It’s seldom discussed, but one chief factor in asbestos exposure and the development of mesothelioma is military service. Until its ban in the 1970s, asbestos was used throughout the military installations and ships. In fact, one-third of those who die from the deadly cancer mesothelioma were exposed to asbestos on the ships and in the shipyards of the U.S. Navy.

Thankfully, the Department of Defense (DoD) has committed itself to doing something about this crisis. In 2008, awarded its first-ever grant for research on mesothelioma, a $2.4 million award to Courtney Broaddus, M.D., for her work on macrophage-induced inflammation in mesothelioma. The grant was awarded as the result of a directive by the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee to fund research in mesothelioma.

Since that first award, the DoD has stepped up its efforts. In 2009, the Department awarded several million dollars in funding to three important research projects that focus on investigating the early detection of mesothelioma, identifying new therapeutic targets, and implementing a clinical trial on new therapy.

This new funding commitment is admirable, but it only begins to redress the neglect of mesothelioma research by the U.S. government. The funding for research on mesothelioma lags far behind that of other cancers. In fact, from 2004 to 2007, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) invested less than $6 million on mesothelioma research—only one-tenth of 1 percent of its annual budget.

We hope that these new funding initiatives from the DoD signal an era of increased participation in mesothelioma funding and research by the U.S. government. Considering the sacrifice our veterans make, we owe it to them to fight for a cure for this deadly disease.