Friday, October 12, 2012
Being a Veteran Means Having Been Exposed to Asbestos
Anyone who served in the United States Military was well aware of the immediate dangers that came with the job of defending the country. It was part of the job description, especially during times of heavy conflict around the world.
But most of them never thought – or knew – about the silent, long-term health risks they were taking by signing up.
Many veterans are only now facing those risks.
They are facing the consequences of exposure to asbestos, which once was viewed as a budget-saver to military numbers crunchers but has become an enemy. It is the reason for unexpected health problems, stemming from decades ago.
Asbestos was ubiquitous in military life through much of the 20th century. Beginning before World War II, it was put into use by all branches of service to help strengthen, insulate and protect almost everything in a cost-effective manner. That includes weaponry, automobiles, ships, planes and living quarters.
Until the early 1980s, the public did not understand fully just how toxic it was, allowing decision makers to ignore the long-term health implications to capitalize on the short-term benefits.
Because of that ignorance, asbestos has been causing a variety of respiratory issues, including mesothelioma, a rare but aggressive cancer that can take up to 50 years to develop after being exposed.
Many of the veterans who served as far back as the Korean and Vietnam eras are only now feeling the ill effects of that service related to asbestos. And those who served more recently might not know for years if they will be beset with future problems. Although asbestos use in the United States has been dramatically reduced, veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were exposed, too, during routine military activities in those countries.
Mesothelioma is diagnosed in only 3,000 Americans annually, but an estimated one-third of those are veterans, exposed either during military service or in occupations after they left the service.
It was most prevalent in the Navy, where ships often were covered from bow to stern in asbestos materials. The Army, Air Force and Marines used it extensively, too, in everything from housing to munitions.
Veterans who returned home to find jobs in manufacturing and construction likely were exposed there too. Power plants and chemical companies were notorious users, along with the automobile industry. The ship building industry might have been the worst.
Mesothelioma is only a fraction of all the asbestos-related issues that are striking veterans today. It can cause any number of problems, including lung cancer, asbestosis and other related diseases. An estimated 10,000 Americans each year die from asbestos-related illnesses.
Like many cancers, mesothelioma is most deadly when diagnosed during the later stages, making an early diagnosis imperative before it has spread extensively. Pleural mesothelioma, the most common kind, involves asbestos fibers getting lodged into the lining surrounding the lungs. Early symptoms include persistent dry cough, night sweats and unexplained weight loss.
There is no cure for mesothelioma, although advances in treatments are being made. If detected in the early stages, there is considerable hope for controlling it. Anything who believes they were exposed to asbestos would be wise to inform your doctor during routine physical exam, helping him identify problems early.
The U.S. Department of Veteran's Affairs usually offers health screenings that can help identify asbestos-related illnesses. Veterans can check with their local VA medical center.
Treatment options include radiation, chemotherapy and surgery, along with many other alternative therapies that have shown to be effective. Veterans with mesothelioma also are usually eligible for disability benefits.
Mesothelioma Center at Asbestos.com
For the latest on Mesothelioma Awareness