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Asbestos in the military: Veterans should know about exposure

People generally understand the dangers that members of the military face during their service. They are recognized for their bravery, courage and strength. However, the unfortunate truth is that too often, one of the risks of serving in the military is dismissed because it may not be well understood by many people. Huge numbers of military veterans have been exposed to dangerous levels of asbestos during their service to the country, and many of them will develop a fatal asbestos-related illness at some point.

Airborne asbestos is highly toxic when someone breathes it in. People in the U.S. Navy and other branches of the military were often put in situations and jobs that required them to come into contact with asbestos particles. Many veterans worked in demolition, carpentry, shipyards, mining and construction throughout the course of their service and it is not uncommon that they breathed in significant levels of airborne asbestos during this time.

It can take decades for symptoms related to asbestos illnesses to develop. It may start as a cough or shortness of breath that victims may hardly even notice. However, the diseases can spread and worsen very quickly. In many cases, the illness has already done too much damage by the time a person has received a diagnosis for treatment to be effective. Too often, a victim succumbs to an illness shortly after being diagnosed.

There are three primary health problems that are associated with or directly linked to asbestos exposure. Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that affects the pleural membrane, which is a thin lining that surrounds the lungs. Asbestosis is the result of scarring lung tissue which causes serious breathing difficulties in victims. Finally, pleural plaques can develop in people who live or work in areas that have generally high levels of asbestos. The plaques cause scarring around the lungs and in the inner surface of the ribcage.

Any of these diseases can be fatal. Seeking medical treatment and legal support as soon as possible can help victims get the medical help they need and the financial compensation they deserve.

Source: United States Department of Veterans Affairs, "Asbestos," accessed Feb. 20, 2013

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