The issue of exposure to asbestos on military duty is principally confined to the period from World War II forward to the present day, for several reasons. The first is that the use of asbestos in industrial and construction products peaked in the period 1940 – 1970, both in terms of the variety of products being marketed and the amount of those products put to use. The second is that from 1941 forward we have had far more men and women in uniform than in any other seventy year period in our national history. The third is that asbestos related diseases don’t develop until twenty to fifty years have passed from the time of asbestos exposure. Finally, asbestos related diseases weren’t accurately diagnosed consistently until late in the Twentieth Century.
Bases, Camps, and Stations
United States entry into World War II led to a frenzy of military facility construction, since training for millions of men and women was necessary. This government construction boom coincided with the widespread use of asbestos products for roofing, flooring, siding, insulation, and in facilities such as mess halls, maintenance facilities, and large heating systems. Air training facilities were constructed for Navy, Marine, and Army pilots while the Navy built training locations for its sailors and vastly expanded the Navy shipyards along both coasts. The Army built training facilities for all types of infantry functions, including armored vehicle use, artillery, and all of the logistics functions that back up a company of riflemen.
All of these facilities exposed military personnel from World War II, Korea, and Vietnam to increasingly old, worn and fraying asbestos flooring, shingles, and insulation. By the time the military decided to begin cleaning asbestos out of its aging facilities the nation had fought an additional two wars. The troops that passed through these bases and shipyards and stations in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s are the veterans with asbestos related diseases today.
Ships, Aircraft and Vehicles
The highest asbestos exposure risk for any military member in World War II or the Cold War occurred in Navy service. Every vessel commissioned by the Navy between 1930 and 1970 contained tons of asbestos insulation for boilers, engine rooms, pipe systems, pumps, valves, and fire suppression purposes. The statistics on Navy veteran asbestos illnesses reflect that risk level. Many of these ships remained in use through Korea and into the Vietnam era. In the 1970s the Navy made a concerted effort to remove asbestos from its fleet, but as late as 2005 the USS Enterprise still had an asbestos abatement group on board as part of the crew.
Military vehicles had and in many cases still have asbestos brakes and asbestos clutches. That amounts to tens of thousands of vehicles that have been repaired by tens of thousands of enlisted men over the second half of the Twentieth Century. Other asbestos hazards in vehicles and shops included gaskets, pump seals, and the exposed heating systems in many of the shops that were coated with asbestos insulation.
Aircraft also have asbestos brake shoes or brake pads and during the era of piston engine aircraft had many asbestos gaskets and seals. Jet aircraft also used asbestos wiring insulation and fire suppression material during the 1950s and 1960s. With the exception of brakes those materials are no longer in use, but the men who worked on those planes or flew them are the veterans with asbestos exposure that are getting sick during their retirement years today.
Legal Rights for Veteran Asbestos Exposure
Veterans who have developed an asbestos related disease from exposure to asbestos dust during active duty are eligible for disability benefits and for medical care if they can prove that the exposure occurred while on active duty and can likely be linked to the disease development. Thousands of veterans have also taken legal action against the asbestos product manufacturers and been successful.
If you are a veteran who has developed mesothelioma or another asbestos related disease you may be eligible for compensation. Contact our offices for a review of your case with one of our attorneys, who will go over your situation thoroughly, in complete confidence, and at no charge.