Air Force Veterans and Mesothelioma

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Jennifer Lucarelli Legal Advisor and Contributor

Asbestos was prevalent throughout all branches of the military. The United States Air Force used asbestos materials on bases and planes. It was most common in structures and equipment manufactured before 1980. As a result, members of the Air Force risked asbestos exposure. If exposed, veterans could then develop mesothelioma cancer or other asbestos-related illnesses.

01. Compensation & Benefits

Compensation and Benefits for Air Force Veterans With Mesothelioma

U.S. Air Force veterans with mesothelioma may be eligible for compensation and other benefits. Veterans often developed this cancer as a result of asbestos exposure during their time of service.

The United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers compensation, healthcare and other benefits for asbestos-exposed veterans and their families. Besides VA benefits, Air Force veterans may be eligible for compensation through other legal claims.

VA Claims for Asbestos-Exposed Air Force Veterans

Air Force veterans exposed to asbestos may be eligible to file a VA claim. VA benefits apply to those with a service-related injury or illness. Asbestos diseases are service-related if the veteran was exposed to asbestos in the military.

VA claims can result in several different types of compensation. Compensation for veterans and their loved ones may come from:

  • Disability Claims: These claims provide compensation for veterans with a service-related disability. This includes post-service conditions, such as mesothelioma.
  • Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC): DIC is available for spouses, parents and children after a veteran has passed away from a service-related disability. Payments vary based on relationship to the veteran, income level, disease type and other factors.
  • Special Monthly Compensation (SMC): SMC benefits apply to veterans with special circumstances or severe disabilities. This benefit can go to surviving loved ones based on need. It is also called “aid and attendance.”

Veterans of all military branches may be able to file a VA claim for compensation after an asbestos-related diagnosis. Financial compensation can help cover treatment costs, lost wages and funeral arrangements.

How Much Compensation Can Air Force Veterans With Mesothelioma Receive?

In 2021, Air Force veterans with mesothelioma or asbestos lung cancer may be able to receive $3,100 a month. Disability compensation may be higher for veterans with dependents and spouses.

Compensation rates vary based on disease type and severity. Mesothelioma is marked with a 100% disability rating. Other asbestos illnesses often have lower disability ratings and compensation levels.

Legal Options for Air Force Veterans With Mesothelioma

Air Force veterans with an asbestos-related diagnosis may also receive compensation through other legal options outside of government benefits.

When filing an asbestos lawsuit, claimants do not file against the military. Instead, they file against asbestos companies.

Asbestos companies supplied contaminated products and are responsible for harmful exposure. Companies that provided asbestos products to the Air Force include Cleaver Brooks Company, Johns-Manville and Metalclad Insulation Corporation.

Air Force veterans and families may seek compensation from asbestos companies through:

  • An asbestos trust fund claim: Asbestos companies may have a trust fund set up for asbestos disease victims. Veterans and loved ones may be able to file for compensation through these trust funds.
  • A mesothelioma lawsuit: Veterans with mesothelioma may be able to file a lawsuit against asbestos companies. Victims may receive compensation from either a settlement or verdict.

Trust fund claims are a common option for timely compensation. Claimants may need to file a trust fund claim if an asbestos company has gone bankrupt. If victims pursue a mesothelioma lawsuit, it may end in out-of-court settlement or court verdict.

An experienced asbestos attorney can help guide veterans through their options and help ease the burden on veterans and their families.

Healthcare and Other Benefits for Air Force Veterans

Air Force veterans with mesothelioma may be eligible for benefits other than compensation. This includes healthcare coverage, access to specialized treatment centers and life insurance.

There are more than 1,200 VA treatment centers across the country. Many of these centers specialize in mesothelioma and lung cancer treatment. Due to the VA’s 100% disability rating for mesothelioma, affected veterans may be able to receive treatment at a reduced cost.

VA centers equipped for treating mesothelioma and lung cancer include:

  • Albany Stratton VA Medical Center
  • Fayetteville VA Medical Center
  • Miami VA Healthcare System
  • Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center (Houston, Texas)
  • VA Boston Healthcare System
  • VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System
  • VA Puget Sound Healthcare System

Veterans may also seek specialized care outside of the VA healthcare system. The Veterans Community Care Program (VCCP) allows individuals to seek care at other institutions. This can be especially helpful for veterans who do not live near VA treatment centers.

VCCP eligibility requirements may be found on the VA website.

02. Asbestos Exposure in the Air Force

Asbestos Exposure in Air Force Veterans

The Air Force used asbestos products in construction products and military equipment. As a result, Air Force veterans may have been exposed to asbestos during their time living or working on base. Exposure may have also occurred when using or repairing Air Force equipment.

Asbestos Exposure on Air Force Bases

Several Air Force bases across the United States are known to have used asbestos for insulation, heat resistance and durability. Construction products are one of the most common uses of asbestos materials, including:

These products were often located in mess halls, common areas, sleeping quarters and other frequented areas.

Some of these products were also used in base equipment. For example, asbestos sealants and adhesives were often used to make repairs on damaged machinery. Asbestos insulation was also common in boiler rooms and other areas facing high temperatures.

Asbestos Exposure in Military Housing

Service members and their families were also at risk of asbestos exposure in military-provided housing. According to a 2020 Department of Defense (DoD) report, there are 16,654 Government-Owned and Government-Controlled Military Family Housing Units (GO-GC) for the Air Force.

The DoD report analyzed asbestos presences and mitigation efforts on eight military bases, including three air bases. The report found Kadena Air Base, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and Spangdahlem Air Base all conducted a written asbestos management plan.

However, the latter two failed to survey and maintain accurate records of the plan’s development. They also failed to notify residents of the asbestos contamination findings.

Air Force Bases With Asbestos Exposure

Foreign and domestic Air Force bases contained asbestos. Several have been named in reports, news articles and courtroom proceedings.

A few bases with confirmed asbestos exposure include:

  • Chanute Air Force Base
  • George Air Force Base
  • Lackland Air Force Base
  • Mather Air Force Base
  • Offutt Air Force Base
  • Tinker Air Force Base
  • Wright-Patterson Air Force Base

This is not an exhaustive list. Many other Air Force structures built prior to 1980 likely contained asbestos.

Asbestos Exposure on Air Force Planes

Air Force planes also frequently contained asbestos products. As a result, Air Force pilots and aircraft mechanics were at risk of inhaling and ingesting asbestos fibers. On planes, asbestos was most often found in:

  • Aircraft engines
  • Brake pads
  • Gaskets
  • Heat shields
  • Tires

Worn-down or damaged equipment could release asbestos fibers into the air. Those operating the plane or conducting repairs risked exposure.

Who Was Exposed to Asbestos in the Air Force?

Many veterans, military staff and civilian workers risked asbestos exposure through the Air Force, including:

Use of asbestos across the U.S. military also put family members and other civilians at risk.

Air Force families risked secondhand asbestos exposure as a result of an Air Force veteran’s contact with contaminated products. If a service member came home with asbestos dust on their clothing or belongings, the fibers could be easily transferred to family members. Loved ones then risked asbestosis, mesothelioma or other asbestos-related diseases.

Non-military civilians may have also risked asbestos exposure due to their proximity to Air Force bases. This includes those living and working near an Air Force base with asbestos contamination.

03. Air Force Mesothelioma Risk

Air Force Veterans and Mesothelioma Risk

Asbestos fibers can become airborne and then inhaled or ingested. When inhaled, fibers can become lodged in organ linings, such as the linings of the lungs. There, scarring and irritation can develop over time into serious diseases, such as malignant pleural mesothelioma.

About 30% of all mesothelioma patients are veterans.

Many Air Force bases and planes were constructed during peak asbestos use from the 1920s through the late 1970s. As a result, millions of Air Force veterans were exposed during major wars, including World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.

Some veterans are only now being diagnosed with mesothelioma, years after serving our country. The mesothelioma latency period ranges from 10 to 50 years. This means it can take decades for mesothelioma symptoms to emerge.

04. Preventing Asbestos Exposure

Protecting Air Force Veterans From Asbestos Exposure

National agencies have implemented laws and regulations to help prevent veteran asbestos exposure. These regulations seek to identify asbestos hazards and ensure safe asbestos removal.

In 1986, the USAF Occupational and Environmental Health Laboratory created guidelines to identify the hazards associated with asbestos on U.S. Air Force bases. Their creation was based on existing Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rules for limiting asbestos exposure.

These guidelines required bases to:

  • Take air samples every six months to identify airborne asbestos
  • Implement an asbestos abatement plan

In 2014, the Air Force implemented two Air Force Policy Directives (AFPD):

  1. AFPD 32-10, Installations and Facilities
  2. AFPD 32-70, Environmental Quality

These directives established requirements for asbestos management principles across Air Force facilities and programs. However, as the 2020 DoD report shows, not all bases keep up on these requirements. If asbestos issues go unaddressed, members of the Air Force continue to face exposure risks.

If veterans were exposed to asbestos during their service with the United States Air Force, they may wish to seek legal assistance. An experienced mesothelioma law firm may be able to help with the asbestos health claim process while veterans seek care and treatment.