Exposure to asbestos while on the base and during wartime has increased the risk of mesothelioma in the veteran population. This rare and deadly disease affects veterans more than any other population because the popular building material was used in shipbuilding. From the 1950s to the 1970s, there were nearly 4.3 million Americans working in shipyards that were exposed to the hazardous material. Veterans who served in Vietnam and World War II are particularly at-risk for developing asbestos-related diseases.
What is Mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma is a rare cancer disease that is most commonly found in the lungs but can also manifest in other areas of the body. Mesothelioma is different from other cancers because this type of cancer may lie dormant for 20 to 40 years before it develops into full-blown cancer. Once mesothelioma develops, a patient’s prognosis is usually one year or less, but some patients may surpass the typical prognosis with adequate care.
How Were Veterans Exposed?
Navy veterans were exposed to asbestos while working on navy ships. Asbestos was typically found in boiler rooms, galleys, sleeping quarters and engine rooms where tradesmen such as plumbers, electricians, welders, mechanics and boilermakers frequently worked and lived. At the time, builders were not aware of the negative health benefits resulting from exposure to asbestos. Now that physicians and veterans are aware of the risks, the United States government is under great scrutiny for culpability in veteran exposure to asbestos while serving in the military.
Asbestos is flame retardant and was frequently used in areas where there was increased risk of a fire. Reduced risk of fire damage is the primary reason why the material was so popular in the 1950s and 1970s.
Navy veterans were exposed to the toxic material through inhalation. The deadly mineral lodged into the lungs, stomach and heart when inhaled. Most veterans exposed during Vietnam, Korea and World War II are now being diagnosed with mesothelioma after the dormancy period has lapsed. Since nearly 4.3 million were exposed during that time period, millions are at-risk of being diagnosed with mesothelioma.
What Can At-Risk Groups Do?
Since the disease does lie dormant for several decades, veterans should inform the physician of possible exposure. After the exposure, the physician should monitor the veteran's health. The faster thediagnosis occurs with mesothelioma, the better chances physicians have of preserving the patient’s life. Once mesothelioma reaches Stage IV in development, there is not much a doctor can do to prolong life.
Veterans are urged to have annual checkups and have physicians monitor the lungs, heart and stomach for possible mesothelioma development. Technology and medicine is improving for mesothelioma patients but not fast enough. Constant monitoring and a healthy lifestyle and immune system are the best ways to prevent and reduce the risk related to mesothelioma.
Resource to Help Veterans
Though advocates are lobbying for help for asbestos-exposed veterans, more can be done to help. Currently, the Veterans Administration is a good resource for assistance. In the future, there may be more resources available to help offset medical expenses, pain and suffering and loss of income.