Written By: Devin Golden

Mesothelioma and the Army

The U.S. Army, like many other branches of the military, has a long history of using asbestos in various applications. Asbestos was prized for its heat-resistant and fire-retardant properties, making it a common choice for construction, insulation, and vehicle components. However, the extensive use of asbestos in the military has left a lasting legacy, as many veterans are now facing the devastating consequences of their Army asbestos exposure.

Retired LCDR Carl Jewett

Reviewed By

Retired LCDR Carl Jewett

VA-Accredited Claims Agent


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Important Facts About Mesothelioma and Army Veterans

  • According to data from the Boston VA health care system, Army veterans make up the second highest number of mesothelioma cases.
  • Asbestos exposure is a serious concern for veterans, as it is the only known cause of mesothelioma, a rare and aggressive form of cancer.
  • Veterans are eligible for VA benefits and compensation, including monthly disability compensation payments.

Rates of Mesothelioma Among Army Veterans

There are close to 500,000 active Army members, which is the most in the military. Veterans of the Army make up a significant number of the roughly 18 million veterans alive today.

While asbestos exposure is widespread across all military branches, Army veterans constitute a significant portion of veterans diagnosed with mesothelioma. This prevalence is attributed to the Army’s vast size and the breadth of its operations, both of which involve a myriad of asbestos-containing components.

The Navy has the most mesothelioma cases involving veterans, but the Army has also been significantly affected. The Boston VA healthcare system treated 16 Army veterans with mesothelioma from 2011-2016. This number was around 30% of all veteran’s cases. Only the Navy (28 cases, 50%) had more.

How Was Asbestos Used in the Army?

Asbestos is a fire-retardant mineral found in the earth’s soil. It can resist heat and insulate barracks, aircraft and vehicles. This is important for the military and the Army during transport and combat.

However, asbestos is a carcinogen, which means it causes cancer. Army veterans inhaled or ingested asbestos without knowing.

Asbestos can stick into cell linings, particularly mesothelial cell linings or lung tissue, and cause the cells to mutate. This is how asbestos causes mesothelioma and lung cancer for Army veterans.

The U.S. Army, like many other branches of the military, used asbestos for its durability and resistance to heat, fire and corrosion. Some of the ways in which the Army used asbestos include insulation, vehicle and aircraft components, fireproof clothing and in the construction of barracks and military buildings built before the restrictions on asbestos. The Army greatly valued asbestos-containing products and materials

Asbestos in Insulation

Asbestos was commonly used as insulation material in various components throughout military buildings, ships and vehicles. The material was often used as electrical and pipe insulation. It helped protect against extreme temperatures, which was especially important for military equipment and installations.

Asbestos in Army Vehicles

Army vehicles, such as tanks, trucks and ambulances, included asbestos in heating systems, brake pads, clutches, gaskets and more. The heat resistance of asbestos made it a suitable material for these components.

Gaskets with asbestos, for example, won’t expand as much when exposed to heat. This prevents costly oil leaks. 

Vehicles built before the Vietnam War were most likely to have asbestos. These included tanks, trucks and ambulances. M4 Sherman tanks are just one example.

Asbestos in Gaskets and Seals

Asbestos gaskets and seals were used in a wide range of military equipment, such as engines, pumps, and piping systems. These gaskets and seals helped prevent leaks and maintained the integrity of various systems.

Asbestos in Fireproof Clothing

Asbestos was incorporated into fireproof clothing worn by military personnel, such as firefighters and soldiers. The material provided protection against high temperatures and flames. Asbestos was also used in the gloves that soldiers used to handle spent artillery shells and hot machine gun barrels.

Asbestos in Army Aircraft 

In addition to friction products, such as brakes and clutches, Army aircraft also contained asbestos in gaskets, seals and heat shields to protect component and exhaust systems from the intense heat generated by aircraft engines. Asbestos was also used as fireproofing and for acoustic insulation for both safety and operational efficiency.

The United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) led all air-based military operations up until 1947. The USAAF was established for World War II. In only four years, the USAAF grew by over two million personnel and produced over 60,000 aircraft, including bombers, fighter planes and transport aircraft.

Some of the more notable aircraft built during this time include the P-51 Mustang fighter plane and the B-17 bombers. Many, if not all, were built with asbestos.

Pilots, crew members and aircraft mechanics all faced a risk of asbestos exposure. Gaskets, firewalls and heating systems were packed with asbestos.

The demands of wartime production led to an increase in asbestos during World War II. An average of about 783 million pounds was produced annually.

Army Buildings and Barracks

Although the Army stopped using asbestos by the 1980s, asbestos-containing materials, like asbestos cement boards, drywall, joint compound, ceiling tiles, floor tiles and siding, were used in the construction of Army barracks and buildings on Army bases prior to this. Many of these older Army buildings may still contain asbestos, which continues to put veterans at risk of military asbestos exposure, increasing their risk of developing mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases.

Mesothelioma and the Army Corps of Engineers

The Army Corps of Engineers is an engineering arm of the U.S. Army. It was tasked with constructing the Panama Canal. This project finished in 1914, but it included a heavy volume of asbestos.

There were asbestos-removal jobs during the latter part of the 20th century. However, the effort to build the canal led to regular exposure. It is unknown how many members of the Army Corps of Engineers developed mesothelioma, but asbestos exposure was certain.

Veterans at High Risk of Asbestos Exposure 

Service members and veterans who served in Army jobs involving work on or near asbestos-containing materials were at a particularly high risk of asbestos exposure, increasing their risk of developing mesothelioma. 

Jobs in the army that likely put veterans at risk of mesothelioma include construction, maintenance, and vehicle repair, as these jobs frequently required individuals to handle materials made with asbestos. As a result, veterans may have been exposed to asbestos. Additionally, other service members likely experienced secondary asbestos exposure simply by being present or passing through areas where this type of asbestos work was occurring.

The Health Consequences 

Exposure to asbestos is known to be associated with a range of serious health issues, including malignant mesothelioma, a rare and deadly cancer primarily affecting the lining of the lungs, abdomen or heart. Many veterans diagnosed with mesothelioma have traced their illness back to their military service and the asbestos exposure they experienced during their time in the Army. Asbestos has also been linked to lung cancer, GI tract cancers, asbestosis and pleural plaque.

Army Veterans Diagnosed with Mesothelioma 

The diagnosis of mesothelioma in veterans is a harsh reality. These brave individuals, who served their country with honor, now find themselves battling a relentless disease due to asbestos exposure. A mesothelioma diagnosis often comes with a challenging prognosis, and it is a painful reminder of the dangers of asbestos.

Compensation for Army Veterans With Mesothelioma 

Mesothelioma is a devastating diagnosis for anyone. For veterans who served their country with honor, a mesothelioma diagnosis can be particularly heartbreaking. Fortunately, there are many compensation options available to provide financial support and assistance during this challenging time. Army veterans with mesothelioma may be able to file a mesothelioma claim for benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and/or compensation through the legal system.

VA Benefits for Army Veterans 

The most common VA claim for veterans with an asbestos disease is disability compensation, which provides financial compensation to veterans with service-related disabilities, including those resulting from asbestos exposure during military service.

Army veterans diagnosed with service-connected asbestos cancers, such as mesothelioma, are awarded a 100% disability rating which equates to a monthly monetary benefit payment of at least $3,621 per month. 

The monthly amount increases if veterans have qualifying dependents or require the assistance of another person to perform activities of daily living. Army veterans diagnosed with service-connected non-cancerous asbestos diseases are rated on a variable scale ranging from 0% to 100%.   

VA Pension is available to wartime veterans without a service-related mesothelioma. This is an income-based benefit and requires the veteran’s income and assets to be below specific thresholds established by Congress.

Surviving loved ones of veterans who died from mesothelioma may also be eligible for benefits. Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) is provided to surviving spouses of veterans who died from a service-related disability whereas Survivors Pension is available to spouses of wartime veterans who died from non-service-related disabilities.

Legal Claims for Army Veterans With Mesothelioma 

Hundreds of asbestos products were used in the military during the 20th century. The Army bought these products but was not aware of the fact that these asbestos products were dangerous in any way.

The true culprits are the asbestos manufacturing companies that knew about the dangers of their asbestos products but chose to hide the risks from the public. They are responsible for thousands of veteran deaths from mesothelioma. The best way to hold these companies accountable is by filing a legal compensation claim

Many of these asbestos manufacturing companies have filed for bankruptcy protection, which protects them from future lawsuits. However, the bankruptcy courts required these companies to establish trust funds for future victims. Today, there are approximately 70 asbestos trust funds to compensate future victims of their negligence.

Legal claims against these companies require help from a mesothelioma lawyer who can file with the asbestos trust fund and in some cases, file a mesothelioma lawsuit for you. We can help you connect with one of the best veteran-friendly mesothelioma law firms in the country.

Our VA-Accredited Claims Agent and Veterans Advocate, Carl Jewett, is a Navy veteran, and he offers free assistance to veterans with mesothelioma or another asbestos-related disease file VA claims. Our mission at Mesothelioma Guide is to help veterans who have experienced asbestos exposure in the Army and provide them with the support they need.

Asbestos exposure is a serious concern for veterans, and it’s crucial to raise awareness about the risks and available benefits for those affected. If you’re a veteran diagnosed with mesothelioma, don’t hesitate to seek assistance from our team and explore your options for compensation and support.

Frequently Asked Questions About Army Veterans and Mesothelioma

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How many Army veterans have mesothelioma?

The number of Army veterans with mesothelioma is unclear. According to the registry of cases treated at the Boston VA Hospital, Army veterans account for around 30% of mesothelioma cases involving veterans.

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How were Army veterans exposed to asbestos?

Army veterans working on or spending time in barracks, aircraft or vehicles were exposed to asbestos. The U.S. military did not know asbestos was dangerous, which explains why Army personnel did not wear protective equipment when handling asbestos.

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What benefits are available to Army veterans with mesothelioma?

Army veterans with mesothelioma can apply for VA Disability Compensation or VA Pension, depending on when they were exposed to asbestos. They can also apply for VA health care. If an Army veteran passed away from mesothelioma, their surviving loved ones are eligible for benefits.

Sources & Author

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
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.