~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The New Battle Some Military Families Are Facing
Thousands of military families are facing a new battle, sometimes even years after service members have retired from the military. Mesothelioma, a cancer of the lining of the lungs, stomach, and heart caused by exposure to asbestos, is diagnosed in unprecedented numbers in veterans. Over 1,000 new cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed in veterans of the US armed forces each year and because mesothelioma symptoms frequently lay dormant for decades, although the military stopped using asbestos after it was discovered to be dangerous in the 1970’s, the number of veterans diagnosed with it is expected to continue increasing in the next 5-10 years.
Even current soldiers have a chance of being exposed to asbestos, as recently as 2008 dangerous levels were detected in Fort Braggs in North Carolina and it is commonly still found on older Navy ships, especially aircraft carriers. In the U.S. Air Force, asbestos was commonly used for insulation of valves and gaskets in the engines, and older planes occasionally still have the original asbestos components.
Mesothelioma is particularly dangerous because it can be extremely difficult to diagnose. Because the symptoms of mesothelioma are so similar to the symptoms of other, less serious diseases it’s not uncommon for mesothelioma to go undiagnosed and untreated until the cancer has already spread. If the cancer is found early enough, soldiers have far better options to increase what appears at first like a very dismal mesothelioma life expectancy. In fact, the tumor can be removed entirely if it is diagnosed while surgery is still an option.
Luckily, as the number of veterans diagnosed with mesothelioma has increased the awareness of mesothelioma has as well. Recently the Veterans Benefit Programs Improvement Act of 2010 made it easier to claim benefits with improvements in “presumptions of service” , and mesothelioma is covered by VA disability compensation benefits. Also, programs like the Fisher House help support veterans’ families.
It’s tragic to imagine families who have already been through so much and given so much having to deal with such a deadly cancer. Ultimately it’s crucial to realize the importance of early detection. When mesothelioma is diagnosed early enough it’s much more treatable, and the chances of survival are greatly increased.