On this recent Memorial Day in which the United States honored and remembers its fallen soldiers who died protecting the country, the veteran community was bringing a special awareness to the day, that in fact, not all of the United States fallen heroes fell on the battlefield or while on active duty.
Many veterans died decades later of a rare cancer, mesothelioma, linked to asbestos exposure that they sustained during their military service before the substance was known to be deadly. Mesothelioma is known to develop 20 to 50 years after exposure to asbestos. Once it is inhaled or swallowed, fibers remain in the body and can trigger changes in the tissue that can result in mesothelioma years later. Many veterans are still fighting this aggressive and incurable cancer today.
This awareness follows in the wake of recently passed federal legislation, an extension of the Veterans Choice Program, which was signed into law on April 18, 2017, by President Donald Trump. The Veterans Choice Program Extension and Improvement Act (S.544) permits the Veterans Choice Program, originally enacted in 2014, to continue operating.
The legislation helps veterans suffering from mesothelioma to receive full coverage for civilian medical care close to their home, if they cannot easily access treatment from a VA provider. Additionally, veterans who would want visit the Boston VA Healthcare System and the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System, regarded as two of the leading facilities offering treatments for mesothelioma, are eligible to travel there at no expense.
The link between this aggressive and incurable cancer and asbestos exposure was suspected as early as the 1930s when miners, who were sustained heavy exposure to asbestos, became sick from a not-yet identified disease. The Armed Services, however, only officially recognized the connection many decades later. Up until that point, soldiers from across the military branches were exposed to the toxin.
Asbestos is a naturally-occurring mineral that is fire and heat resistant, strong, inexpensive and plentiful. Due to these properties it was used readily as building material and as an insulator. Navy veterans, shipyard workers and soldiers in the air force were just some of the military personnel who were exposed to asbestos used to build their base housing and in many other capacities.
According to the Vogelzang Law, military veterans comprise more than 30 percent of the 2, 500 diagnosed mesothelioma cases in the United States each year.