When people hear of veterans at risk from disease, they might think of Navy veterans from World War II. The harmful particle known as asbestos is widely known to have been used in shipyards and military vessels before its harmful effects were discovered. As a result, many service members developed life-threatening illnesses, such as asbestosis or lung cancer, more specifically mesothelioma.

What most Americans—even some veterans—may not be aware of is that current service members are also at risk from asbestos exposure. While the United States has had regulations and restrictions put in place regarding asbestos, countries in the Middle East have no such rules.

The Middle East is home to one of the world’s biggest exporters of asbestos: Kazakhstan. Iraq and Afghanistan reportedly continue to receive considerable amounts of the substance for building projects.

Unfortunately for U.S. soldiers and the civilians of those countries, when explosions happen—as they do in wartime—everyone in the vicinity is exposed to the asbestos particles. With the blustery desert conditions in these areas, the particles can travel for miles, doing far-reaching harm that no one will feel the consequences of for years. Yet those consequences, given enough exposure, could be severe.

What do the symptoms look like?

The trouble with asbestosis or mesothelioma is that both can take 20 to 50 years to develop. An individual can breathe in the tiny particles, which lodge deep in the lungs, building up over time. Eventually, symptoms can surface, including:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Coughing
  • Poor appetite
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Misshapen fingertips and toes, which might appear rounder over time
  • Tightness in the chest

Veterans who experience these symptoms should seek medical assistance, especially those who feel tightness in the chest. Symptoms like a dry cough might seem minor at first, but an early diagnosis is better for long-term prognosis. Veterans who may have been exposed to asbestos in the course of their service may have grounds for legal action.