. Mesothelioma, an extremely rare and aggressive cancer, is one of the types of cancer caused by asbestos exposure, and the only cause of this cancer is asbestos.

Mesothelioma primarily forms in the lining of the lungs or abdominal cavity. This cancer often takes decades to fully develop after initial exposure. However, once it has developed, it often moves quickly and aggressively. Mesothelioma tumors can quickly spread to vital organs, and the average life expectancy after official diagnosis is approximately one year.

How Was Asbestos Used in the Air Force?

Asbestos was a valuable material used for insulation and to prevent fires, which was crucial for constructing and operating military aircraft. Although asbestos materials protected pilots and other Air Force personnel from the risk of fire, they also exposed aircraft operators to cancer-causing substances.

The Air Force often used asbestos in:

  • Engine firewalls
  • Electrical wiring
  • Heating systems
  • Brakes
  • Valves
  • Gaskets
  • General insulation
  • Adhesives and epoxies used in repair

Many U.S. Air Force members were at risk of asbestos exposure, but aircraft mechanics account for the majority of Air Force mesothelioma cases. Aircraft mechanics worked with large amounts of asbestos-containing materials as they installed or repaired brakes, gaskets, valves, insulation, electrical wiring and more on aircraft.

Mechanics handled asbestos-containing parts or worked near the substance and likely disturbed asbestos through various repair and maintenance processes, which often led to exposure. These mechanics typically worked in tight spaces, increasing the likelihood of inhaling or swallowing fibers.

Mesothelioma Compensation for Air Force Veterans and Their Families

Mesothelioma is a devastating cancer for anyone who is diagnosed, but it can be especially hard for veterans who are diagnosed with cancer directly connected to their service in the Air Force. The cancer usually moves quickly and aggressively through the body, significantly impacts the veteran’s quality of life, often prevents them from working, leads to debt due to expensive medical bills, and takes an emotional and mental toll on the veteran and their family.

Air Force veterans and their loved ones affected by mesothelioma are entitled to financial compensation and various benefit programs. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) provides benefits to veterans and their immediate family members, which include monthly payments and free health insurance with no- or low-cost copays for medical care.

Air Force veterans with mesothelioma can also seek legal compensation through lawsuits or asbestos trust fund claims. It is important to note that filing a lawsuit or trust fund claim does not involve the U.S. government or military. Mesothelioma lawsuits and asbestos trust fund claims are filed against the asbestos corporations responsible for manufacturing and distributing asbestos to the military which ultimately caused the veteran’s mesothelioma, and these types of claims have no bearing on a veteran’s eligibility for VA disability compensation.

Mesothelioma VA Benefits for Air Force Veterans

There are VA benefits for veterans with mesothelioma that provide financial assistance to Air Force veterans and their families:

  • VA Disability Compensation – If the veteran has “service-connected” mesothelioma, meaning at least 50% of their occupational asbestos exposure occurred in the military
  • VA Pension – If more than 50% of the veteran’s asbestos exposure occurred in their civilian career; if they were a wartime veteran and their household falls under maximum income levels
  • Aid & Attendance (A&A) and Housebound benefits – If the veteran requires the assistance of another person to perform at least two activities of daily living. The veteran may also receive additional compensation if a spouse requires A&A
  • VA Health Care – If the veteran meets the criteria of one of the eight health care priority groups; eligibility for Disability Compensation or Pension automatically qualifies them for Priority Group 1 or Priority Group 5, respectively

Monthly compensation amounts vary if the veteran has a dependent spouse or dependent children. VA Pension is a means-tested benefit, meaning the veteran’s income will affect the monthly payment.

VA Benefits for Family Members of Air Force Veterans With Mesothelioma

There are VA benefits for family members of veterans affected by mesothelioma. The spouse and dependent children are eligible to file for VA benefits.

Mesothelioma VA benefits for family members of veterans include:

  • Dependency and Indemnity Compensation – If the deceased veteran died from a service-connected mesothelioma or other condition
  • Survivors Pension – If the veteran’s asbestos exposure primarily occurred in their civilian career; if they served during wartime periods and their surviving family meets certain income and net worth requirements
  • Aid & Attendance – If the surviving family member requires the assistance of another person to perform at least two activities of daily living
  • CHAMPVA – A health care program for spouses and children of disabled veterans; available to family members regardless if the veteran is alive or deceased
  • Burial benefits – Financial assistance offered to families of deceased veterans to reimburse funeral costs

Legal Claims for Air Force Veterans With Mesothelioma

Veterans or their families can file mesothelioma legal claims against the asbestos manufacturing companies responsible for selling asbestos to the U.S. military. These companies knew of the health risks associated with asbestos yet continued to manufacture and sell the substance to the military.

Asbestos companies are legally responsible for mesothelioma in veterans, and the best way to hold them accountable is to file legal claims against them. Veterans with mesothelioma and their families are entitled to mesothelioma compensation to help offset the costs of treatment, lost wages, funeral expenses and other hardships associated with mesothelioma cancer.

The two types of legal claims U.S. Air Force veterans with mesothelioma can file are:

  • Asbestos trust funds — Filed with bankrupt asbestos companies’ trust funds that result in a fixed compensation amount previously established by the trustees
  • Mesothelioma lawsuits — Filed against active asbestos companies that most often result in compensation through a settlement agreement

An experienced mesothelioma lawyer can help file legal claims for military asbestos exposure in the Air Force. Lawyers specializing in veteran mesothelioma cases can also help veterans with civilian exposure to hold all asbestos manufacturing companies accountable.

Our mission at Mesothelioma Guide is to help veterans with mesothelioma find the support they need. Contact our veterans advocate for help locating VA medical centers, filing VA benefits and finding a veterans law firm. Our on-staff veterans advocate, retired LCDR Carl Jewett, is a 24-year Navy veteran and VA-accredited claims agent. Carl can help answer any questions regarding veterans and mesothelioma, VA benefits, or veterans legal claims.

Mesothelioma Treatment for U.S. Air Force Veterans

U.S. Air Force veterans can seek mesothelioma treatment at VA hospitals or civilian hospitals. The VA offers free health insurance with either low or no copayments for veterans with mesothelioma.

If the veteran enrolls in VA Health Care, they can receive mesothelioma treatment at one of the mesothelioma VA hospitals. If the veteran chooses to receive treatment from a civilian specialist, they can obtain a referral from the VA and their VA Health Care plan will cover the visit and treatment.

The two VA hospitals with specialized mesothelioma programs are:

Mesothelioma Guide recommends Air Force veterans with mesothelioma seek out a specialist at a top cancer center or VA medical center to treat their cancer. Mesothelioma is a complex cancer and requires doctors to have years of specialized experience to effectively treat it.

Mesothelioma treatment for veterans is similar to civilians who have been diagnosed with mesothelioma. Common treatment options for mesothelioma include:

These treatment options heavily depend on the type of mesothelioma the patient has been diagnosed with and in which stage.

Frequently Asked Questions About Asbestos Exposure and Mesothelioma in the Air Force

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How often do Air Force veterans get mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma is a rare cancer, so there aren’t many reported cases. There are only about 3,000 cases reported in the U.S. each year, and military veterans account for nearly 33% of them. Air Force veterans account for around 10% of mesothelioma cases involving veterans, according to data from the Boston VA Medical Center.

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How were Air Force veterans exposed to asbestos during service?

Air Force veterans were exposed to asbestos through the construction, repair, and use of military aircraft and vehicles. Pilots and other crew members were around asbestos materials on electrical wires, brakes, gaskets and more. Repairmen also handled asbestos intricately when fixing or replacing aircraft parts, which is why Air Force mechanics make up most of the branch’s mesothelioma cases.

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What VA benefits are available to Air Force veterans with mesothelioma?

The VA provides benefits, including monthly compensation, to Air Force veterans with mesothelioma. If the disease is from service-related asbestos exposure, Air Force veterans can apply for and receive VA Disability Compensation. If the cancer is primarily caused by civilian-related exposure, veterans can file for VA Pension. Other benefits include free health insurance, support for caregivers, benefits for the surviving family members of Air Force veterans with mesothelioma who passed away, and more.

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Can Air Force veterans receive any other compensation for their mesothelioma?

Yes, Air Force veterans with mesothelioma can receive compensation for filing legal claims. They can file mesothelioma lawsuits and/or asbestos trust fund claims against the asbestos manufacturing companies that sold asbestos to the military. The same is true for the surviving family members of veterans who died of mesothelioma.

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Do Air Force veterans with mesothelioma have to file lawsuits against the military?

No, Lawsuits from veterans with mesothelioma are not made against the U.S. military or government as they bought the mineral and used it in aircraft without knowing the risks of developing cancer. Lawsuits are filed against the asbestos manufacturing companies that sold the mineral to the government or military.

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What type of support is offered to Air Force veterans with mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma Guide provides several free support services to Air Force veterans with mesothelioma, along with veterans from the other branches who have been affected by this cancer. Our organization has an on-staff VA-accredited claims agent to help you file for VA benefits, including monthly payments to help with the cost of living and other expenses. Mesothelioma Guide can also help you find a mesothelioma lawyer for veterans if you wish to take legal action against the asbestos manufacturing companies that caused your life-changing disease. This assistance in finding a lawyer is also a free service provided to you and your family. Email our veterans advocate, Carl Jewett, at cjewett@mesotheliomaguide.com to get started.


Sources & Author

  1. Active and reserve U.S. military force personnel numbers by service branch and reserve component in 2019. Statista. Retrieved from: https://www.statista.com/statistics/232330/us-military-force-numbers-by-service-branch-and-reserve-component/. Accessed: 01/30/2021.
  2. Malignant Pleural Mesothelioma (MPM): Analysis of Military Occupation Related to Asbestos Exposure and Subsequent VA Disability Entitlements in Veterans at the Boston VA (VABHS). AVAHO Updates. Retrieved from: https://www.mdedge.com/fedprac/avaho/article/113975/oncology/malignant-pleural-mesothelioma-mpm-analysis-military?sso=true. Accessed: 02/01/2021.
  3. 2021 Veterans disability compensation rates. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Retrieved from: https://www.va.gov/disability/compensation-rates/veteran-rates/. Accessed: 12/21/2020.
Devin Golden

About the Writer, Devin Golden

Devin Golden is a content writer for Mesothelioma Guide. He produces mesothelioma-related content on various mediums, including the Mesothelioma Guide website and social media channels. Devin's objective is to translate complex information regarding mesothelioma into informative, easily absorbable content to help patients and their loved ones.