Mesothelioma in the Air Force

Mesothelioma is a cancer that develops in the lining surrounding the lungs, stomach, heart, or testes. It is a fast-growing cancer often diagnosed at a late stage. Even with treatment, the prognosis of mesothelioma is poor, with an average survival of four to 18 months after diagnosis, according to Penn Medicine’s Abramson Cancer Center. The primary cause of mesothelioma is asbestos exposure. 

Key Takeaways
  • Air Force veterans were heavily exposed to asbestos, particularly in roles related to aircraft maintenance and base infrastructure, which significantly increased their risk of developing mesothelioma.
  • Veterans diagnosed with mesothelioma may qualify for benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs, including medical care and disability compensation.
  • The average settlement amount for mesothelioma cases can range significantly, with some reaching into the millions depending on various factors like age and severity.

For decades, the Air Force heavily used asbestos in numerous applications. Once known as a miracle mineral, asbestos is insulating, fire-resistant, sound-dampening, strong, flexible, non-conductive, non-corrosive, abundant, inexpensive, and virtually indestructible.

Asbestos fibers are microscopic and can easily become airborne when disturbed. Once airborne, they are easily inhaled or ingested. The human body is unable to expel them or break them down. Instead, they become deeply embedded in the tissues, where they slowly cause damage and lead to devastating diseases decades later, including mesothelioma.

If you have been diagnosed with mesothelioma as a result of asbestos exposure in the Air Force, you may be entitled to compensation through multiple avenues.

Use of Asbestos in the Air Force

Asbestos was heavily used in building components, industrial machinery, aircraft, and aircraft hangers, primarily from the 1930s until the late 1970s, but some asbestos-containing products were made until as late as the 1990s. 

Air Force Planes

The heaviest concentration of asbestos in Air Force planes occurred in the brakes. Some brakes contained as much as 16 to 23 percent asbestos by weight. Asbestos was also used in the following components:

  • Wiring insulation
  • Valves
  • Heat shields
  • Engine gaskets
  • Cabin insulation

Any engine parts that could get hot or catch fire likely contained asbestos due to its fire-resistant qualities. Hangars where mechanical work was performed commonly had heavy concentrations of asbestos because maintenance and repair work frequently released the material’s fibers into the air.

asbestos on air force planes infographic

Air Force Occupations

Air Force veterans who worked in the following occupations may have been exposed to asbestos:

  • Airplane mechanics
  • Electricians
  • Boiler workers
  • Firefighters
  • Pipefitters
  • Boiler operators
  • Building renovation and demolition specialists
  • Missileers who worked in nuclear missile capsules

The Air Force had claimed missile capsules were safe as long as the asbestos was undisturbed. However, investigators found asbestos levels as high as 50 percent at missile silo Quebec-12 in 1989, and another team found an asbestos leak in the Diesel room of the Malmstrom’s Bravo capsule the same year. The team determined that this asbestos was dangerous even if undisturbed.

Asbestos at Air Force Bases

Air Force bases were the most widespread and significant sources of asbestos exposure in the Air Force, with those who lived on the bases experiencing the highest exposure. Virtually every Air Force base constructed before 1980 most likely harbored asbestos in nearly every building component from the foundation to the roof, including the following:

  • Building insulation
  • Plumbing insulation
  • Cement
  • Drywall
  • Plaster
  • Wallboard
  • Joint compound
  • Paint
  • Floor tiles
  • Ceiling tiles
  • Popcorn ceilings
  • Roofing materials
  • Ductwork
  • Caulking
  • Sealers
  • Adhesives

In 2015, an Air Force vendor identified asbestos in 17 facilities at the Chanute Air Force Base in Rantoul, Illinois, including the Chanute Air Museum, Lincoln’s Challenge Academy, and the Grissom Hall Theater. Asbestos-containing materials included 127,000 square feet of floor tiles, insulation on steam piping and heating and air conditioning duct systems, ceiling tiles, and window and door caulking.

Exposed to Asbestos in the Military?

Secondary Asbestos Exposure in the Air Force

The National Cancer Institute reports that living with a heavily exposed worker increases the risk of developing mesothelioma. Air Force veterans often worked in environments with heavy concentrations of asbestos fibers, such as missile capsules or airline hangers. The fibers would cling to their clothing, skin, and shoes.

They carried the asbestos fibers home with them. When they hugged family members or removed and shook out clothing, asbestos fibers could become airborne and even enter the home’s HVAC system. Family members would also experience heavy exposure while laundering the clothing.

Benefits for Air Force Veterans with Mesothelioma

If you were exposed to asbestos while serving in the Air Force and have been diagnosed with mesothelioma, you may be eligible for benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs, including free medical care and monthly disability compensation.

Medical Care

In 2024, the VA expanded medical care to Air Force veterans exposed to toxins at home or overseas. Eligible veterans must meet basic service requirements and not have received a dishonorable discharge. If you are diagnosed with mesothelioma, you can receive all or most of your VA health care and medications with no deductibles or copays.

VA Disability

VA Disability is a tax-free monthly payment for veterans with a disability rating of 10 percent or higher. A disability rating is a percentage the VA assigns based on the severity of a disability connected to the veteran’s service. 

Your monthly payment amount depends on your disability rating. The VA awards the highest monthly compensation to veterans with a 100 percent disability rating. Those diagnosed with mesothelioma or asbestos-related lung cancer automatically receive a 100 percent disability rating. Veterans diagnosed with asbestosis receive a disability rating ranging from 10 to 100 percent, depending on the severity of the condition.

The base rate for disability compensation for a veteran with a 100 percent disability rating in 2024 is $3,737.85 monthly. This amount is updated annually in an adjustment known as a Cost of Living Adjustment or COLA. Your compensation will be higher if you are married, have dependent parents or children, or have a spouse who receives Aid and Attendance.

VA Pension

VA pensions are awarded to Air Force veterans with limited resources who served during wartime and did not receive a dishonorable discharge. Service-connected disabilities are not required to receive a VA pension. To qualify, you must have income and assets below the levels Congress sets. In 2024, the maximum allowed asset amount is $155,356. The annual income limit varies based on the number of dependents you have and whether you qualify for Homebound benefits or Aid and Attendance.

If you have a 100 percent disability rating, you will not qualify for a VA Pension because your VA Disability will exceed the income limits for this program. However, if you have a service-connected asbestos-related illness with a lower disability rating, you may qualify. You cannot receive payments through both programs simultaneously, but the VA will pay whichever benefit is higher.

Aid and Attendance and Housebound Benefits

Aid and Attendance or Housebound benefits are awarded to veterans receiving VA pensions who have disabilities preventing them from caring for their own needs or leaving their homes. To qualify for Aid and Attendance, you must meet at least one of the following criteria:

  • You need another person to help with daily activities.
  • You must stay in bed for a large portion of the day because of a disability.
  • You are a patient in a nursing home due to a disability.
  • Your eyesight is very limited.

If you are permanently disabled and spend most of your time at home, you may qualify for housebound benefits. You can only qualify for one of the programs. The monthly benefit for each program is added to the monthly pension benefit.

Mesothelioma Compensation for Air Force Veterans

When you have been diagnosed with mesothelioma as a result of asbestos exposure in the Air Force, you may be eligible for additional compensation outside of the VA.

Air Force Mesothelioma Lawsuit

Although it is not possible to sue the Air Force or the United States government for asbestos exposure in the Air Force, you can sue the manufacturers who supplied asbestos to the Air Force. You may be able to recover the following damages in a mesothelioma lawsuit:

  • Economic damages – compensation for the monetary losses associated with your diagnosis, such as medical expenses, lost wages, personal care costs, and domestic services
  • Non-economic damages – compensation for intangible losses, such as pain, suffering, emotional distress, and loss of society
  • Punitive damages – damages awarded to punish the defendant and deter others from similar conduct

Air Force Mesothelioma Settlement Amounts

Mesothelioma lawsuit settlements can be significant due to the costs and suffering stemming from the disease. The average mesothelioma case settles for around $1 million. However, the results of a mesothelioma lawsuit can vary widely. It isn’t unusual for cases to settle in the $4 million to $5 million range.

The amount you recover will vary based on individual factors, such as your age at diagnosis, the suffering it has caused, and the financial toll it has taken on you and your family. The laws of your state can also affect your settlement. Some states have imposed limits on non-economic damages, while some prohibit or restrict punitive damages.

Most cases are settled outside of court. If your case goes to trial, a jury will determine your compensation. Verdicts often yield higher compensation than settlements. However, there are no guarantees about the outcome of a trial, and cases that go to trial tend to take much longer to conclude.

Asbestos Trust Fund Claim for Air Force Veterans

Many asbestos product manufacturers that supplied asbestos to the Air Force have filed for bankruptcy protection. These companies are exempt from lawsuits under bankruptcy law, but the courts have required them to establish trust funds to compensate asbestos-exposure victims diagnosed with mesothelioma or other asbestos-related illnesses. Asbestos trust fund claims are filed directly with each fund outside the court system. 

The compensation from an asbestos trust fund claim is generally less than the amount recoverable in a lawsuit, but the process is typically faster. You may qualify to file multiple trust fund claims or be eligible to file a trust fund claim in addition to a lawsuit. You must file each claim separately with the fund established by the responsible company.  

Contact Veterans Guide and Hire a Mesothelioma Lawyer

An experienced mesothelioma lawyer can identify who is responsible for your asbestos exposure in the Air Force, advise you of the types of compensation you can recover, and file your VA claim, mesothelioma lawsuit, and asbestos trust fund claims on your behalf. 

Veterans Guide can help you hire a knowledgeable mesothelioma attorney. Contact us today using our simple contact form.

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