The USAF was no different than its American military cousins when it came to extensive asbestos use. Granted, the Navy used far more asbestos-containing materials (ACM) than the Air Force, Army, Marines and Coast Guard. Navy ships were blanketed in ACMs while the Air Force was slightly more selective in using asbestos in aircraft building and base construction.
Asbestos Exposure in Air Force Veterans
The American military was the largest consumer of asbestos products for 5 decades.
Heavy asbestos use started in the pre-war years in the 1930s and continued until the mid-80s when overwhelming information about health hazards from asbestos exposure was too great to ignore. By then, the damage was done for many Air Force vets.
They’d been exposed to many products with ACM over several years. The amount and duration of asbestos contamination led to latent development of life-threatening diseases such as asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma. It takes 10-50 years for asbestos-caused diseases to set in and show symptoms. Proper medical diagnosis is usually made when an illness advances to middle stages. By then they can be impossible to treat, leaving many veterans’ only recourse being benefits provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA).
Asbestos Products Used in the Air Force
The U.S. Air Force used asbestos in their manufacturing, construction and maintenance projects for the same reasons other military branches wholeheartedly endorsed asbestos products. Asbestos was noncombustible. It wouldn’t burn under any conditions, making it ideal for aircraft engine heatshields, cockpit protection and fuel tank isolation.
Asbestos was thermally inert and worked as an excellent insulator. It was non-corrosive and electrically non-conductive, as well as chemically stable, strong and lightweight. Combined with low-cost and ease of access, asbestos appeared to be a miracle material for Air Force use on and above the ground.
Asbestos products went into every American military aircraft built from the late 1930s until the early 1980s.
To the Air Force command’s credit, they took extensive steps to remove ACM from their air fleet once they understood how serious a health problem their veterans would face. The USAF led the military’s asbestos abatement program, but that was a monstrous task.
During a 50-year period, their aircraft had asbestos in these components:
- Engine heat and firewalls
- Cabin and cargo bay insulation
- Brake pads and other friction devices
- Electrical and fuel line protection
- Gaskets and valves
- Sealants, adhesives and paint
Some specific aircraft used higher amounts of ACM than others. Asbestos use depended on risk-management, as many high-performance airplanes were more volatile than cargo and passenger aircraft.
Planes with high asbestos materials were:
- B-36 Peacemaker
- B-25 Liberator
- B-29 Superfortress
- B-47 Stratojet
- B-52 Stratofortress
- B-58 Hustler
- F-104 Starfighter
- KC-135 Stratotanker
- SR-71 Blackbird
- U-2 Spyplane
Aircraft weren’t the only assets where the USAF used asbestos. Their ground facilities were full of asbestos, too. That took in hangars, maintenance facilities, administration offices, mess halls, barracks and family housing.
Harmful asbestos construction materials included:
- Roofing shingles and sheets
- Insulation, drywall and paint
- Floor and ceiling tiles
- Masonry and concrete powder
- Bricks and fireplace construction
- Siding and stucco products
- Furnace, boiler and pipe wrap
Compensation and Benefits for Air Force Veterans
Mesothelioma Justice Network Brief
To be eligible for VA benefits, two main criteria exist:
- Honorable Discharge: All veterans applying for VA benefits must have been honorably discharged to be eligible. Dishonorable discharges result in a loss of benefits.
- Disability Caused During Active Duty: The disability must have been caused by some event occurring while on duty. That may be an immediate injury, an aggravated pre-existing illness or a latent condition like mesothelioma that develops years after service.
There are several types of VA benefits available, each with different eligibility requirements and compensation amounts.
The following are the primary classifications for VA compensation:
- Disability Compensation: Veterans who develop active duty injuries or disabilities like mesothelioma are eligible for disability compensation—a tax-free, guaranteed monthly amount. Payments are made on a graduated scale from 10 to 100% of monthly financial requirements. Qualifying circumstances include how debilitating the disability is, whether it was primary or secondary to active service and how the disability is expected to increase.
- Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC): Spouses and dependent children of vets killed due to active duty causes are also eligible to receive a standard monthly compensation amount called DIC. This is also tax-free and remains in place as long as the recipients continue qualification.
- Special Monthly Compensation (SMC): Veterans with special requirements receive additional monthly compensation. This is at a higher, tax-free rate to cover costs like home care workers, special transportation or impairment injuries like limb loss and prosthetics. SMC compensation varies on a case-by-case base.
- Additional Special Circumstances: This extends common SMC benefits. Certain special circumstances warrant additional compensation such as for breathing-assistance apparatus, extensive medical treatment and hospitalization.
Air Force Veteran Benefit Claim Types
The VA segments USAF veteran claims into categories to help determine eligibility and get veterans their fair compensation faster.
USAF veterans may file any of the following claim types, depending on their situation:
- Pre-Discharge Claims: Within 180 days of discharge, military members can file claims for already-known disabilities.
- Pre-Service Claims: If a service member’s pre-existing condition worsens due to active duty causes, they can file for pre-service claims.
- In-Service Claims: If active duty members develop an illness or injury but continue serving, they can file in-service claims.
- Post-Service Claims: If veterans develop disabilities or illnesses after they’ve been honorably discharged, they can file for post-service claims if the disability is associated with active duty causes. Veterans with mesothelioma commonly claim post-service claims as the disease usually develops years following their service time.
- Special Claims: In special circumstances, veternas need to file a special claim because their situation doesn’t fit any of the above claim types.
VA healthcare benefits aren’t restricted to financial compensation and specialized medical assistance. The Department of Veterans Affairs is structured to help disabled veterans readjust to life after suffering service-related injuries and illnesses. It’s a holistic approach ensuring veterans are looked after for their service sacrifices.
Some extended healthcare benefits available through the VA that Air Force vets may be eligible for include:
- Disability Pensions
- Preventive Healthcare Services
- Personal Health Programs
- Mental Health Assistance and Counseling
- Survivors Benefits
- Burial and Memorial Services
Just because you are no longer serving in the U.S. Air Force doesn’t mean you’re no longer eligible for VA benefits. Every United States Air Force veteran remains eligible for compensation and healthcare assistance as long as the initial cause was somehow related to military service. That includes veterans who develop latent diseases like mesothelioma, possibly decades after their service.
Application for healthcare benefits takes these forms:
- Apply online through the VA’s eBenefits portal
- Apply at a VA field office
- Work with an accredited third-party representative
- Hire a specialized lawyer to help you file a claim
Retaining a Specialized Law Firm
Attorneys specializing in asbestos-related litigation and compensation claims are experienced and knowledgeable in complex laws governing asbestos-caused cases. This often involves filing lawsuits against negligent asbestos manufacturing and supply companies as well as accessing bankruptcy trust funds and private insurance providers. Specialized lawyers also are familiar with VA applications and can make the process fast and stress-free.
Private civil claims in asbestos cases don’t affect VA claims in any way. Air Force veterans are entitled to draw funds from multiple sources, and it won’t interfere with VA entitlements.
For more information on filing VA or personal injury claims, contact our Justice Support Team today.