Asbestos is a toxic substance that was used abundantly in the military during most of the 20th century, and the mineral is the only cause of a rare disease.

Mesothelioma is a cancer that takes between 20 and 50 years to develop after exposure. The only proven cause of this disease is from inhaling these fibers when they’re airborne. Today, veterans comprise the largest group of people (33%) diagnosed with mesothelioma.

Many manufacturing companies that produced asbestos products kept the dangers of their commodities a secret from the military and the general public. Toward the end of the 20th century, safety regulations were put in place to limit the use of asbestos and the military stopped the production of new ships, buildings and vehicles with any material that contained the toxin.

However, military members from before the regulations were still at risk — and veterans who served in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s could’ve been exposed due to old ships and aircraft containing asbestos.

Here are three ways veterans came in contact with asbestos regularly in the military.


Almost every Navy vessel built before the 1970s contained a large amount of asbestos. This harmful substance was ideal because of its insulating and fire-resistant properties. Since ships were at a significant risk of fires at sea, asbestos was used to reduce these hazards. Asbestos was also utilized to increase the durability gaskets, sealants and some filters. The pipes in nearly every naval ship were also covered in asbestos insulation. Boiler rooms, pump rooms and engine rooms were known to include large amounts of this substance.

Veterans who lived aboard these ships as well as any other personnel were at high risk of exposure on a daily basis. Shipbuilders who worked on these vessels also encountered this toxic substance.


Military buildings, such as barracks, were built with asbestos containing products. This toxic mineral was added to drywall, roofing, spackling and cement mixtures to protect the components from fire. Pipes were also covered in asbestos because of its insulating properties. Anytime the buildings were disturbed — which includes maintenance work — asbestos particles could be released into the air and inhaled or swallowed.

Veterans who constructed these buildings also came in contact with this substance. Anyone who was apart of the demolition or remodeling of these buildings posed the risk of releasing fibers into the air.


A majority of military transportation vehicles and aircraft contained parts made of asbestos. Most commonly, this substance was used in vehicle parts like brake pads, clutches and gaskets. Aircraft used asbestos to prevent fires in and insulate a variety of engine components. Wiring, turbines and heat shields in aircraft were all included asbestos.

Mechanics and engineers doing routine maintenance and repairs were faced with exposure while working on these vehicles or aircrafts.


Each of these three exposure methods has led to thousands of veterans developing mesothelioma. The disease is considered a disability, leaving many victims unable to work and struggling to pay for the necessary treatment. To help our brave military members, the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) provides monthly payments to veterans with this cancer.

Veterans also can take legal action against those responsible for their asbestos exposure and cancer. The military is not to blame for asbestos exposure; it is the manufacturing companies that supplied these toxic products who are at fault. Many of these corporations have filed for bankruptcy due to asbestos-related lawsuits against them, and they established asbestos trust funds to compensate future veterans with mesothelioma.

Veterans are entitled to mesothelioma compensation and can receive payment from these asbestos trust funds trusts or file a claim with the VA.


Guest Post by Nicole Winch from


1. Kara Franke & Dennis Paustenbach (2011) Government and Navy knowledge regarding health hazards of asbestos: A state of the science evaluation (1900 to 1970), Inhalation Toxicology, 23:sup3, 1-20, DOI: 10.3109/08958378.2011.643417 Retrieved: Accessed: 12/09/19

2. Risk Factors for Malignant Mesothelioma. American Cancer Society. Retrieved: Accessed: 12/09/19