Mesothelioma in the Marines

Quick Summary

Asbestos, the substance which causes the deadly disease mesothelioma, was used extensively by the U.S. Armed Forces between the 1930s and the early 1980s. Marines serving during this time had a high risk of exposure to it. Thankfully, there are VA benefits available for marines who develop this rare form of cancer.

Marine Veterans With Mesothelioma

The U.S. Marine Corps is a small, elite branch of the military, known for being the tip of the spear in combat, however, they aren’t immune to the risks of asbestos. This mesothelioma-causing substance was used everywhere in the Marine Corps from the 1930s to the early 1980s.

Asbestos was used in vehicles, aircraft, ships, buildings, and weapons systems. Marine Corps veterans whose Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) were in construction, often have the highest risk of developing mesothelioma, but veterans who simply operated near these materials are also at risk.

Did you know

Marine veterans who served aboard Navy vessels also have a higher risk of developing mesothelioma than those who didn’t. This is because there was asbestos on virtually every Navy ship. 

Asbestos-containing materials like pipes and gaskets were used for construction purposes, while asbestos was also used for insulation and fireproofing. This means that any marine veteran who worked where asbestos was heavily used had a high risk of developing mesothelioma.

The Marine Corps, as well as other military branches, weren’t aware of the risks associated with asbestos. However, as early as the 1930s, the companies manufacturing the substance knew it could be deadly.

Marine veterans with mesothelioma may be able to file a legal claim against these companies. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) also offers benefits to veterans who can prove their mesothelioma was caused by asbestos exposure during their time serving in the Marine Corps.

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  • Treatment Options
  • Mesothelioma Specialists
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History of Asbestos Use in the Marines

Marines were likely exposed to asbestos in the barracks and buildings on base, as well as in vehicles and weapons systems they used on a daily basis. Unfortunately, Marines who worked with the Navy on a regular basis were exposed to more asbestos than Marines who didn’t.

The U.S. military didn’t stop using asbestos until the late 1970s, and it took most of the 1980s to fully remove asbestos materials from its infrastructure.

Marines could have been exposed to asbestos in:

  • Barracks
  • Ships
  • Shipyards
  • Vehicles

According to the VA, while it is very rare, some modern veterans may be exposed to asbestos while overseas in Iraq or nearby countries. Older buildings in this region that used asbestos in their construction can become damaged and release asbestos spores into the air.

Barracks

Marine barracks were also lined with asbestos. This was typical of the military before the dangers of asbestos were known. Asbestos was used to fireproof Marine barracks.

Asbestos products could be found in the following locations:

  • Ceiling tiles
  • Doors
  • Flooring tiles
  • Heating systems
  • Insulation
  • Piping
  • Roofing materials

As the materials wore down over time or were removed during maintenance, it was easier for asbestos to be released into the air.

However, Marines with the highest risk were the ones that were building or repairing barracks. These Marines had to handle the materials made from asbestos, and as they were disturbed, asbestos fibers were released into the air.

Ships

Marines working with Navy personnel on ships could have been exposed to asbestos at every turn. Asbestos on ships was found in insulation, piping, deck flooring, ceiling tiles, and even in bulkheads.

Anyone on the ship when the asbestos was disturbed could breathe the material into their lungs. When disturbed, asbestos can remain airborne for hours. It can also be carried to other areas on someone’s skin, hair, or clothing.

As that person travels around the ship, they expose other people they come in contact with.

Naval ships were known to have poor ventilation. This allowed asbestos to accumulate and circulate throughout tightly enclosed areas of the ship such as a boiler room or engine room. Marines working in this environment have an increased risk of mesothelioma.

Asbestos exposure was a risk whenever someone worked on:

  • Boilers
  • Cables
  • Engines
  • Gaskets
  • Insulation
  • Pipes
  • Valves

Dining and sleeping quarters were also a risk for those aboard Navy ships. These quarters were laden with asbestos-containing materials, and asbestos could be released into the air when these materials got older.

Shipyards

Marines working in shipyards were also at high risk for asbestos exposure.

The parts of the ship were generally lined with asbestos to protect it from fires and excessive heat. Incinerators, boilers, and pipes were all lined with asbestos to insulate them and protect workers from these heat-producing systems.

As these ship components were worked on and began aging, more asbestos fibers were released into the air and were breathed in by the Marines working on them.

The military’s largest shipyards were in California, New York, Washington, Virginia, and Oregon. Asbestos products were still being used in Navy ships until the end of the 1970s and early 1980s.

Vehicles

Tanks and other motor transport vehicles used by the Marines contained asbestos. In the 1960s, the Marines used the M60 Patton tank, which also used asbestos insulation for fireproofing.

Inside the M60 Patton tank, gunners operating weapons systems wore gloves lined with asbestos to protect them from burns. The tank’s insulation or firewall would wear down over time, causing asbestos to become airborne and exposing tank operators to the deadly substance.

Transport vehicles, all-terrain vehicles, and amphibious assault vehicles all had similar asbestos risks. As the insulation in these vehicles wore down, the asbestos exposure risk increased.

Marines working as mechanics on aircraft or transport vehicles also had a high risk of asbestos exposure. These Marines often came in contact with seals, gaskets, brakes, and clutches made with asbestos.

Secondary Asbestos Exposure and the Marine Corps

Marine Corps veterans are not the only ones who may be at risk of developing mesothelioma today. If their family members lived on a Marine Corps Base where asbestos was used, they may also be at risk, since the barracks and vehicles on these bases used many asbestos products.

Additionally, Marines who regularly worked around asbestos-containing materials could have exposed their loved ones indirectly.

If asbestos fibers were disturbed during work, they could get stuck on the Marines’ uniforms. Family members who hugged their loved ones or handled these uniforms could have unknowingly been exposed to asbestos fibers.

VA Benefits and Compensation for Marine Corps Veterans

There are many benefits available to veterans. The VA offers more than just financial benefits, although that is a large part. These benefits are designed to ease the burden of living with mesothelioma for veterans and their loved ones.

Marine Corps veterans can access special benefits, including: 

  • Mesothelioma Specialist Treatment in the VA: Treatment through the VA Health Care system is often free. With mesothelioma, it’s a necessity to get treated by an experienced doctor. Luckily, there are two top mesothelioma surgeons in the VA, Dr. Robert Cameron and Dr. Avi Lebenthal, who treat veterans from all over the country.
  • VA Financial Benefits: The VA has multiple benefits to help pay for the cost of living. These VA benefits are meant to compensate veterans for an inability to work. Disability benefits and pensions can also allow Marine veterans to focus on rest and recovery without worrying about paying the bills.
  • Asbestos Industry Trusts: Asbestos companies sold their products to the military with the knowledge that they could be deadly. When the truth came out, these companies faced a huge number of lawsuits. In response, they were court-ordered to set up trust funds to compensate their victims. More than $30 Billion is currently available through these trusts.

Legal claims are just another form of financial compensation to provide peace of mind to mesothelioma victims, especially if they had occupational asbestos exposure after their military service.

Veterans may be eligible for a health registry evaluation — a free medical assessment for possible long-term health problems related to specific environmental hazards. This is available through the VA, but you do not need to be enrolled in VA health care to take part.

Get a FREE Veterans Packet

Get information on:

  • Treatment Options
  • Mesothelioma Specialists
  • Veterans Benefits

Learn More

Getting Your VA Benefits

VA benefits are one of the best resources available to Marine veterans with mesothelioma. The VA offers disability, pension, Aid & Attendance benefits, and more.

These benefits programs can help cover the cost of living while you receive treatment and are in recovery. While you can get treatment at a public cancer center, you may not have access to VA benefits at a non-VA hospital.

Remember that Marine Corps veterans with mesothelioma have:

  • Access to monthly financial compensation through VA benefits
  • A 100% disability rating in the VA, meaning they get maximum compensation
  • VA benefits to support dependents and spouses

All you need to claim your benefits are:

  • Medical records that state your disability or illness (i.e., mesothelioma)
  • Service records that list your job or specialty
  • A doctor’s statement that there is a connection between your contact with asbestos during military service and your mesothelioma

Veterans’ dependents and survivors may be eligible for benefits as well.

If you’re ready to get your VA benefits, our VA-accredited Claims Agents can help you every step of the way. They can put together all the documentation you need to get the maximum benefits.

Find out more about getting help filing your VA benefits now.

Veterans Support Team
Eic Hall wearing sunglassesReviewed by:Eric P.W. Hall (Capt RIANG)

VA-Accredited Attorney

  • Fact-Checked
  • Editor

Eric P.W. Hall (Capt RIANG) is an attorney, a former Sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps, and a legal advisor at the Mesothelioma Veterans Center. Today, Eric continues to serve as a Captain in the Rhode Island Air National Guard where he is Deputy Staff Judge Advocate, upholding his dedication to his country and fellow veterans. Eric considers it his duty to help his veteran family and strives to help them navigate the VA and receive the benefits they so bravely earned.

Christopher DryfoosWritten by:

Contributing Author

Christopher Dryfoos works hard to help veterans with mesothelioma learn how to access the care they need. Using his experiences as a journalist and Boy Scout, he strives to keep our content trustworthy, helpful, and easy to read.

View 3 Sources
  1. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. “Compensation - Asbestos Exposure.” Retrieved from: https://www.benefits.va.gov/COMPENSATION/claims-postservice-exposures-asbestos.asp. Accessed on September 27th, 2017.
  2. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. “Military Hazardous Exposures.” Retrieved from: https://www.benefits.va.gov/COMPENSATION/claims-postservice-exposures-index.asp. Accessed on September 27th, 2017.
  3. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. M21-1, Part IV, Subpart ii, Chapter 1, Section 1. “Developing Claims for Service Connection (SC) Based on Other Exposure Types.”
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