Asbestos was used in all kinds of military products, including vehicles, buildings, barracks, and even helmets, uniforms and weapons.
The United States Marines have been at the forefront of nearly every military operation in American history. From the Revolutionary War to Iraq and Afghanistan, the Marines have shed blood and laid down their lives to protect freedom and our way of life. While every veteran, living and gone, enlisted with the expectation they might one day be called to duty, few expected that the risks they faced at home and on base could be as lethal as the hazards of combat.
Unfortunately, for nearly 100 years, the Marine Corps inadvertently exposed its fighting men and women to an incredible and once underrated danger: asbestos.
The unknown danger that many Marines faced:
Asbestos, a naturally occurring mineral found across the United States, is an inherently resilient substance, capable of withstanding heat, fire, and rain. An inexpensive, hardy, and abundant additive, asbestos had a wide range of potential military applications. Between the early 1900s and late 1980s, the armed forces relied on asbestos to keep soldiers, supplies, and heavy equipment safe from the elements. It was used to construct temporary housing and permanent barracks, woven into work gloves, and mixed into wall paint and cement panels.
Although asbestos may once have been a mainstay of military manufacturing, we know today that this “miracle mineral” is, in fact, a potent carcinogen, capable of causing serious medical ailments up to and including cancer.
Asbestos lies in wait.
For Marine Corps veterans and their loved ones, asbestos has proven itself a threat as formidable as enemy fire. While nobody knows exactly how many Marines may have been exposed to asbestos, veterans from every branch of service are diagnosed with asbestos-related conditions at a rate far exceeding that of the general population.
Even now, decades after the armed forces disavowed asbestos, thousands of our nation’s bravest warriors find themselves waging war against their own bodies, amongst the last casualties of a catastrophe that could have been averted.
A Brief History of Asbestos
The history of asbestos is, in a great many ways, inseparable from the history of mankind. For thousands of years, people have sought out asbestos, using it to create flame-resistant cookware and fireproof linens. Even Marco Polo, the famed Venetian merchant and Medieval adventurer, found rumors of asbestos’ fabled origins so compelling that he thought it necessary to dispel rumors that asbestos fibers were not of the earth but shorn from the wool of fearsome, man-eating salamanders.
While asbestos has been bought, sold, and traded since times immemorial, asbestos only entered the mainstream in response to the upheavals of the Industrial Revolution. As millions of Americans began to leave their homesteads in search of opportunities in the nation’s growing centers of commerce, manufacturers used asbestos to meet surging demand for inexpensive but resilient construction materials. Asbestos was so widely used in home building that the federal Environmental Protection Agency cautions property owners to presume that asbestos is present in any structure built before the early 1980s.
Asbestos in the Armed Forces
The United States Armed Forces, too, put their faith in the asbestos industries’ products. Every branch of the military used asbestos to make ships, tanks, trucks, aircraft, and barracks, as well as:
- Automotive brakes
- Bedding compounds
- Cement shingles
- Fire-resistant work gloves
- Fuel lines
- Machine gun mittens
- Packing materials
- Pipe insulation
Asbestos and the United States Marine Corps
Marines who served before the federal government’s asbestos ban were exposed to this carcinogen almost everywhere, whether they were stationed within the continental United States or deployed overseas.
United States Marine Corps veterans who fought in, during, or after any of the following conflicts may have encountered asbestos:
World War 1:
Every power involved in World War 1 used asbestos to manufacture a variety of equipment, including so-called “doughboy” helmets, gas masks, and steam engines.
World War 2:
The United States Navy and U.S. Marine Corps used asbestos-containing materials to fireproof oceangoing ships, transportation vessels, and landing craft. Bombing campaigns also facilitated the spread of airborne asbestos, released by burning and disintegrated buildings.
The Korean War
The Armed Forces continued to use a variety of asbestos-containing equipment, vehicles, and protective clothing during every phase of the Korean War.
The Vietnam War:
Asbestos production in the United States peaked during the Vietnam War, spurred by both civilian and military demand. Similar to other conflicts, asbestos was used to fabricate barracks, fireproofing compounds, and an assortment of transportation vessels. Asbestos was also woven into heat-resistant protective clothing, including the “machine gun mittens” used by M60 operators.
The First Gulf War:
Although the military stopped using asbestos-based materials in the 1980s, many structures and vehicles—including aircraft carriers—remained heavily contaminated.
Since some foreign countries do not strictly regulate asbestos, Marine Corps veterans who have served in modern conflicts, including the Iraq War and War in Afghanistan, may have been exposed to asbestos compounds and emissions during overseas deployments.
The Medical Dangers of Asbestos
Asbestos is a known human carcinogen, capable of causing serious illness up to and including cancer. Although asbestos is not necessarily dangerous when it is inert or inaccessible, it presents a significant health hazard when it becomes friable, or easily crumbled. When asbestos is friable, it can attach itself to clothing, vehicles, and other objects, and may be dispersed into the air. Asbestos on clothing is particularly dangerous, as it is often handled directly.
“The overall evidence suggests there is no safe level of asbestos exposure.”
Source: National Cancer Institute (NIH)
Many Marine Corps Veterans were exposed to asbestos while in service.
Marine Corps veterans who worked with asbestos, or who were exposed to asbestos during combat missions or overseas deployments, could have inadvertently inhaled asbestos fibers, which are so small they cannot be detected by the naked eye.
Unfortunately, asbestos’s resiliency is exactly what makes it so dangerous. Since the body cannot easily destroy invasive asbestos fibers, they can accumulate inside the lungs. Over time, these fibers can cause scarring and inflammation, which may—in turn—engender more serious medical complications.
Asbestos-related illnesses seen in Marine Corps Veterans
Asbestos exposure has been tied to injuries, disorders, and diseases including but not limited to:
Asbestosis is a chronic lung disease caused by breathing in asbestos fibers. Asbestos can cause significant respiratory distress, and may get progressively worse with time. There is no cure for asbestosis.
Pleural plaques are fiber deposits that form inside the linings of the ribcage and diaphragm. While pleural plaques do not always cause discomfort or any other noticeable symptoms, they may accompany or forewarn more serious disease.
Pleural effusions are also known as “water in the lungs.” Effusions can cause chest pain and difficulty breathing. In some rare cases, patients may accumulate up to 4 liters of excess fluid around their chest and lungs, necessitating an intensive medical intervention.
Mesothelioma is an unusually aggressive cancer that affects the mesothelium, the thin layer of tissue surrounding many of the body’s major organs. Mesothelioma can attack different parts of the body, including the lungs, heart, and abdomen. Veterans account for 30% of all mesothelioma claims filed annually.
Asbestos can lead to or aggravate different cancers, including lung cancer, ovarian cancer, and esophageal cancer. Marine Corps veterans who have a history of both cigarette smoking and asbestos exposure are at increased risk for lung cancer.
Worrying, most asbestos-related diseases—including mesothelioma and other cancers—have long latency periods. In other words, they may not present any noticeable symptoms for decades after the initial asbestos exposure. Marine Corps veterans who are diagnosed with mesothelioma are often decades removed from service, and may not even be able to remember the last time they interacted with an asbestos-containing product.
“Generally, those who develop asbestos-related diseases show no signs of illness for a long time after exposure.”
Source: National Cancer Institute (NIH)
Asbestos Disease Treatment Options and Costs
Since asbestos-related diseases have long latency periods, they are not usually diagnosed until late in life. The median age for a mesothelioma diagnosis, for instance, is 72. Unfortunately, this means that treatment options are often limited by the patient’s age as well as the presence of other health conditions.
Most types of medical treatment for asbestos-related illnesses can be expensive.
While treating asbestos-related conditions can be challenging, doctors still try to curtail discomfort and eradicate potentially cancerous tumors using combinations of conventional and experimental techniques including but not limited to:
- Tumor treating fields
- Experimental medications
- Gene therapy
However, the costs of treating an aggressive illness like mesothelioma can be astronomical: some studies estimate that chemotherapy could cost up to $12,000 per month. If and when a patient requires emergency medical treatment and must be hospitalized, they face expenditures averaging $25,000 per incident.
Asbestos Interventions for Marine Corps Veterans
Although the costs of asbestos-related treatments continue to rise, Marine Corps veterans are entitled to subsidized medical treatment through the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Veterans Administration and presumptive disability benefits for asbestos-related illnesses.
Former servicemen and women may be eligible for disability benefits if they have been diagnosed with an illness believed to have been caused by asbestos and they meet both of the following requirements:
- They had contact with asbestos while serving in the military; and
- They did not receive a dishonorable discharge.
Eligible veterans may receive disability benefits including:
- Free or subsidized health care
Compensation Alternatives to the Department of Veterans Affairs
Even if they file for VA benefits, Marine vets do not lose their rights to file a lawsuit or file for compensation for asbestos-related illnesses from a number of asbestos companies. Every case is different, but many vets have received money for service-related injuries from asbestos without a lawsuit.
Congress recently passed legislation expanding veterans’ eligibility for federally-funded care, making it easier than ever for deserving veterans to get the care they need.
However, the Department of Veterans Affairs has a notoriously slow and cumbersome process for approving claims. Even if you have compelling evidence that you were exposed to asbestos in the Marine Corps, you may still be required to show:
- Medical records that document your illness and disability
- Service records listing your job or military occupational specialty
- A physician’s statement that your condition was most likely caused by military-related asbestos exposure
If you served in the Marine Corps and have been diagnosed with an asbestos-related condition, you do not have to wait for the V.A. to approve your claim—most veterans also qualify for compensation through asbestos trusts, which are special financial funds established by the same asbestos companies responsible for exposing countless American heroes to life-altering disease and crippling disability.
Do You Qualify For Compensation?
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AsbestosClaims.law is your comprehensive resource for all things asbestos, including info on health and compensation for Air Force Veterans and other former Service Members. We hope this is helpful and are grateful to all who have given of themselves to defend us all.
If you have any additional questions or concerns related to asbestos, check out our website and YouTube page for videos, infographics and answers to your questions about asbestos, including health and safety, asbestos testing, removing asbestos from your home and building, and legal information.
And if you believe that you were exposed to asbestos, or have been diagnosed with an asbestos illness, you could be entitled to significant compensation—money you could use to cover the costs of asbestos removal services, pay for medical treatment, and preemptively protect your physical well-being.
All without filing a lawsuit.
If you’d like help with filing a claim, please get in touch by email at [email protected], or call or text us at (833) 4-ASBESTOS (427-2378) or (206) 455-9190. We’ll listen to your story and explain your options. And we never charge for anything unless you receive money in your pocket.
National Cancer Institute (NIH), Asbestos Fact Sheet.