Veterans Day: A Chance to Honor All Who Served and the Challenges They Still Face

Nearly 19 million brave Americans have served in the U.S. military, putting their country before their own lives to ensure the freedom of our citizens.

Today, for the 99th year running, we commemorate Veterans Day to honor the selflessness, courage and sacrifice of these men and women. To many people, their bravery means much more than a commitment to fight for our country.

Besides the obvious risks posed to our former soldiers, many veterans wound up fighting an unseen battle for which they were never prepared – a battle with mesothelioma, which now threatens veterans’ lives long after their honorable discharges.

Veterans Day and Mesothelioma

Veterans Day, once known as Armistice Day, is a federal holiday held every year on November 11. The United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) organizes several activities – including a ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, regional events and a poster contest – all with the aim to thank veterans for their noble service.

This includes veterans whose duties led them to suffer trauma, injuries and chronic or lethal illnesses. Some of these illnesses are psychological, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anger or trouble sleeping. Some injuries have led to lifelong disabilities, while other physical outcomes are less apparent at first. Mesothelioma, a form of cancer caused exclusively by exposure to asbestos, is one such disease that disproportionately affects veterans and has a latency period of decades.

In fact, the veteran population is one of the most affected by this incurable cancer. The United States Navy alone accounts for 33 percent of all mesothelioma cases.

How Did So Many Veterans Become Mesothelioma Fighters?

During the 20th century, thousands of veterans who survived their service unscathed returned to their families seemingly healthy. Unbeknownst to many of them, a carcinogen had contaminated their bodies.

That’s because asbestos was used by the military for decades during 1900s. Asbestos, once valued for its heat and fire resistance, durability and affordability, was used to build and reinforce ships and military bases. This positioned military members for some of the highest rates of exposure to the mineral.

Before the 1970s, when asbestos use began to decline, service members had no idea asbestos exposure could result in lethal health conditions. But asbestos companies did. These companies took active steps to hide asbestos hazards, leaving veterans unprotected.

The time between a person’s first exposure to asbestos and the development of mesothelioma symptoms can span 10 to 50 years. Mesothelioma and asbestos-related diseases kill about 15,000 Americans every year. Many mistake their symptoms for a common cold. By the time mesothelioma materializes, the cancer has already progressed too far. Few veterans who develop the disease will survive longer than 18 months.

Ways to Salute Our Veterans This Year

Veterans diagnosed with mesothelioma are doing all they can to secure treatment that prolongs their survival, either through the VA benefits program, by filing a mesothelioma lawsuit or both. However, they still need the support of family, friends, caregivers and the public to get the benefits they deserve.

There are several ways citizens can show their appreciation, even if they don’t know a veteran personally. Attending a local parade or donating to a veteran advocacy organization will make an impact on the veteran community. To show a vet how much their service means more directly, you could visit a VA hospital, write a letter or volunteer at an organization in lieu of donating. Contacting local or state representatives about urgent veterans’ issues – such as poor healthcare, lack of mesothelioma research and slow progress in banning asbestos – could make a profound difference.

As for veterans not yet diagnosed, closer attention is needed. The more proactive the role that veterans and their families play in monitoring their health, the better their chances of early diagnosis, which offers the best rate of survival. If you believe you or a loved one may have been exposed to asbestos, talk to your doctor about screening options and contact an attorney to learn about your legal rights.