Thursday, February 24, 2011


by Timothy Elliot - special correspondent to STORMBRINGER

One of the central truths of the Special Operations is that competent Special Operations Forces (SOF) cannot be created after emergencies occur. The idea is that it’s impossible to fully prepare soldiers during any emergency because of a variety of environmental, political, and practicality. This foresight and preparation has been a primary cause of the undeniable success of the US Military’s SOF, but the military hasn’t shown the same sort of planning towards a burgeoning mesothelioma emergency in veterans. Over 1,000 veterans a year are diagnosed with mesothelioma, a cancer caused by asbestos exposure, because at one time the military used asbestos in over 300 products ranging from electrical insulation to cloth.

Although the military issued warnings about the dangers of asbestos as far back as the early 1920’s, in 1939 the Navy mandated that all new ships must be built using asbestos. The military’s use of asbestos, in fact, peaked in the 1960’s. At that time although there were concerns about the dangers of prolonged asbestos exposure, it was not known to be the only cause of mesothelioma.

However several military bases, including Fort Braggs, were so infested with asbestos that in the early 1990’s the EPA declared them Superfund sites because of their health dangers. Fort Braggs, in fact, came under fire as recently as 2008 for putting soldiers in danger of asbestos exposure in the barracks.

The Veterans Administration is already struggling to take care of the growing numbers of veterans with mesothelioma and although asbestos use in the military decreased significantly in the late 1970’s diagnoses are expected to rise for the next 5-10 years. Because mesothelioma has a latency period of between 20-50 years before it begins to spread through the body thousands of veterans who will likely develop mesothelioma are still undiagnosed.

Worst of all, because it commonly goes undiagnosed until it has metastasized and spread throughout the entire body the mesothelioma life expectancy is only between a year or two years after diagnosis. If mesothelioma is detected early enough, surgery to remove the tumor is an option.

Unfortunately, because the mesothelioma symptoms are so similar to other, less serious diseases mesothelioma can be extremely difficult to diagnosis. Most victims report only heavy breathing and a heaviness in the chest. As such, mesothelioma is one of the deadliest cancers.

Fortunately, the outbreak of mesothelioma amongst veterans is not the sort of emergency that the military cannot plan better for. Knowing that there are thousands of service men and women who have been exposed to asbestos and may develop mesothelioma, the military needs to make a concerted effort to make sure that veterans are well aware of the danger.

When I did my retirement physical, nobody said a word about this threat and I certainly wasn't checked for Mesothelioma - now think about it: if that's how Government preventative healthcare works for the most deserving members of our society, how is it going to be for the regular citizenry? If you are a veteran, or you have worked around military bases in the past, be sure to get yourself checked out, because it is deadly serious - S.L.




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