Approximately 30 percent of people with mesothelioma have served in the military, even though veterans only represent seven percent of the population. The Army used asbestos liberally in its buildings and machinery, and soldiers often served in areas where asbestos was used without restriction. For example, Iraq failed to ban asbestos until 2016, and asbestos remains unrestricted in Afghanistan.
Veterans who have served in the Army faced high exposure to asbestos while living in their barracks, which are notoriously old, poorly maintained, and known to contain asbestos in most building materials.
As a result of these conditions, army veterans continue to face a higher risk of mesothelioma than the civilian population.
Asbestos Exposure in Army Barracks
The average army building is 47 years old, according to a 2022 report by the American Enterprise Institute. This translates to an average construction year of 1975 when asbestos was still being used in many building applications. Some buildings are even older.
Army barracks are supposed to provide a safe environment for our troops to live and rest while serving our country. Unfortunately, our soldiers continue to face an invisible enemy, even while they sleep, which continues to cause casualties long after their military duty ends.
The military bases below were established during or before the period from the 1930s until about 1980, when asbestos was popular. Thus, they have a significant history of asbestos in their buildings, equipment, and barracks.
- Fort Ord in California, now owned by the state
- Fort Irwin in Barstow
- Presidio of Monterey in Monterey
- Sierra Army Depot Army Base in Herlong
- Camp San Luis Obispo Army Base in San Luis Obispo
- Camp Roberts Army Base in Monterey
- Camp Haan Army Base in Riverside
- Camp Parks PRFTA Army Base in Dublin
- Fort Hunter Liggett Army Base in Monterey
- Fort Gordon in Augusta
- Fort Stewart in Liberty
- Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah
- Camp Frank D Merrill Army Base in Dahlonega – more like a school than a base, with very little housing
- MCLB Albany Army Base in Albany
- Fort McPherson Army Base in East Point
- Fort Gillem Army Base in Forest Park
- Fort Benning Army Base in Columbus, now known as Fort Moore
- Camp Bullis in San Antonio
- Fort Bliss in El Paso
- Fort Cavazos
- Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio
- Joint Base San Antonio
- Corpus Christi Army Depot
- Biggs Army Air Field at Fort Bliss in El Paso
- Martindale Army Airfield Army Base in San Antonio
- Camp Swift Army Base in Bastrop County
- Camp Stanley Storage Activity Army in San Antonio
- Camp Mabry Army Base in Austin
- Camp Bowie Army Base in Brownwood
- Red River Army Depot Army Base I in Bowie County
- Fort Hood Army Base in Killeen
- Fort Belvoir in Fairfax
- Fort Eustis in Newport News
- Fort Gregg-Adams
- Fort Myer in Arlington
- Fort Story
- Hampton Roads Military Bases
- Joint Base Langley-Eustis
- Joint Base Myer – Henderson Hall
- Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story
- Warrenton Training Center Army Base in Alexandria
- Radford Army Ammunition Plant Army Base in Radford
- Fort Pickett Army Base in Blackstone
- Fort AP Hill Army Base in Bowling Green
- Fort Monroe Army Base in Hampton
- Fort Lee Army Base in Prince George
Asbestos was also used in the barracks of our military bases located overseas, including the following:
Occupational Asbestos Exposure in the Army
Soldiers serving in the U.S. Army experienced asbestos exposure daily while carrying out their duties in their respective occupations. Some workers handled asbestos directly, while others were exposed to it in buildings containing it. Some were exposed to asbestos through machine and automobile parts.
It is not uncommon for Army veterans to perform similar work in civilian occupations after being discharged from the Army, often resulting in continued asbestos exposure throughout life.
Administrative workers in the Army may have been exposed to background asbestos while working in offices, especially as the buildings began to age. Asbestos may have been used in such components as building insulation, ceiling tiles, and tile flooring. Administrative workers who may have been exposed include the following:
- Administrative specialists
- Finance specialists
- Aviation operations specialists
- Legal specialists
- Chaplain assistants
- Office workers
Chaplain assistants may work in offices, but they also enter multiple locations, including hospitals, barracks, and various locations in the field while serving overseas. As a result, they were often in damaged buildings where any underlying asbestos may have been damaged and become airborne.
Army workers served in numerous construction jobs and likely used asbestos in some capacity. Asbestos was especially valued for use in friction parts of heavy machinery, various building components, wearable machinery parts such as gaskets, insulation materials, industrial compounds, and cement products.
Construction specialties in the Army include the following:
Combat specialists may have been involved in building demolitions and constructions. Building demolitions were especially hazardous because they released large quantities of asbestos into the air.
Combat specialists also used electronics, telecommunications equipment, and vehicles, all containing asbestos. They were often transported aboard Navy ships, which typically contained asbestos in nearly every component.
Combat specialists worked in the following jobs:
- Bridge crewmembers
- Quarrying specialists
- Special operations engineers, who were involved in the demolition and construction of field fortifications
- Special operations communications sergeants
- Armor crewmen
Electrical and Telecommunications Workers
Electrical and telecommunications equipment contained asbestos in the electrical wiring insulation, machine gaskets, industrial compounds, and parts of aircraft that were prone to friction or high heat. Electrical and telecommunications workers in the Army worked in the following professions:
- Aircraft electricians
- Avionic mechanics
- Armament and electrical systems repair workers
- Radio and communications security workers
- Electronic maintenance chiefs
- Chemical equipment repair workers
- Radio operators and maintainers
- Network switching operators
- Cable installers
- Microwave system installers
- Telecommunications operators
Machine and Equipment Operators
Any worker that operated machinery faced a high risk of asbestos exposure because asbestos was found in multiple small components throughout machinery, and many of these components could wear down and require replacement over time. Wiring, gaskets, lubricants, and machine components prone to extreme heat may have contained asbestos.
Machine and equipment operators worked in the following occupations:
- Lithographers, who operated printing presses and binding machines
- Metal workers
Protective service workers were basically the first responders of the military world. These Army personnel experienced some of the highest risks because they often worked around damaged buildings that had released significant amounts of asbestos. Examples of protective services workers include the following:
- Military Police
Machine and Vehicle Mechanics
Machine and vehicle mechanics faced high levels of asbestos exposure through such components as brakes, clutches, engine lubricants, gaskets, electrical wiring insulation, and insulation around any engine parts prone to high heat. Asbestos exposure could also occur through the insulation, wallboard, and other components of the vehicle cabins, especially watercraft.
Machine and vehicle mechanic jobs in the Army include the following:
- Aircraft and helicopter mechanics
- Construction equipment mechanics
- Tank system mechanics
- Vehicle mechanics
- Artillery mechanics
- Watercraft engineers
- Special-purpose equipment mechanics, including those who worked on power generation equipment, HVAC, and chemical equipment
Asbestos-Exposure During Combat Operations
When our brave men and women serve in combat operations, they are often exposed to building explosions, vehicle explosions, building fires, and demolitions. Any asbestos contained in these structures may be released in large quantities during these events.
Sometimes Army personnel must build permanent or temporary structures while serving overseas, but some countries do not have asbestos restrictions. Thus, troops may have also constructed buildings and fortification structures with asbestos-containing components.
Army personnel may still face asbestos exposure today while serving overseas.
How Does Asbestos Exposure Impact the Health of Army Personnel?
Treatment Options for Army Veterans with Mesothelioma
Mesothelioma treatment options vary depending on the state of cancer at the time of diagnosis and the type of mesothelioma you have. Treatment for mesothelioma generally includes a combination of the following:
Where to Seek Treatment
When seeking mesothelioma treatment, it is important to select a doctor with experience in treating mesothelioma. Army veterans can seek treatment through the Department of Veterans Affairs.
West Los Angeles VA Medical Center
The mesothelioma program at the VA Medical Center in Los Angeles operates under the leadership of Dr. Robert B. Cameron, one of the foremost mesothelioma experts in the world. Dr. Cameron is the head scientist at the Pacific Mesothelioma Center. He pioneered some of the latest surgical techniques used to treat mesothelioma today.
His philosophy is to remove the tumors and manage mesothelioma like a chronic illness similar to diabetes or high blood pressure. He often accomplishes this through a procedure known as cryoablation, which involves freezing, then removing the tumors.
If you developed mesothelioma because of your military service, you may be able to obtain free travel to the West Los Angeles VA Medical Center. Free housing and shuttle service are available during treatment.
VA Boston Healthcare System
The VA Medical Center in Boston has a comprehensive cancer treatment center affiliated with Brigham and Women’s Hospital—a founding member of the International Mesothelioma Program and home to a world-class mesothelioma treatment center. All the physicians at this facility are Harvard Medical School faculty, and many are researchers on the cutting edge of new therapies.
Multiple surgical options are available, including minimally invasive video-assisted thoracic surgery, or VATS, and robot-assisted surgery.
VA Benefits for Veterans with Mesothelioma
The Department of Veterans Affairs offers benefits to Army veterans who have been diagnosed with mesothelioma.
VA Disability Compensation
VA disability compensation is a monthly tax-free payment based on the degree of your service-connected disability, known as a disability rating. The higher the rating, the higher the benefits payable. Army veterans with mesothelioma or lung cancer generally receive a 100 percent disability rating, the highest rating available.
VA Healthcare Benefits
After the VA assigns a disability rating, you will also be eligible for health care throughout the VA system. A 50-percent disability rating or higher allows you to receive deductible-free care.
How to File a Claim
You can file a claim by mail, online, or by visiting a VA regional office in your state. You can also enlist the assistance of an accredited representative free of charge. As of May 2023, it takes an average of 103.5 days for the VA to issue a decision.
Other VA Benefits
Additional benefits available through the VA include the following:
- Aid and Attendance
- Survivors Benefits
- VA Pension Benefits
Can Army Veterans Sue the Military?
The Feres doctrine prohibits veterans from suing the military for harm that occurred during active duty, but it is possible to sue the companies that supplied asbestos to the military. When you file a lawsuit, you may be able to pursue economic, non-economic, and punitive damages. This can add up to substantial compensation.