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Effects of Asbestos on American Veterans Today

by Douglas Karr

During the years between 1930 and 1970, unusually high amounts of American veterans were exposed to a fibrous substance later found to cause serious and sometimes life-threatening illnesses and cancer. This substance is called asbestos. In addition, many veterans also suffer with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder? PTSD is an anxiety disorder that tends to occur after someone has experienced a traumatic event. This disorder causes an exaggerated feeling of anxiety whenever you are not able to control your current situation. It heightens your fear of death and because of what's currently happening in your life, it can cause you to relive previous life-threatening experiences such as combat or a serious accident.

Although many veterans already suffer with this problem, the University of New Mexico Cancer Center says that PTSD can also be triggered when diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, as well as accidents, natural disasters and violent personal assaults. For veterans, that can be especially problematic because of their high degree of exposure to asbestos during military service. It turns out that those who were lucky enough to come home without this disabling disorder can still wind up with it if their asbestos exposure leads to cancer.

In addition, those who learn that a loved one has a life-threatening disease or condition can also find PTSD a very real part of their life. That makes the families and close friends of American veterans in as much danger as those who were originally exposed to asbestos. To make matters even worse, asbestos also carries potential risk for the families and comrades of exposed veterans.

How American Veterans and Families Were Exposed to Asbestos

Asbestos was a commonly used fiber within the construction industry. It found its way into most forms of insulation and was used in a wide variety of applications due to its fire-retardant and heat-resistant capabilities. It came in paint, concrete blocks, adhesives, plastics, processed garden soils, automotive parts and was used on naval ships. It was also found in combat gear, fire-retardant clothing and anything that needed heat-resistant properties.

For those involved in building demolitions, military construction, manufacturing or boiler rooms, the risk was particularly high. The same went for families and close friends. Since the serious health risks come from breathing the fiber and dust into your lungs, the fibers that stuck to clothing, gear and hair provided just as much risk for those who personally came in contact with military personnel as those who were enlisted.

Asbestos is small and sticky. It has a tendency to get all over everything just like dog and cat hair does. Many veterans and their families carry asbestos in their lungs but might not know it because mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases can take several years before the cancer and lung issues become bad enough to be diagnosed.

Effects of Asbestos on Veterans and Families

Mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer that comes only from asbestos exposure. It affects the lining of the lungs, abdomen or heart. In general, prognosis can be discouraging because it's often well advanced before it's discovered. That makes diagnosis a strong trigger for PTSD because most individuals are not prepared to cope with the real possibility of death. While life extension is possible when veterans choose to undergo treatment, pay strict attention to diet and exercise, for many patients, the adverse prognosis can be more than they can bear.

Not everyone diagnosed with asbestos-related problems finds the diagnosis equally traumatic. Your mental, social and current physical condition all play a role in how the cancer or other conditions will affect you and your family. A lot depends upon your ability to cope with what's happening in your life as well as the strength and availability of your support network.

Nightmares, flashbacks, emotional numbing or guilt for previous military decisions can make the problems involved with fighting mesothelioma worse. When you're nauseated from treatment, experiencing shortness of breath, coughing and running a fever, dealing with the additional burden of anxiety or guilt can seriously affect your treatment's outcome.

Seeking help is always the best path. If you or a loved one are having problems dealing with your cancer diagnosis, alerting your physician and seeking out the support of other cancer patients and their families can help you handle what is happening. Not only will it greatly improve your quality of life, but it can also help to reduce your stress.

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