Air Force Veterans and Mesothelioma

The United States Air Force came of age in World War II, when it was established as a co-equal branch of the U.S. Army alongside the infantry corps. Known throughout the war as the Army Air Force or Army Air Corps, by the end of the conflict in 1945 the Corps had 80,000 aircraft and 2.4 million men and women enlisted. In 1947 the U.S. Air Force became an independent branch of the military and remains so today.

air force veterans mesotheliomaThe Air Force as we know it today does not maintain an inventory of planes or personnel anywhere near those numbers, but that is not to say that they haven’t been active. In Korea the Air Force flew bombing missions and provided close air support for the ground troops, in some cases using recently introduced jet aircraft. As the Cold War developed the Air Force established a substantial presence in Europe with bases and bomber squadrons, as well as maintaining permanent facilities in Asia following the completion of the Korean conflict.

Asbestos Exposure in the Air Force

Airmen of the Second World War were exposed to similar types of asbestos hazards as Navy and Army personnel, although perhaps not to the same degree. The use of asbestos in the aircraft manufactured for that war was mostly confined to the insulation used around engines, and the gaskets and seals used in pumps and engine design. Asbestos was a popular gasket material especially around heat, so it was used routinely for aircraft and motor vehicle engine exhaust gaskets and carburetor gaskets, and for fuel pumps. Aircraft brakes were another source of asbestos exposure for Air Force veterans, in World War II and every war since.

Certainly the barracks, shops and administration buildings used for World War II era Army Air Corps training facilities used asbestos insulation for the structures and very likely, asbestos shingles or roofing material. Those structures remained in use through the Korea and Vietnam conflicts in many places. By 1970 the military had begun a gradual retrofit of existing bases and facilities to get rid of asbestos materials, but that effort was sporadic and went on for years.

The facilities constructed in Europe for NATO forces and for the Strategic Air Command (SAC) were certainly constructed with asbestos materials, since most of them went up in the 1950s – when asbestos use was at its peak. There was plenty of opportunity for exposure to crumbling asbestos flooring tiles or roofing in the post World War II Air Force bases, at home and abroad. The Air Force did not begin to publish guidelines for asbestos management in AF structures until the mid 1990s.

Mesothelioma and Air Force Veterans

Claims filed with the VA for treatment for asbestos exposure follow the same trend as veterans from the other branches of the service. One veteran who developed mesothelioma in the Air Force was assigned to inventory facilities at Mather Air Force Base during 1959-1961, tracking parts for B-52s and KC-135 aircraft. There were asbestos sheets used on the interior of the aircraft and asbestos brake shoes, asbestos seals and gaskets used on various parts of the aircraft. This claim was filed in 2006.There have been many claims filed by Air Force veterans who were exposed to asbestos in facilities that contained flooring, roofing and insulation with asbestos content.

Thirty percent of all Americans who have developed mesothelioma are veterans. Among the veterans most exposed to asbestos in the Cold War era were Air Force personnel working out of dated facilities on and in aircraft that continued to be fitted with asbestos contaminated parts. When these cases are reviewed, there is little debate over the fact that asbestos was present in Air Force facilities and many Air Force aircraft (and vehicles) throughout the latter half of the 20th Century.

Air Force veterans who develop mesothelioma or another asbestos related disease are eligible for VA treatment, and also eligible for compensation from the companies that manufactured the asbestos products which caused the lethal exposure. Contact our law offices today for a review of your case, provided in confidence and at no charge.


  1. Air Force Law Review, Volume 54, pp 39-64
  2. Veterans Care Forum, Rutgers University, 2009

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