Cold War veterans are defined as men and women who served in the Army, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard or were active in the National Guard during the period from September 1945 to December 1991. That period includes two serious and protracted regional conflicts – Korea and Vietnam – and thousands of deployments to hundreds of locations around the globe over those decades. Some of the incidents that these veterans experienced have been forgotten: the attack on the USS Liberty by Israeli forces in 1967; the USS Pueblo, taken captive by the North Koreans in 1968; confrontations across the Berlin Wall, the abortive effort to rescue hostages in Iran in 1980 – there were dozens and in all of them, Cold War veterans were at risk.
Asbestos Exposure During The Cold War
Asbestos was very much present in the Navy and commercial vessels used during the 1950s and 1960s. Asbestos was the insulation of choice for nautical boilers, engine rooms, piping systems and ships’ interiors. The fact that asbestos sheets and wall material is also highly fire resistant made it ideal for use on seagoing vessels. The ships used by the Coast Guard were similarly outfitted.
Pumps, hydraulic systems, valves, and any pressurized system would have asbestos bearing seals and gaskets. Vehicles used in the 1950s and 1960s used asbestos gaskets, insulation on wiring, and brakes – as did aircraft build during those decades. The troops that served in Vietnam inherited some of that equipment and the men who repaired it were at risk for asbestos exposure. It was not until late in the 1970s that the Navy began to consider retrofitting their fleet in order to get asbestos materials off the ships.
The bases constructed during World War II were used throughout the Korean and Vietnam conflict, many of them retaining the asbestos products that began to disintegrate after decades of use. Asbestos flooring, ceiling tiles, roofing, siding, insulation, wiring, and covering for the heating systems existed in hundreds of military buildings throughout the United States and some constructed in Germany during the Cold War occupation. There was less use of asbestos in the construction of facilities in Vietnam, but asbestos continue to be an important component in vehicle and aircraft brakes, and as insulation for some portable equipment that generated heat.
Cold War Veterans with Mesothelioma
The first two decades of the Cold War held the highest risk of asbestos exposure for U.S. veterans. The use of asbestos for hundreds of products was at its peak in the 1950s and many of those products were in equipment or buildings used by the military right through Vietnam. Mesothelioma is a lethal form of asbestos cancer that takes forty years or more to develop after a person has been exposed to asbestos. The Korean War veterans who developed mesothelioma began to get sick in the 1980s and 1990s; Vietnam era veterans with mesothelioma are still getting sick today.
Cold War veterans have had their share of difficulties with the VA over recognition of service related disabilities. Mesothelioma and asbestosis were not regarded as a military problem for years; the issue was ignored in much the same fashion as Agent Orange was treated following Vietnam. Today veterans from those eras can get treatment for asbestos related ailments and for problems associated with Agent Orange, and in most cases can qualify for disability benefits.
Cold War Veteran Legal Rights
Many of the veterans from the Korean era and from World War II who are mesothelioma victims have filed suit against asbestos companies and won. While no veteran can sue the United States over service related disability or disease, they can and have sued asbestos companies thousands of times and received hundreds of millions of dollars in settlements.
If you are a Cold War veteran who was exposed to asbestos while on active duty and have been diagnosed with an asbestos related disease, you may be eligible for compensation. Contact our offices today and one of our attorneys will review your case thoroughly, in complete confidence and at no charge.