Veterans May Still Struggle with the Effects of Asbestos Exposure

As a result of the U.S. armed forces utilizing asbestos-containing products for the last century, veterans of the Navy, Army, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard were exposed to asbestos while defending our country. The growing number of toxic exposure cases among former service members underlines the health risks they took in addition to the challenges of service. Many years after fulfilling a duty, they may now face developing life-threatening asbestos diseases deriving from their military years.

Asbestos was discovered in most military installations throughout the state

Once praised for its fire-resistant and insulating properties, the toxic mineral was in high demand as the U.S. prepared to enter the Second World War. With the military doubling down on the wear effort, nobody thought about asbestos being a threat when its microscopic fibers were released into the air and inhaled. It is why asbestos exposure remains a health concern for all veterans who might have the toxic fibers in their lungs, including those among New York State’s large veteran community and Westchester County’s veteran population. Though the military applied asbestos mainly for insulation in vehicles, aircraft, ships, barracks, and various tools, the Navy exploited it the most. Ships needed fireproofing from bow to stern, and consequently, veterans serving onboard naval vessels during the last century were at an outstandingly high risk of asbestos exposure. New York State was a leader among all states in producing war material and in the number of personnel enlisted in the U.S. armed forces by 1945. Westchester County’s WWII history speaks of significant manufacturing and human forces’ contributions to the nation’s war effort.

Veterans’ slowly deteriorating health after longtime asbestos exposure

During military years, veterans lived and worked near materials containing asbestos, especially on naval bases, shipyards, and ships, unaware of the danger they represented. When disturbed, asbestos releases microscopic particles into the air, which can float in the air for hours due to its structure and size. These tiny threads are easy to inhale or ingest, and once inside the body, they cause permanent damage to major organs and lead to devastating diseases.

One of the most terrible characteristics of asbestos-related illnesses is that they manifest only after a decades-long latency period between exposure and the first symptoms. Even if veterans may not have experienced health issues during their service, they’ll experience the consequences of asbestos exposure only over time when they are diagnosed with conditions related to it, like asbestosis, lung cancer, mesothelioma, or other respiratory diseases.

Veterans’ continuous struggle after asbestos exposure

Although many years have passed since the armed forces overly used asbestos, veterans who were in contact with it during their service have to fight now for their health. Many must face the harsh reality that asbestos illnesses shorten their life expectancy. Knowing that early detection can improve treatment results and may add years to life, veterans should proactively protect their health through:

  • Scheduling periodic check-ups: regular medical exams and open discussions on military service and possible asbestos exposure are crucial. The inhaled asbestos fibers injure the lungs first, so veterans should take chest X-rays or CT scans and pulmonary function tests (also known asthe breathing test). These imagistic tests show any changes caused by the toxic asbestos fibers and are a diagnostic procedure for benign and malignant asbestos-related illnesses, as well.
  • Learning their legal rights: Vets who know they’ve worked with or around asbestos during their service, or those who suspect they’ve been exposed, should be informed about available legal avenues and compensation programs. Those diagnosed with malign asbestos diseases have the legal right to seek compensation from asbestos trust funds and apply for VA disability benefits.
  • Spreading awareness: Former service members can significantly contribute to educating others about the risks of asbestos exposure by sharing their knowledge. In doing so, they can help ensure that others who protected our country are informed.

Besides expressing our gratitude to veterans, we are also responsible for protecting their health and well-being. Awareness of asbestos exposure is a big part of this responsibility. By shedding light on this still lurking danger, we can ensure that those who served receive the care and support they rightly deserve.

About the author:

Cristina Johnson is a Navy veteran advocate for Asbestos Ships Organization, a nonprofit whose primary mission is to raise awareness and educate veterans about the dangers of asbestos exposure on Navy ships and assist them in navigating the VA claims process. For more information, please visit our page.

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