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Military asbestos exposure: what you need to know

The men and women (enlisted personnel and officers alike) sacrifice much in pursuit of protecting our country's freedoms. Members of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard face long stretches of time away from their loved ones, deployment to active war zones or combat sites, brutal conditions, physical harm and more.

For many service members, there are lasting effects of their time in the military. These can be in the form of post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health struggles, physical wounds and scars, and illness from exposure to chemicals like Agent Orange and Sarin. Many veterans, in particular older ones who served during the times of the Korean War or the Vietnam Conflict, and those now in middle-age or about to retire who served in the Persian Gulf War (perhaps better known as Operation Desert Storm), face lingering health problems directly linked to asbestos exposure.

One branch was hardest hit by asbestos

Navy veterans have disproportionately suffered from asbestos lung cancer, malignant mesothelioma and other related health conditions. This is because asbestos was, because of its fireproofing abilities, extensively used in shipbuilding. Asbestos-containing materials appear throughout navy submarines, battleships, aircraft carriers and destroyers, and shows up everywhere from engine compartments and galley kitchens to sleeping berths and mess halls.

  • Smaller Coast Guard vessels, namely boats, cutters and icebreakers, also contain significant amounts of asbestos. Since Coast Guard enlistment numbers are smaller when compared to the Navy, and the fact that Guardsmen spend less time aboard their vessels (hours or days instead of weeks or months), the incidence of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases is lower.

Though Navy vets are the hardest hit, no military branch escaped the impact of asbestos exposure. Kentucky, as you know, doesn't have any active naval bases, but it is still home to many vets who've served in that and other branches of the military.

Asbestos was present in bases around the world until well in the 1980s; as those aging structures are demolished or refurbished, an entire generation of younger veterans might be exposed. In addition, those serving in ongoing conflict areas of Iraq and Afghanistan, and men and women fighting the "Islamic State" elsewhere in the Middle East are in danger from asbestos now. It is prevalent in buildings damaged by combat and in natural deposits across the region.

Establishing a link between military service and asbestos

The time and place of asbestos exposure is sometimes difficult to ascertain after symptoms appear. This is because asbestos-related conditions, particularly mesothelioma, have latency periods of a decade or more. This means that asbestos fibers can lie in the body relatively dormant for anywhere between 10 and 30 years before an illness is detected. Trying to nail down a location or time of contact with so-called "asbestos-containing materials" (ACMs) is quite difficult in many cases.

Even though it can be difficult to definitively link military service with a current diagnosis of peritoneal or pleural mesothelioma, asbestos lung cancer or another illness, it is possible for a skilled mesothelioma attorney. If you or someone you love is suffering from mesothelioma, seek legal counsel for more information about your rights and options.

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