Women Veterans and Mesothelioma

In the U.S., former military servicemembers make up a large percentage of mesothelioma diagnoses. Asbestos exposure, the primary cause of mesotheliomas, is a risk for women veterans across a range of careers. The toxin was in homes as well as in many machine parts and vehicles. Typically, women who served in the Navy and Coast Guard have the greatest risk of developing an asbestos-related cancer.

A female military officer instructs two veterans who face her as another soldier watches on behind her

Women Veterans’ Health and Mesothelioma

Today, asbestos-caused mesothelioma cancer is a threat to the health of many women veterans. Between World War II and the 1990s, countless military personnel lived and worked near asbestos-containing material (ACM). Nearly every ship, most airplanes, and many military buildings had asbestos insulation and other ACM parts.

For decades, the U.S. military reinforced and fireproofed many of its heavy machinery and structures with ACM. Normally, asbestos is not dangerous to humans. However, when ACMs are damaged or deteriorate, tiny toxic particles become airborne. Subsequently, women who worked in contaminated areas breathed in cancer-causing fibers too small to see.

Usually, women in the military weren’t aware of the dangers of asbestos exposure. Moreover, exposure doesn’t cause any immediate symptoms. Consequently, women veterans may not know they’ve been exposed to asbestos until diagnosed with mesothelioma or another cancer.

Where Were Women Veterans With Mesothelioma Exposed to Asbestos?

Though rare, all women veterans have some risk of developing mesothelioma. Yet, women who worked in certain jobs, military installations, and DoD branches have a greater risk of being diagnosed with asbestos-caused cancer. For instance, veterans of the Navy and Coast Guard have greater chances of developing mesotheliomas due to the extensive use of asbestos on many ships before the 1990s.

In most cases, women veterans with mesothelioma were exposed to asbestos at/through:

  • Home – ACMs in military housing and barracks as well as in off-base homes put many women veterans at risk of mesothelioma. Crumbling popcorn ceilings, flooring tiles, and roofing shingles made with asbestos posed notable threats to women’s health.
  • Work – Mechanics and other technicians frequently handled ACMs in the military. Boiler rooms, engines, and shipyards often held the highest portions of toxic materials. However, many military buildings were made also made with the hazardous material.
  • Contact – Physical contact with people carrying asbestos fibers puts many vets at risk of asbestos-related diseases. Hugging or even sitting near someone could result in toxic exposure.

Occupational Exposure

According to the VA’s War Related Illness and Injury Study Center, veterans of certain branches and occupations suffered higher levels of hazardous chemical exposure. As such, they have a higher risk of asbestos cancers.

At some point in their military careers, the following women veterans may have experienced occupational exposure and are at risk for mesothelioma. This includes those who:

  • Handled certain asbestos-containing engine parts (brakes, some electrical insulation, etc.)
  • Lived near or worked in shipyards between the 1930s and the 1990s
  • Renovated or helped remove ACM from buildings at any time
  • Served aboard Navy ships with keels laid before 1983
  • Worked below deck prior to the early 1990s
  • Worked in boiler or engine rooms (pipefitters, welders, etc.)

Other Asbestos-linked Cancers

In addition to mesothelioma, women veterans have a higher risk of developing other asbestos-related diseases compared to women in the general population. Usually, the type of disease depends on the area of the body affected by the toxin. For instance, if you inhale asbestos fibers, they could become lodged in your throat and lead to throat cancers. Similarly, if you cough up asbestos fibers and then swallow them, you could develop tumors along your digestive tract.

Other asbestos-linked cancers vets are at risk of include:

  • Brain cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Cervical cancer
  • Colorectal cancer
  • Larynx cancer
  • Lung cancer
  • Ovarian cancer

Finding Mesothelioma Treatment for Women Veterans

Generally, women veterans with mesothelioma can find cancer treatment within the VA healthcare system. As a rare disease, many hospitals don’t have doctors familiar with diagnosing or treating asbestos-caused illnesses. Regardless, women with access to VA health benefits have several resources available for finding treatment.

The VA can help you locate hospitals within the VA system or with treatment centers closer to your home. Moreover, they have resources available to help compensate disabled vets (disability benefits) and pay for transportation and lodging if they must travel far for treatment.

Find out if you’re eligible for VA mesothelioma benefits and legal compensation for an asbestos-caused disease today.