Veterans Day, November 11th each year, marks the opportunity to celebrate and honor all of those who have served in our armed services. It’s estimated there are 21 million veterans today, with so many others actively serving or signing up to join the services.
Veterans have put themselves in harm’s way for our nation in many serious scenarios, and many have even faced an unseen danger that may still affect all branches of the armed forces: asbestos. Asbestos was used heavily throughout the military, particularly in the early 1930s through the late 1970s. Despite its known health risks, much of the world was actively using the mineral in countless products, home and building construction, and more. Its widespread use transferred to over to the military, putting civilians and those serving at risk of exposure.
Veterans and Mesothelioma
It’s estimated that veterans make up about one-third of all mesothelioma diagnoses because of the widespread threat of exposure. In every branch of the military, there were many instances of asbestos use from the construction of barracks, training facilities and army vehicles to shipyards and Navy vessels.
Estimates show even up to 25 million tons of asbestos were used in U.S. shipyards alone between 1930 and 1978, causing a high risk of exposure for Navy veterans and civilians alike. Those who worked in the shipyards, either maintaining or helping repair the ships, as well as the Navy veterans aboard the vessels are considered among the most at risk. Repairs would often entail some damage to the asbestos-containing materials, like the insulation or boilers, in the construction of the ship, which could release fibers into the air. In close quarters with poor ventilation, the fibers could become heavily concentrated, making a more severe risk of exposure.
But all veterans were at serious risk, especially during this time period. Because of its wide use, thousands of veterans have been diagnosed with mesothelioma or other asbestos-related diseases because of exposure during their service. Many are unaware they were even exposed until even 50 years later when their symptoms finally start to show.
Changes to Veteran Health Care
Mesothelioma is just one of many health risks veterans face, and many choose to seek healthcare for any of their ailments through the veteran’s health system. Despite nearly 9 million veterans actively seeking care through the system each year, there have been many challenges and complaints around veterans’ ability to receive timely, quality health care through the Veterans Health Administration.
Though there are over 1,200 facilities veterans can turn to within the system to receive care, many faced delays in in being able to have an appointment or receive treatment, difficulties going to a doctor of their choosing, and many ignored claims for medical benefits.
In more recent months, lawmakers have pushed for improvements to the system to make it more effective and ensure veterans can receive the health care they need. In the spring, a law was passed to extend funding and operations of the Veterans’ Choice program, which were originally set to run out in August. The program provided a large fund to help decrease large wait times or the need to travel far for service. Veterans could instead seek care in the private sector with financial assistance from the Veteran’s Administration. This program could be especially beneficial for veterans with mesothelioma, as it can be difficult to find a local mesothelioma specialist, and many of them work in the private sector.
Another law has also been passed recently that will hopefully be able to continue making the VA health system more effective. In August, the VA Choice and Quality Employment Act of 2017 was signed into law, which created further improvements and extensions to the existing Veterans’ Choice program. The new law gave additional funding of $2.1 billion to ensure veterans can continue getting the care they want and need in a timely fashion.
This new law will also allow veterans to surpass the original criteria in the Choice program in some instances. The first version of the program had established criteria that veterans needed to have been waiting for a period of 30 or more days, or have to travel more than 40 miles to receive care. VA facilities will now be able to use a “Choice First” method to allow patients to receive treatment in the private sector for services that may not be available at the VA. Again, this could be beneficial for mesothelioma patients as many treatment centers and specialists with more experience treating mesothelioma are in the private sector.
Honor Our Veterans
On Veteran’s Day and throughout the year, it’s important to show our support and gratitude for all the servicemen and women do for our country. These new laws help show the country’s dedication to improve care for veterans, but we can also help get involved.
There are simple ways to help show we care, including:
- Talk to any veterans or active duty military personnel you know personally and express your gratitude
- Visit a VA hospital to speak with veterans who are being treated
- Volunteer with or donate to any number of organizations that help support veterans, like the American Legion or the Wounded Warrior Project
- Attend a parade or other event held in honor of Veterans Day
Veterans have made many sacrifices for our country, and deserve our collective thanks.