Veterans did much more than fight the traditional battles we imagine when we think of war. After risking their lives to protect the values and freedoms our nation enjoys today, many veterans go on to fight private battles at home. One of the most difficult battles to fight is exposure to asbestos.
There are many important opportunities throughout the year to recognize veterans’ asbestos-related health challenges. Tomorrow, we observe National VFW Day. The campaign is held every year on September 29 to honor the brave Americans devoted to serving our country and the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), including those dying from preventable disease.
What Does the VFW Do?
The VFW was established on September 29, 1899 in Columbus, Ohio by a group of veterans who served in the Spanish-American War. The organization has since become the nation’s “largest and most dedicated group of combat veterans” who served in wars, campaigns, and expeditions overseas.
The volunteer group’s purpose is to help rehabilitate veterans in need, including veterans with disabilities, and to promote patriotism in their local communities. Its efforts to fight for veterans’ rights, education, and healthcare have been instrumental. We might not have the Veterans Administration or the GI Bill (a benefit designed to cover veterans’ educational costs), for example, if it weren’t for the VFW.
Ultimately, the VFW’s goal is “to honor the dead by helping the living,” supporting and advocating on behalf of all surviving veterans. Some, however, are more in need of the VFW’s services than many people realize.
Veterans and Mesothelioma
During World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, Dominican Civil War, and many others through the 20th century, all 5 branches of the U.S. military used asbestos in excess. The mineral could be found in almost every product and building that needed protection from fire and damage, from transportation vehicles and ships to mess halls and mechanics.
When it was finally categorized a carcinogen, asbestos was phased out of use in the late 1970s. But by then, military servicemen had already been exposed to asbestos for decades, and slowly began to develop asbestos-caused diseases like the lethal mesothelioma. Because mesothelioma symptoms can take 20 to 50 years to appear, veterans who served in the 1960s and ‘70s are only now being diagnosed.
There’s now a disproportionate but underestimated link between veterans and asbestos. Few people realize that a third of all mesothelioma patients are veterans, and their resources for covering treatment are few. Without the VFW, they’d be fewer.
Tomorrow, it will be important to remember that VFW members didn’t stop at sacrificing themselves at war. They have dedicated many subsequent years to promoting military assistance, community service programs, youth programs, and resources for mesothelioma patients in their local communities. It’s the least we can do to recognize their astonishing ongoing commitment.
How? With a sincere “thank you.” Whether in your own community or online (you can use the hashtag #NationalVFWDay), offering a veteran thanks is a simple but powerful way to let them know you appreciate all they’ve done for all of us.