What is Asbestos?
National attention over asbestos exposure has died down these days, but the health risks it poses are still valid and concerning.
Asbestos is the name for the group of six naturally-occurring minerals that are made up of fibers that are heat, electricity and corrosion-resistant. These properties make them very flexible and useful in constructive and maintenance work. The same qualities that make the fibers so useful and resistant also make them incredibly toxic.
Asbestos is not a new thing. There are Greek records from thousands of years ago that document the usefulness, but observed toxicity, of asbestos. Asbestos use boomed during the Industrial Revolution for insulation of high heat areas- ovens, boilers, pipes, and more. Though medical research began to link asbestos to cancer in the 1930’s, no official bans occurred until 40 years later. In 1990 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) overturned the total bans; allowing asbestos to be present if it was less than 1% of the makeup of a product. Asbestos is still present in many things to this day. Read on the history of asbestos in the US here.
Asbestos and Veterans
Veterans who worked on or served on submarines are very high-risk of having been exposed to asbestos. Submarine asbestos exposure is particularly worrisome, as the enclosed nature of a sub prevents proper air circulation. Asbestos was used extensively in sub construction and maintenance prior to the 1970’s. Since then, the use has been reduced and is monitored more closely, but exposure is still a concern. Because of this, Navy and Coast Guard veterans are most likely to have been exposed to asbestos during service. Go here to see a list of submarines with documented asbestos exposure.
Another high-risk exposure group are veterans who served in Iraq, SE Asia or the Middle East. Asbestos particles were commonly released and in the air when buildings in those areas were damaged, torn down, or burned.
There are many different health conditions related to asbestos exposure. Unfortunately, the majority of asbestos-related symptoms don’t appear until 10-40 years after repeated/prolonged exposure.
The VA automatically recognizes that mesothelioma and asbestosis are only caused from asbestos exposure. Mesothelioma and lung cancer due to asbestos exposure are rated at 100% disability.
- Mesothelioma- this is a rare form of cancer caused by asbestos exposure. There are two types of mesothelioma, distinguished by the presence of the cancer in the lungs or abdomen. Less than 9% of those diagnosed with mesothelioma survive more than 5 years after diagnosis. This is mainly due to diagnosis typically being late in the progression of this cancer. Symptoms are different for the two types, and you can see them listed here.
- Asbestosis- this is a chronic lung condition caused from prolonged exposure and inhalation of asbestos fibers. Lung scarring, difficulty breathing/shortness of breath, tightness or pain in the chest, lingering dry cough, and fingertips and toes appearing rounded than normal (called clubbing), are common symptoms of asbestosis.
The VA recommends testing for veterans who may have worked in:
Or made/worked with products for:
- Cement sheet
- Friction products (clutch facings/brake linings)
Learn more about other respiratory illnesses and benefits with our blog post here.
VA Disability Benefits and Compensation
Veterans who did not receive a dishonorable discharge while serving and who most likely experienced prolonged asbestos exposure or are suffering from any conditions or symptoms that may be related to it should file a disability claim. The claim will need to include:
- Medical records detailing the conditions or illness
- Service records that can help link to asbestos exposure
- A nexus letter from a medical provider stating that the conditions/illness/disability are connected to the exposure while in service.
At least 50% of the veteran’s asbestos exposure should be linked to their time in the military. The VA will want details on civilian jobs prior to and after service as well.
Get the Support You Need
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