Every Memorial Day, we honor women and men who died while serving in the U.S. military. With its origins during the Civil War as Decoration Day, our nation’s official observance of Memorial Day didn’t come until 1971. In the intervening years, we saw nearly a million more
military deaths across multiple wars and conflicts. The sacrifices of our service women and men have been astronomical, almost impossible to comprehend: 620,000 lost during the Civil War, 405,399 during World War II, and nearly 2,500 in the present-day war in Afghanistan.
Another side of this enormous loss has been non-combat military deaths from other causes, including illnesses and accidents. These are a tragic reminder of the risks our military personnel take on every day, even in peacetime. Every year, approximately 918 service members die from non-war-related causes.
Compounding this tragedy are completely preventable illnesses and deaths, especially from asbestos-related cancers and mesothelioma. Despite conclusive evidence of the dangers of asbestos, available since the 1940s, it wasn’t until 1998 that the U.S. Army created the Installation Asbestos Management Program to protect soldiers from the adverse health effects of asbestos.
Today there are 19 million living veterans who make up almost 7% of the country’s population. However, veterans make up a disproportionate 30% of the yearly mesothelioma diagnoses. This Memorial Day, we remember the soldiers we’ve lost and those still fighting the lasting effects of asbestos exposure.
Widespread Use of Asbestos in the Military
Because asbestos, a naturally occurring fibrous mineral, was once highly valued for its strength, resistance to heat, durability, and flexibility, it became widely used for building and manufacturing across all branches of the military. Mixed into cement, mortar, or caulking, asbestos became a key ingredient in insulation, brickwork, wiring, pipes, and fireproofing materials, in addition to being used in gaskets, brake pads, pipes, and countless other places. But these conveniences came at the high price of service members’ health.
Until the mid-1970s, military personnel was put at risk of having toxic asbestos fibers lodged in their skin, eyes, lungs, and other internal organs. Any time they worked with asbestos-laden parts or simply ate and slept inside buildings outfitted with asbestos, they were exposed. Even if they didn’t work directly with asbestos materials, the tiny fibers traveled easily through the air and caused secondary exposure to anyone within the same area.
Asbestos Exposure in Every Branch
Truly no branch of the armed forces was free from asbestos exposure. It appeared in most buildings, ships, barracks, tanks, aircraft, and land vehicles.
In the U.S. Navy, exposure happened in boiler rooms, sleeping quarters, engine rooms, and ammunition storage rooms. At the highest risk were pipefitters, boiler technicians, and machinists. In the U.S. Marine Corps, transportation was the biggest danger. Repairing or simply using planes, ships, and armored vehicles put Marines in contact with asbestos fibers. For Army personnel, asbestos exposure happened mostly from building flooring, roofing, and cement. Aircraft were insulated with asbestos and outfitted with wiring, brakes, gaskets, and valves that contained asbestos. Air Force pilots were especially exposed to cockpits coated with asbestos. Ships coated, insulated, and fireproofed with asbestos posed significant health risks to U.S. Coast Guard members. Additionally, the ropes they handled daily were woven with asbestos fibers.
Asbestos has also harmed U.S. Merchant Marines, Atomic veterans, and the National Guard. Troops deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan continue to be regularly exposed to asbestos from older buildings—especially those that have collapsed. Most countries in the Middle East still do not regulate the use of asbestos, and in some cases aid in its continued exportation.
Protecting Those Still with Us
Asbestos-related lung cancer and mesothelioma are especially aggressive forms of cancer that typically develop years after exposure to asbestos. Unfortunately, there are few treatment options for these types of cancers, and most people diagnosed with mesothelioma and asbestos lung cancer do not survive.
It can take anywhere between 15 and 50 years from first exposure to asbestos before symptoms of cancer or mesothelioma occur—just when a veteran may be hoping to enjoy a return to peacetime and civilian life. Symptoms of asbestos-related illnesses can be mistaken for other common ailments. Individuals may initially experience shortness of breath, chest or lower back pain, chronic coughing, difficulty swallowing, and fluid around the lungs.
It’s especially egregious that the United States failed to protect those who risked their lives to protect us. For the ones we can still help, there are ways to hold companies accountable and get you the help and compensation you deserve.
SWMW Law brings experienced and proven attorneys who can immediately begin the process of helping you recover compensation, just as we have for thousands of families like yours. We’ve helped veterans get the VA benefits and other compensations they’re entitled to. Contact our team today to get started.