Friday, November 11th is Veterans Day – an important holiday when Americans honor all of the selfless men and women who fought and sacrificed for their country. Either at home or abroad, these brave individuals served to protect the freedoms and opportunities that many of us often take for granted. Veterans Day is thus a valuable time for our country to pause and remember the brave sacrifices that these men and women made and continue to make.
As we know all too well, many veterans return from service suffering from serious problems, some physical and others mental. Others still never return at all.
In addition to post-traumatic stress disorder (PSTD), mental ailments, and physical wounds, one of the other major afflictions harming our veterans is mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is a deadly form of cancer caused exclusively by exposure to asbestos and it affects many of our country’s older veterans in particular. There is no known cure for mesothelioma, and its ultimate result is death.
Though veterans make up only 8 percent of the population, they account for one-third of all mesothelioma fatalities. There is a disproportionately huge number of veterans suffering and dying from mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases. What’s worse, many of these wounded veterans are not receiving proper care from the government they fought to protect.
This Veterans Day, let’s not only honor all the heroes who served in the military, let’s remember that, for many of them, the fight is still not over.
Asbestos and the Military
Between 1930 and 1970, almost all ships commissioned by the U.S. Navy contained several tons of asbestos. Asbestos, a naturally occurring mineral, has strong fire-resistant qualities, and it was seen as a “miracle mineral” that could help strengthen ships. Asbestos insulation was used throughout U.S. ships, particularly in the engines and boiler rooms, in the miles of pipes, and in the walls and doors that required fire-proofing.
When these ships were being built or broken down, asbestos was released in the form of fine airborne fibers, which could be inhaled. As a result, in addition to Navy personnel, shipbuilders, maintenance workers, and those who decommissioned ships were also exposed to asbestos.
Military personnel in the Army, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, and Air Force received their fair share of asbestos exposure, too. Following World War II, many military installations were built with asbestos. Until about the 1980s, the deadly mineral was used in floor and ceiling tiles, insulation, the cement in building foundations, and other locations. In addition, it was used extensively in military vehicles, in brake pads and gaskets, for example.
During the Vietnam War, soldiers that received transport in Navy vessels were also exposed to asbestos.
One of the most sinister aspects of asbestos is that its deadly effects do not present themselves until many years after exposure. Mesothelioma has a latency period of 20 to 50 years, which means that many veterans who served during the 70s and 80s are just becoming sick today.
VA in a Mess
While more and more veterans continue to be diagnosed with mesothelioma, many are not receiving the care they so desperately need. The Department of Veteran’ Affairs (V.A.) can notoriously present problems. When a sick or injured veteran files a claim, it takes on average 345 days for the claim to be processed. There are approximately 900,000 veterans stuck on the V.A.’s backlog, and for many the long wait can be deadly. According to the Baltimore Sun, nearly 20,000 veterans have died while waiting for their claims to be processed.
This is of course unacceptable. We need to take care of veterans, not watch them die.
While the V.A. is reportedly slow and often dysfunctional, the paperwork-filing processes are also considered by many to be difficult for the veterans, who must fill out complicated forms and undergo time-consuming background checks. Things become even more complicated when veterans need to prove that they were exposed to asbestos some 50 years ago. For these reasons, many sick veterans are now choosing to pursue legal action to cover their medical bills.
The Best Way to Honor Our Veterans: Provide Better Care
On November 11th, it is important that we all take a break from our busy lives and honor the fellow countrymen who sacrificed so much for our benefit. It is also important that we recognize the great difficulties these men and women are facing today, and that we demand they receive the care they deserve.
Serving in the military can be a trying experience. For many, the extent of sacrifice continues to reveal itself even decades after being discharged from the military. On this Veterans Day, we thank our veterans for all they’ve done in the benefit of our great country.