What Diseases Can Veterans Get From Asbestos?

Extended exposure to a naturally occurring mineral known as asbestos has been known to cause related illnesses and diseases. The most common condition is a cancer called mesothelioma. The U.S. Military heavily used the mineral in the construction of many products, equipment, and structures in the past, putting veterans at risk.

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Asbestos-Related Conditions in the Military

Until the late 1970s, a mineral known as asbestos was used in an abundance of buildings and products. Especially in the military. The mineral is cheap, strong, resistant to fire, electricity, and chemical corrosion. Many different industrial companies used the mineral in manufacturing because of this. After the 1970s, researchers discovered that prolonged asbestos exposure could cause cancer (making it a carcinogen) or other related conditions.

How Exposure Can Cause Asbestos-Related Conditions, Illnesses, and Diseases

Asbestos has two forms, Chrysotile and Amphibole. The primary type manufacturers use in construction can eventually cause illness in veterans and others in proximity is chrysotile. Primarily bundle of fibers, asbestos isn’t dangerous unless construction, renovation, or demolition projects cause disturbance and make the fibers airborne. Once airborne, people in the vicinity can easily ingest the toxin.

On rarer occasions, the fibers can attach to a worker’s skin, hair, or clothes. This makes it easy for workers to accidentally transfer them to relatives or close friends. This type of contact with the mineral is secondary or indirect asbestos exposure.

Malignant Cancers

Prolonged exposure to asbestos can cause several related conditions. The Center for Disease Control classifies asbestos as a carcinogen, which means that it causes malignant tumor growth. Extended contact to the toxic fibers can cause:

Lung Cancer

Medical professionals classify lung cancer by tumors that develop in the lungs, versus mesothelioma, where tumors develop in the lung tissue linings. Lung cancer has a latency period that can take at least 15 years to show up after initial exposures.

Veterans with mesothelioma may be eligible for VA compensation. To find out if you qualify, speak with a patient advocate today.

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Mesothelioma Disease

The disease that forms most commonly from prolonged asbestos exposure, mesothelioma occurs when cancerous cells grow in the lining of the lungs, abdomen, or the heart. The illness has a long latency period, which means the disease can take over 30 years to develop. This makes it prevalent in older veterans and seniors.

Laryngeal, Stomach, Colon, and Ovarian Cancer

Also known as “throat” cancer, laryngeal cancer is another potential side effect of prolonged asbestos exposure. The disease occurs when tumors grow and develop in the tissues of the larynx, or “voice box.”

If a person accidentally swallows or otherwise ingests the mineral’s toxic fibers, they can cause the development of tumors in this region over time. Stomach (Gastric) cancer happens when tumors form in the stomach lining.

This is when cancer grows in the tissue of the colon. The colon helps with processing waste from the body, so if people swallow harmful fibers, they may get lodged in the colon. After a while, that person could develop colon cancer.

In more unique instances, women have developed tumors in the tissue of the ovary from extended exposure to the toxin’s dangerous fibers.

Non-Malignant Asbestos-Related Conditions

Extended exposure to asbestos can also cause non-malignant related conditions. Some illnesses that a person can develop are:


Airborne asbestos dust may catch in the lungs and cause tissue scarring, or lung fibrosis causing asbestosis. The disease also has a lag in development time and can take over 40 years to form.

Pleural, Peritoneal, and Pericardial Effusion

This disease occurs when layers between the pleura (tissues lining the lower lungs) fill with liquid. It usually takes about 10 or more years to develop. Researchers had also discovered instances when pleural effusions occurred in patients who had minimal exposure to the mineral. Similar to pleural effusion, this condition occurs when the peritoneum (lining of the abdomen) fills with liquid. Much like pleural and peritoneal effusion, when the lining of the heart (pericardium) fills with liquid, pericardial effusion has developed.

COPD and Atelectasis

Lung blockage characterizes chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), or when there’s restricted airflow. Atelectasis illness develops when some or all of the lung or lobe collapses. It occurs when alveoli (small air sacs) fill with fluid.

Pleural Plaques, Pleural Thickening, and Pleuritis

When the parietal pleural space (lining of the upper middle of the lungs) develops hyalinized collagen fibers (hardened blocks) from prolonged exposure to the toxic dust. This can take 10 years or more to grow.

Another common development from asbestos exposure, pleural thickening forms when the pleura gets filled with liquid that hardens or thickens.

This condition is also known as pleurisy and develops when the pleural area becomes inflamed.

Veterans with mesothelioma can take action without affecting their benefits.

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Was I Exposed to Asbestos During My Time of Service in the Military?

Veterans who work in certain occupations or with specific products are at higher risk of getting exposed to asbestos than others. Go to a nearby VA hospital or cancer center and get tested for illnesses that affect the lungs (like mesothelioma) if you’ve worked in any of the following jobs during your time of service or other time:

  • Construction
  • Carpentry
  • Demolition/Renovation
  • Mining
  • Milling
  • Shipyards

Get tested if you’ve produced or worked with the following:

  • Insulation
  • Flooring
  • Roofing
  • Cement Sheets
  • Pipes
  • “Friction products” like automotive clutches and brakes

Next Steps for Veterans

If you’re a veteran that believes they were exposed to asbestos during their time in the military and have received a positive diagnosis for a related condition, you could be entitled to compensation from the VA or other entity. Reach out to an experienced mesothelioma attorney. They’ll be able to go over your case and tell you the best path for moving forward against the companies responsible for your exposure.

You don’t have to go through this alone. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs also has many conduits of information for interested vets.