Written By: Devin Golden

Mesothelioma and the Air Force

Mesothelioma and Air Force veterans are connected due to the alarming use of asbestos in military aircraft and vehicles. Air Force mechanics, pilots, aircraft workers and other service members were routinely exposed to this cancerous mineral. If you served in the Air Force and now have mesothelioma, you can receive benefits from the VA and payment from the company that manufactured asbestos for the military.

Retired LCDR Carl Jewett

Reviewed By

Retired LCDR Carl Jewett

VA-Accredited Claims Agent


jump to icon


Important Facts About Mesothelioma and the Air Force

  • The Air Force is the third-largest military branch. More than 10% of veterans mesothelioma cases at the Boston VA hospital involved Air Force veterans.
  • Air Force members were exposed to asbestos in aircraft and other vehicles. The military used asbestos in engine housings, wiring, brakes, clutches and many other components.
  • Air Force veterans with mesothelioma can file VA claims for compensation. They can also file legal claims with the help of an experienced mesothelioma attorney.

Rates of Mesothelioma Among Air Force Veterans

There are around 325,000 active Air Force members. It’s the third-largest branch by member size, behind the Army and the Navy.

The Boston VA treated 56 veterans with mesothelioma from 2011-2016. Three of them (roughly 6%) were Air Force veterans.

Around 1,000 of the annual U.S. mesothelioma cases involve veterans, meaning more than 100 are likely former Air Force service members.

Air Force Asbestos Exposure

The United States Air Force started in 1947. The branch missed World War II, which was the height of asbestos use by the military. World War II was the source of most branches’ asbestos exposure — and the cause of many veterans with mesothelioma.

However, the Air Force built aircraft with asbestos for the next 30 or so years. Pilots and other roles were exposed from the branch’s start until asbestos’ demise around 1980.

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

Asbestos in Aircraft

Asbestos could prevent overheating and fires, which was crucial for aircraft. The mineral protected pilots and other people from this risk, but it exposed them to the potential of developing deadly cancer. The two types of cancer linked to asbestos exposure and Air Force veterans are mesothelioma and lung cancer.

Asbestos can also cause lung cancer, although a small percentage comes from asbestos exposure. Most lung cancer cases come from smoking.

Asbestos was used in:

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

Asbestos and Aircraft Mechanics

Air Force aircraft mechanics make up a lot of mesothelioma cases. These veterans worked on aircraft with large volumes of asbestos. They installed or repaired brakes, gaskets, valves, insulation, electrical wiring and more.

Compensation Options for Air Force Veterans With Mesothelioma

Compensation is available for Air Force veterans with mesothelioma. This financial help comes in two forms: VA claims and legal claims. Fortunately, Air Force veterans can seek both.

Mesothelioma can cause a lot of hardships for Air Force veterans. The cancer can cause physical limitations, lost wages, medical debt and other issues. Veterans who die may leave their families with costly funeral arrangements and expensive medical bills.

Air Force veterans with mesothelioma shouldn’t have these burdens. They should be able to support their families and seek the best treatment in the world, no matter the cost.

VA Claims for Air Force Veterans

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs recognizes the link between mesothelioma and Air Force veterans. Those with service-connected cancer are eligible for at least $3,146 per month.

Service-connected means the Air Force veteran was exposed mostly during service. If not, they’re eligible for VA Pension. This amount fluctuates based on the veteran’s income when they file a claim.

Legal Mesothelioma Claims for Air Force Veterans

Legal claims include mesothelioma lawsuits and asbestos trust funds. These claims usually lead to larger compensation, and Air Force veterans won’t sue the military or U.S. government.

The military bought asbestos during the Cold War from manufacturers. These companies mass-produced asbestos to sell, and many knew asbestos was harmful to our health. They pursued profits regardless, putting millions of Air Force veterans at risk.

A lawyer can help you file a legal claim for your Air Force asbestos exposure. They’ll also help with civilian exposure. First, we recommend contacting a veterans mesothelioma advocate for help with VA claims and finding a law firm. Carl Jewett, our on-staff veterans advocate, is a veteran himself and sympathetic to veterans with asbestos diseases.

Frequently Asked Questions About Mesothelioma and the Air Force

blue box icon

How often do Air Force veterans get mesothelioma?

Since mesothelioma is a rare cancer, there aren’t many reported cases. Military veterans make up around 33% of cases. Air Force veterans account for around 10% of veterans mesothelioma cases, going by data from the Boston VA.

blue box icon

How were Air Force veterans exposed to asbestos during service?

Air Force veterans were exposed to asbestos through aircraft. Pilots and other crew members were around asbestos materials on electrical wires, brakes, gaskets and more. Air Force mechanics make up most of the branch’s mesothelioma cases.

blue box icon

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

The VA provides monthly compensation to Air Force veterans with mesothelioma. If the disease is from service-related asbestos exposure, the compensation comes from VA Disability Claims. If the cancer is due to civilian-related exposure, then veterans file for VA Pension. Other benefits include free health care.

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.