The Impact of Mesothelioma for Military Veterans

September 25, 2018

September 26 is Mesothelioma Awareness Day. Cell Phones For Soldiers has partnered with the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance to spread the word about this devastating illness and the risks for our veterans and service members.

American service members and veterans risk everything to serve our country all while proudly defending our freedom. Alongside the dangers, the triumphs, and the hardships associated with this honor—soldiers risk their well-being in a number of ways. Emotional trauma and physical scars are not the only souvenirs our troops return home with. United States veterans are disproportionately riddled with a risk for rare cancer.

Mesothelioma is a rare cancer with poor survival rates. The only known cause of this disease is exposure to asbestos, a toxic, naturally occurring mineral that was heavily used across a variety of industries from 1930 through 1978. Tiny asbestos fibers enter the body through inhalation or ingestion. Once these fibers are inside the body, inflammation and scarring may occur, which ultimately leads to the development of cancerous mesothelioma cells.

There is a long latency period between initial asbestos exposure and the onset of mesothelioma symptoms, sometimes taking 50 years to develop. Veterans are disproportionately at risk due to the heightened possibility of asbestos exposure during their military service. Thirty percent of all Americans with mesothelioma cancer are veterans who were exposed during active duty.

A Health Concern for Veterans

Of the many mesothelioma cases, American military veterans have some of the highest rates of diagnosis. While veterans in all branches of the military are at risk, Navy veterans top the list of accidental exposure. Asbestos was widely used in naval ships and shipyards as a key component in over 300 different materials.

Each of the other military branches also used asbestos, not to the extent of the Navy, but still created the opportunity for potential exposure. The development of the disease is mainly dependent on two factors: time of service and the involved occupation.

For most servicemen, asbestos exposure was unavoidable, and the dangers then were completely unknown. Veterans who served during World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War are most likely to develop mesothelioma. In later conflicts, some veterans would be likely to encounter asbestos in older vehicles, machinery and equipment. Iraq War veterans may have been exposed to asbestos from the destruction and debris of old buildings.

The Overuse of a Miracle Mineral

Asbestos quickly became known as a miracle mineral. Composed of six different naturally occurring minerals, asbestos was a staple across various industry usages. The fibrous material is strong, durable, heat resistant and flame retardant. Asbestos was a popular additive for many American manufacturers, including the United States military. It was a manufacturing mainstay from the Industrial Revolution until the mid-1970s, when the federal government banned most asbestos use. Despite the known dangers of asbestos, this carcinogen is not completely banned in the U.S., only now better regulated.

Symptoms to Look Out For:

Symptoms of mesothelioma are often mistaken with the symptoms of other more common diseases. Therefore, it is important to be mindful of potential signs of this disease, especially if you have a history of handling asbestos-containing materials. Common mesothelioma symptoms include:

  • Anemia, fatigue, hoarseness
  • Dyspnea – difficulty breathing
  • Hypoxemia – low oxygen level
  • Dysphagia – difficulty swallowing
  • Abdominal pain / swelling
  • Fever / night sweats
  • Peritoneal or pleural effusion – fluid buildup
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Coughing, chest pain

Several factors will play a part in when and how symptoms of mesothelioma develop. The most important aspects to consider include a person’s occupation, the duration of asbestos exposure, and the specific type of asbestos used.

Asbestos & Mesothelioma Resources:

The United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) lists occupations that have exposed veterans to asbestos. Some of the most common include shipbuilding, insulation work, construction, demolition, mining and milling.

Identifying the top medical treatment is a priority for those diagnosed with mesothelioma. To assist the search for the top mesothelioma cancer treatments available, explore the best mesothelioma experts in the country.

United States veterans may be eligible for government assistance if their health problems are linked to asbestos exposure. In some situations, family members may also become eligible for monetary assistance.

Finding a mesothelioma lawyer who is familiar with asbestos laws and litigation in your state is critical to ensuring you get the compensation you deserve.

Additional information about asbestos-related health problems is available from the Agency of Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

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