Veterans and Asbestos

Many veterans developed mesothelioma as a result of asbestos exposure during their military service. Navy veterans are the most at risk, but all veterans should be aware of asbestos exposure.

Why is Asbestos so Common in the Military?

Asbestos was heavily used in the military because of its insulating properties. It was a convenient material for construction and manufacturing applications. Veterans who held occupations such as construction and shipyard work had a high risk of exposure.

What Veterans Need to Know About Asbestos

Asbestos Widely Used in Military

Asbestos materials have been widely used in every branch of the military. Exposure to asbestos was extremely common in the military until the late 1970s. While the Navy has the most cases of mesothelioma, veterans of any branch may be at risk.

Secondary Exposure Risks

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

All Veterans Have Risk of Asbestos Exposure

Exposure was unavoidable for these men and women who put themselves in harm’s way. The latency period for mesothelioma is 20-50 years. Because of this, a majority of these service members are being diagnosed now.

Despite representing only 8% of the nation’s population, veterans make up 30% of the cases of mesothelioma in the nation.


Learn About Veterans Compensation

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.

Navy Veterans

Navy veterans are at the highest risk to develop mesothelioma. They were exposed to asbestos more than any other branch of the military. Nearly every ship that was built between the 1930’s and 1970’s contained high levels of asbestos. The hazards of asbestos were brought to the Navy’s attention in 1939, but those hazards were ignored because of the demands of wartime.

One of the most significant risks for ships at sea is that of fire. Because of its incredible fire resistance, asbestos was present in every corner of ships from that era. The U.S. Government even mandated the use of asbestos materials in certain military applications because it proved to be an easy solution to fireproofing and insulation issues on naval vessels.

Common vessels that contained asbestos are:

  • Battleships
  • Submarines
  • Escort patrol craft
  • Transport ships
  • Cargo ships
  • Repair ships
  • Gunboats
  • Torpedo boats
  • Frigates
  • Minesweepers
  • Amphibious assault ships
  • Cruisers
  • Destroyers
  • Aircraft carriers

There was an especially large amount of asbestos used in boiler rooms, pump rooms and engine rooms. Asbestos was used in gaskets, floor coverings and cements. It was also found in sleeping quarters, wardroom and turrets of the ships. Anywhere there was risk of fire, asbestos was present.

These materials were often sanded or grinded, causing fibers to become airborne (when they are most dangerous). Asbestos was impossible to avoid while on a navy ship and similar threats were present on Coast Guard ships and vessels.

Army Veterans

Army veterans are also at significant risk of developing mesothelioma. Asbestos materials were used in military barracks because of their fire resistance. Asbestos products were banned in the 1980s but hundreds of military areas were left with asbestos in the cement, ceiling tiles and wall insulations as late as the 1990s.

Soldiers who held certain occupations as part of their service are also at a risk for occupational exposure because of the frequent use of asbestos materials in their occupations. These occupations included:

  • Construction Engineers
  • Plumbers
  • Fire Fighters
  • Electricians

Air Force Veterans

Air Force veterans may have also been exposed to asbestos used in military barracks or their occupation. The most unique use of asbestos in this branch was in aircraft. Asbestos was used in many military vehicles, such as brakes, gaskets, insulation, and aircraft cargo bays. The Air Force even used asbestos in air-cooling systems. Air Force mechanics have significant risk of exposure because of the use of asbestos in aircraft engines.

Marine Corps Veterans

Marines 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). There were so many old buildings on the base that asbestos became a concern. The report laid out plans for the safe removal of asbestos and lead-containing building materials on the base. But it took until the 21st century to address the last remaining vestiges of asbestos.

Marines are also at risk of exposure due to often being the first deployed to a war zone when asbestos becomes airborne following bombing raids. While this risk is low, it is still a concern.

List of Wars

Veterans who were deployed to foreign countries where combat occurred also face a unique asbestos exposure risk. Many of the countries where combat occurred hosted a bevy of asbestos-laden buildings. Veterans in the vicinity of these buildings could have unknowingly been exposed.

Military men and women who served overseas in Iraq are one group facing this risk. A large amount of asbestos that was mined in the United States was sent to Iraq in the decades prior to the Iraqi War. As the war was fought, buildings built with asbestos have been destroyed. This has caused asbestos fibers to be released into the air posing a potential threat to these veterans.

Other foreign conflicts where the destruction of buildings that may have contained asbestos occurred are:

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

At Risk Jobs

Although there is a possibility of secondary exposure to asbestos from airborne fibers, many veterans were exposed through direct contact. Those in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard that worked in repair or manufacturing of ships or other motor vehicles are at the highest risk of asbestos exposure. The jobs that are at the highest risk for exposure are:

  • Pipefitting
  • Shipyard Work
  • Insulation Work
  • Demolition
  • Manufacturing
  • Carpentry
  • Equipment Building
  • Welding
  • Boilermaking

Veterans with mesothelioma can often connect their asbestos exposure with military service. However, those whose mesothelioma is not a service-related condition may still be eligible for benefits. Learn more in our free Veterans Support Guide.