It is easy for veterans and others diagnosed with mesothelioma to feel like there is nobody who understands what they’re going through, or the wrong that’s been done to them. But that’s not true. If you ask your physician or any of the mesothelioma resource professionals available to you, you’ll be told that mesothelioma is rare, but that there are roughly 2,500 more victims just like you diagnosed each year. And according to the International Commission of Occupational Health (ICOH), there may actually be far more than that.
Any veteran who was diagnosed with mesothelioma after exposure to asbestos while in the service likely has memories of asbestos particles floating in the air, covering their work clothes or uniforms, or raining down on them while in their bunks on board ship. Asbestos is a lightweight, fibrous mineral that is easily inhaled or ingested, and once it enters the body it can cause devastating damage. Though the Armed Forces buyers who purchased asbestos-containing materials were unaware of asbestos’ dangers, many asbestos companies knew all too well, and chose to continue making their profits over protecting America’s service men and women. Similar choices continue to be made by companies today, including a certified asbestos removal contractor in Washington state who has been repeatedly cited for violating safety regulations and putting their workers and public at risk. The company has been hit with fines totaling $229,700.
The horrors of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases are well known to America’s veterans. Decades after their military service, tens of thousands of men and women who served in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard learned that they had been exposed to the toxic mineral, and that their exposure would either take or significantly affect their lives. America’s veterans were directly exposed to asbestos in much the same way that construction workers, factory workers, and others were while on the job, but the carcinogen’s impact is not limited to those who came into direct contact with it. Many family members of people who worked with asbestos also inhaled asbestos particles and were later diagnosed with mesothelioma. One such case recently took the life of a 61-year-old British housewife.
Vivienne Swain died of malignant mesothelioma years after the same disease claimed her husband’s life. The 61-year-old had spent most of her married life laundering her husband’s work overalls, which were covered with asbestos dust from his job. Though mesothelioma is most frequently an occupational disease, there are many examples of wives and children of asbestos workers also being diagnosed with the illness. This is known as secondary exposure.
Vivienne’s first hunch that she might have mesothelioma came a few years back, when she started finding it difficult to breathe. She went to her physician, who diagnosed her with asthma and prescribed an inhaler, but when her symptoms didn’t improve she went for a chest X-ray that revealed a partially collapsed lung. More tests led to the inevitable diagnosis of mesothelioma.
Remembering the moment that she got her terminal diagnosis, Vivienne said, “She said those immortal words ‘incurable’ and I remember a sense of cold going right through my body. I didn’t cry and was in a way relieved that I now knew what was wrong with me. I knew I had terminal cancer and wanted to know how long I had. It was a pleasant surprise to be told ‘best of three years’. I told them I would still be here in five years and had too much living to do and grandchildren to see.”
In the battle against malignant mesothelioma, one of the biggest obstacles to expanding survival is the fact that the condition is generally diagnosed when it is in an advanced stage. Because the disease has such a long latency period, most patients are in Stage 3 or 4 when the cancer is identified, and many of them are also elderly and already in compromised health. But now a new lung cancer screening tool developed through a collaboration between researchers at Veterans Affairs and the University of Michigan holds the promise of earlier diagnosis, as it has included past asbestos exposure in its criteria to allow for the use of CT screening for lung cancer.
When buyers for the U.S. Armed Forces ordered asbestos-contaminated materials for shipbuilding, munitions, barracks and other applications, they unknowingly put service men and women at risk for mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases. This was true for as long as the materials were in place, whether during war time or peace time. But as one Maryland veteran recently discovered, the Department of Veterans Affairs treats those who were exposed to asbestos during peace time in an entirely different way than they do those who served while the nation was at war. That lack of parity is directly affecting Richard Cook, and many others like him. Continue reading
Veterans of America’s Armed Forces who were exposed to asbestos are at high risk for malignant mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases. Fortunately, they are also eligible for screening, medical treatment and other benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs. The same is not true for tens of thousands of others who may be at risk for these life threatening diseases. For the people of Libby, Montana, one of the most notorious sites of asbestos contamination in the United States, that type of essential health monitoring has been available for years from the Center for Asbestos Related Disease, or as it is locally known, the CARD Clinic. Though there have been concerns about funding for the center’s work, it was recently announced that it will continue, as Montana Senator Steve Daines announced that it would be receiving another $2.5 million in grant money. Continue reading
People who have been diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma have, by definition, been exposed to the carcinogenic mineral known as asbestos at some point in their life. If you’re a veteran then there’s a good chance your exposure came during the time of your service – perhaps you served in the Navy, where the ships were insulated with the material, or served in the Army and worked on military vehicles whose brake linings were contaminated with the stuff. Before asbestos’s dangers became publicly known, it was used in everything from fabric to construction – and that means that if you work or live in a building that was constructed before the 1980s, there’s a good chance that there’s asbestos hidden in the walls, ceilings, or floors. Continue reading