When one chooses to serve in the military, that person expects there to be plenty of peril. Whether at times of peace or times of war, being a soldier in any branch of the U.S. Armed Forces puts you at greater risk than the average Joe for sickness, injury, or death.
During the years that made up the 1930s through the end of the 1970s, a time when America was involved in many conflicts, those who served faced another ominous enemy on the homefront and abroad – asbestos.
A naturally-mined mineral, asbestos was used in a variety of materials for decades. Recognized as one of the best heat- and fire-resistant materials available, it found its way onto Navy ships and Army barracks as well as aboard Air Force planes and other vehicles.
It was inexpensive and readily-available, so it was used in abundance. Many who served during those years, especially those who were part of the Navy, were exposed on a regular basis and eventually developed asbestos-related diseases.
High risk jobs
While nearly everyone who enlisted or was drafted during those decades likely encountered asbestos at one time or another, there were jobs to which some individuals were assigned that represented a higher risk than others. Some of these included:
Fire control technician – This person operated weapon systems on board surface combatant ships. They were trained in the repair, maintenance, operation and employment of weapons as well.
Boatswain’s mate – “Boats”, as these sailors were known, were responsible for training and supervising personnel in the ship’s maintenance duties including upkeep of the ship’s external structure.
Gunner’s mate – A gunner’s mate is responsible for the operation and maintenance of guided missile launching systems, gun mounts and other ordnance equipment, small arms and magazines. He worked with electrical and electronic circuitry; and mechanical, hydraulic and pneumatic systems.
Electrician’s mate – This individual takes responsibility for the operation of a ship’s electrical power generating systems as well as lighting systems, electrical appliances, and other electrical equipment.
Damage controlman – The “DC” did all the necessary damage control work aboard the ship, including fire prevention, firefighting, ship stability, and more. He also instructed other personnel how to do the same.
Machinery repairman – The machinery repairman in the Navy had to be a skilled machine tool operator. He worked on engines and auxiliary systems and was able to make replacement parts and repair existing systems. He also worked on deck equipment such as heat exchange devices and condensers.
Hull maintenance technician – This job was later broken into two separate positions – pipefitter and metalsmith. They were charged with the task of doing all the metalwork necessary to keep shipboard structures in good working condition.
Utilitiesman – A utilitiesman worked with a variety of the boat’s systems, including plumbing, heating, fuel storage, water treatment, sewage collection, air conditioning, and more.
Welder – A welder in the Navy often worked with the hull technician or other metalsmiths to be sure that sheet metal structures and other hull components were in good repair.
Artilleryman – Artillerymen perform a wide variety of duties that have to do with ammunition, cannons, radar systems, fire support, and more.
Aircraft mechanic – An aircraft (or avionic) mechanic was generally charged with the task of performing maintenance on navigation, security, communication, and flight control equipment on military airplanes.
Vehicle mechanic – The Army has long owned a large fleet of vehicles. The vehicle mechanic performed jobs associated with keeping those vehicles in good condition, including inspecting, servicing, maintaining, repairing, and more.
Aircraft mechanic – See same under “Army”
Environmental support specialist – This person worked with environmental systems on base, including water and wastewater analysis and treatment.
The Marines most affected by asbestos-related diseases were those who served aboard U.S. Navy ships in jobs that included those listed above under “Navy”.
The ratings/jobs above represent those who’ve seen the largest number of mesothelioma and other asbestos disease diagnoses. That’s not to say, of course, that those who did other jobs did not come in contact with asbestos materials.
In the Navy, for example, asbestos was everywhere, so nearly anyone could have encountered it on a daily basis, even in the galley or in the sleeping quarters.
Dealing with the VA
Anyone who was exposed to asbestos while on active duty has the duty and right to contact the U.S. Veterans Administration and require about veteran disability benefits. As such, the individual may receive monthly payments and will also have access to lifetime medical care for your disease.
Asbestos-related diseases recognized by the VA include:
- Pleural effusions
- Pleural plaques
- Laryngeal and pharyngeal cancers
- Lung cancer
- Cancers of the gastrointestinal tract
To be eligible to apply for benefits, the veteran must have been discharged from active service under any conditions other than dishonorable and will have provided full-time service as a member of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, or Coast Guard. An attorney experienced with asbestos lawsuits can assist in filling out the correct forms and navigating the entire process.
Of course, veterans must first prove that they were indeed exposed during their active time in the military. As such, it is the duty of the VA to look at both pre- and post-service asbestos exposure as well as in-service exposure, looking for clear evidence that the vet wasn’t exposed elsewhere and not while in the U.S. Armed Forces.
VA Claims and Asbestos Lawsuits
Veterans with mesothelioma cannot sue the U.S. Government, even if it was caused by their service in any of the Armed Forces. However, they can sue companies that made the asbestos-containing materials that made them sick.
Nonetheless, many veterans worry that if they do that, they risk their VA benefits. That’s a fallacy. The VA cannot deny benefits to an individual who decides to file claims against asbestos corporations.
Any monies that are awarded to the plaintiff as a result of a successful law suit against a negligent company that made asbestos products will also in no way affect the amount you receive as part of your VA disability benefits as those benefits are not based on your income or assets.
Attorneys who specialize in mesothelioma cases represent veterans quite frequently, particularly because about one-third of all cases of asbestos-caused cancer in the United States are among vets, especially those who served in the Navy.
An attorney can not only assist in navigating the sometimes complicated VA system but can also advise as to whether or not an individual has a viable case against one or more asbestos product manufacturers.
Civilian DoD employees at risk of mesothelioma too!