Former Petty Officer Second Class for the United States’ Navy Doug Karr has asked me to allow him to guest-blog on another topic important to U.S. veterans. I had heard of mesothelioma, but did not realize it was a big issue for veterans. His guest-post follows:
Mesothelioma and Veterans
Whether they are joining the army, the navy, the marines or the air force, those joining the military are well aware that there are going to be risks involved. Taking those first steps towards volunteering for such a potentially dangerous job signify the first of many brave actions that they will take throughout their career. However, one of the most dangerous aspects that many military veterans face today was an enemy who remained silent for decades. For these veterans, faithful service to their country resulted in the deadly cancer mesothelioma.
The primary cause of mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos. The Department of Health and Human Services, the World Health Organization and the Environmental Protection Agency have all labeled asbestos a cancer causing agent, also known as a carcinogen. The primary danger lies in breathing in the toxic substance while exposed to asbestos. This can cause lung cancer, mesothelioma, and other disorders of the lung.
Mesothelioma occurs when cancer develops in the thin lining that surrounds the lungs, or in a person’s abdominal cavity. As with many other cancers, mesothelioma does not develop overnight. The cancer may not show up until decades after the person’s initial asbestos exposure. Those veterans who were exposed to asbestos during from the 50s to the 70s may just now be showing signs of mesothelioma.
For veterans, exposure to asbestos came as a normal part of their every day jobs. The military regarded asbestos highly for decades because the substance was heat resistant and fireproof. Those working around navy ships and ship yards have the highest risk, because asbestos was used in all aspects of the ship process. Boiler rooms, engines, galleys and sleeping quarters were all full of asbestos. Building, repairing, and serving on the ships or in the ship yard caused many veterans to have high levels of asbestos exposure that have resulted in cases of mesothelioma.
In addition to those involved with ships, veterans whose work exposed them to old buildings have a significant chance of previous asbestos exposure. Within the military, high-risk occupations for asbestos exposure include mining, insulation, demolition, carpentry, manufacturing, installation, milling and construction.
Since mesothelioma is a disease of the lungs, one of the earliest warning signs is an inability to breath, often accompanied by pain in the chest. Other signs include difficulty swallowing, coughing up blood, and increase in waist size for patients with mesothelioma in the abdomen. If a veteran believes that they might have a health-related concern, such as mesothelioma, as a result of asbestos exposure, they should contact their local health care provider or VA Environmental Health Coordinator.