After military personnel leave the service, they are at risk for several major health conditions. Some – like PTSD – are emotional complications of their service, while others – like mesothelioma – take a serious toll on their bodies.
Veterans make up an extremely high percentage of mesothelioma patients. Almost all patients can trace their diagnosis to asbestos exposure; exposure was a frequent occurrence in the U.S. military.
Exposure hazards were highest before and during the 1980s. All branches of the military relied on asbestos fibers for various functions. Ships, aircraft, tanks and bases all contained the fibers, often in the form of insulation. Certain asbestos products were even mandatory in the construction of naval vessels.
When the products wore down – or when combat damaged them – they released the fibers into the air. Some Navy veterans recall a thick layer of dusty debris covering their cabins; the dust tended to circulate through the air, thanks to poor ventilation systems.
Today’s veterans face exposure hazards of their own. Although the military has phased out its use of asbestos, some contaminated products still remain in place. Several military properties – including Fort Worth and Fort Shafter – have come under scrutiny recently for improper handling of asbestos products.
If veterans inhaled these fibers during their service, they now face elevated risks for several diseases, including lung cancer, asbestosis, pleuritis and mesothelioma. Exposure may also increase their risk for additional conditions like kidney cancer and gastrointestinal cancer. After being diagnosed by mesothelioma cancer, their span of life tends to be only one year.
Health Programs and Benefits Available to U.S. Veterans
Thankfully, veterans have a wide range of resources they can use to help protect their health.
Many VA hospitals offer free or low-cost preventative screenings for asbestos-related diseases. These tests monitor lung function and other early warning signs of mesothelioma. They may also include imaging scans to look for visual changes or suspicious growths on the lungs. If results are abnormal, doctors can order further tests that could possibly aid with early diagnosis.
For veterans who have mesothelioma, quality treatment is available through VA hospitals. Some – like the Boston VA system – even employ nationally recognized mesothelioma specialists. Because these hospitals are familiar with service-connected conditions, they’re more likely to know how to handle mesothelioma cases than local hospitals.
Veterans’ benefits and aid programs can help cover the costs of medical care. This financial support can help make potentially curative treatment more accessible to veterans; in the worst-case scenarios, the benefits can also help their families cover end-of-life costs and burial arrangements.
Reputable veterans assistance programs are free. For free assistance filing a benefits claims, visit The Mesothelioma Center.
Faith Franz is a researcher and writer for The Mesothelioma Center. She advocates for alternative medicine and encourages patients to explore all of their treatment options.