As with many other job-related hazards, asbestos exposure was an unavoidable reality for many men and women who served in the U.S. military. From Navy ship to Army bases, hundreds of government-owned properties were contaminated with asbestos. Working around the fibers was a common occurrence for many veterans.
Although the government now acknowledges the health threats of the fibers and chooses not to use new asbestos products in their ongoing operations, old exposures cannot be undone. And while a history of contact with the fibers doesn’t always mean you’re going to face health problems, it does raise your risk for diseases such as mesothelioma of the pleura and lung cancer.
That’s not to say that you should worry extensively about your health. However, you can certainly benefit from several precautions. Below, we outline the four most important precautions you should take if you’ve been exposed to asbestos:
- Regardless of whether you’re experiencing symptoms of an asbestos-related disease, tell your general practitioner about your exposure. Be sure to mention the length, duration and intensity of your interaction with the fibers. This will help your medical team connect the dots if you were to develop mesothelioma, lung cancer or a similar disease in the future.
- When you’re trying to remember the details of your exposure, write down everything you can for your personal records. Whenever possible, note the jobsites where you were exposed, the companies you worked for at the time of exposure, the specific products you handled, the appearance of the products, and any posted signs (or lack thereof) about asbestos in your workplace. This way, if you were to ever pursue compensation or VA benefits for an asbestos-related disease, you’d have all the information necessary to tie your diagnosis to your work.
- Ask your local VA health care branch if they offer asbestos-related disease screenings. These tests often combine respiratory monitoring and imaging scans. When done routinely, they can indicate a potential health problem in its earliest stages and make prompt diagnosis easier.
- If you are noticing symptoms like shortness of breath, chest pain or a chronic cough, find an asbestos-related disease specialist in your area. (Dr. Lebenthal in Boston, for example, provides services through the VA network.) If there isn’t a mesothelioma expert in your area, ask your local branch about travel options to help you connect with specialists. For instance, the Fisher House program provides lodging for patients traveling to the VA Boston Hospital.
If at any point during your journey, you need assistance applying for your VA benefits, simply contact the Veterans Department at The Mesothelioma Center. Our VA-accredited team of experienced vets can help you obtain the medical and financial benefits that you’ve earned with your service.
Faith Franz writes for The Mesothelioma Center at Asbestos.com. She encourages patients to consider the benefits of alternative medicine.