Mesothelioma in the Navy

Quick Summary

Navy veterans have the highest risk of developing mesothelioma in the United States Military. During World War II, Korea and Vietnam, the Navy used asbestos products extensively in their ships for insulation and fireproofing. Navy veterans are eligible for benefits and compensation through the VA as well as legal means.

Navy Veterans with Mesothelioma

Military veterans make up the largest group of mesothelioma patients in the U.S. and most of them served in the Navy. This is because so many Navy veterans were exposed to asbestos. Because of this widespread exposure, there are many ways Navy vets can get help.

Benefits available to Navy veterans include:

  • Access to World-Renowned Specialists. There are 2 specialists known around the world for treating mesothelioma patients that are affiliated with the VA Healthcare System. Most Navy vets with mesothelioma can get free treatment from these doctors.
  • VA Benefits. There are several types of financial compensation for veterans with mesothelioma. Some of these are disability compensation and pensions. There are many other benefits that can make up for lost wages and caregiver expenses.
  • Asbestos Trust Funds. Dozens of companies knew the dangers of asbestos, but still made and sold products that contained the mineral. The Navy was an important consumer to these companies, as many ships used asbestos-based products. In recent years, court-ordered trust funds have been set up by these companies to compensate those who were harmed. Over $30 Billion is available for victims.

The fault of asbestos exposure among veterans lies with asbestos companies. These companies knew the risks of asbestos exposure for decades. An alternative means of compensation for Navy veterans is through a legal claim. Most settlements cover all expenses related to mesothelioma and more.

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  • Treatment Options
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History of Asbestos Use in the Navy

Veterans of the U.S. Navy have the highest risk of asbestos exposure. Asbestos was relatively cheap and heat-resistant, so the Navy used asbestos for everything from fire protection and insulation in its seagoing vessels to insulation in buildings. Before the 1970s, the dangers of asbestos weren’t known outside the asbestos-containing products manufacturing industry.

Although all of the other military branches used asbestos, they did not use them to the extent of the Navy. This is why so many veterans who get help filing for VA Benefits with the Mesothelioma Veterans Center are former Navy service members.

Did you know?

Veterans of the Coast Guard have similar risks to members of the Navy, but the branch is the military’s smallest and therefore has the fewest cases of mesothelioma each year.

Asbestos was used often in ship infrastructure and was virtually everywhere. Sailors working on insulation, piping or other parts of the ship often unknowingly released asbestos into the air while working.

Asbestos onboard ships could be found in:

  • Boiler rooms
  • Engine rooms
  • Pipe lagging
  • Valves
  • Pumps
  • Gaskets
  • Seals
  • Deck flooring
  • Bulkheads
  • Insulation
  • Berthing

When disturbed, asbestos can become airborne for hours. The fibers can stick to clothing, hair or skin of people nearby. This is how seamen spread asbestos to other parts of ships and barracks. Once asbestos fibers are inhaled, they may become lodged in the lungs. This can lead to mesothelioma, lung cancer, asbestosis and other asbestos cancers later in life.

Did you know?

Some Navy rates have experienced extremely high levels of asbestos exposure. They also have high risks of developing mesothelioma among workers, including boiler technicians and machinist mates. The VA usually admits that the cause of mesothelioma for these workers is from their time in the Navy, this makes it easier for these veterans to get VA benefits. Other Navy veterans have to provide documentation to the VA to get benefits. This includes proof that the veteran’s mesothelioma is service-related.

Navy Rates With High Asbestos Exposure Risk

Navy veterans who served between the years of 1930 and 1980 have the highest risk of developing mesothelioma. These veterans might have fought in World War II, Vietnam or Korea. The list of Navy jobs that exposed veterans to asbestos is long.

“In particular, the Navy used [asbestos-containing materials] in its shipyards and ships that were built by the Navy before the mid-70s,” the Office of Public Health said in 2013. “The ships often contained multiple asbestos-containing materials in the engine and boiler rooms and other areas below deck for fire safety purposes.”

Some of the rates that put Navy veterans at the highest risk of asbestos exposure during their service were:

  • Boiler Technician – Boiler technicians work on the steam boilers that propel Navy ships. Most of the boiler was either made of or insulated with asbestos. Often, these technicians wore gloves laced with asbestos in addition to using asbestos gaskets during maintenance.
  • Damage Controlman – The damage controlman repaired infrastructure after an enemy attack, often making emergency repairs. This put them in direct contact with asbestos. Many wore firefighting heat-resistant suits lined with asbestos.
  • Electrician’s Mate – Electricians on Navy ships were often exposed to asbestos because the material was used as the insulation for electrical wiring. Asbestos was used for insulation in turbine generators, motor generators, motor controllers and switchboards.
  • Gunner’s Mate – Gunner’s mates wore protective asbestos gloves. The gloves reduced their risk of burns while operating machine guns, anti-aircraft artillery and other weapons systems. As the gloves wore down, they released asbestos into the air. Ammunition storage rooms were also lined with asbestos insulation to prevent sparks in the same space as the ammunition.
  • Hull Maintenance Technician – Hull maintenance technicians are responsible for installing and repairing metal infrastructures such as valves, sanitation and plumbing systems around the ship. They often worked around asbestos-containing insulation and pipe gaskets. HTs are also usually the Navy’s welders, often removing asbestos insulation before performing a welding repair.
  • Machinery Repairman – Machinery repairmen were often heavily exposed to asbestos. They were required to install and remove gaskets lined with asbestos. They also had to service machinery and furnaces that contained asbestos.
  • Machinist’s Mate/Engineman – Machinist’s mates and Enginemen are responsible for servicing the engines and other equipment that powers a ship. They repair turbines, valves, pumps, steam systems, high and low-pressure drains and heating and air conditioning systems. They also repair components of the main engines or diesel engines/generators. Working in engine rooms for long periods of time exposed these workers to asbestos from piping, insulation, adhesives and gaskets.
  • Metalsmith – These workers were responsible for welding sheet metal into different shapes to repair damage to the ship. Metalsmiths had to weld metal at high temperatures. They often wore protective gear lined with asbestos to prevent burns.
  • Pipefitter – Navy pipefitters were exposed to asbestos through the piping that they worked on. Pipefitters would often have to remove and reinstall asbestos insulation on the systems to perform repairs.
  • Seabee – Seabees performed in a construction capacity. They helped build bases, pave roads and clear land. The Navy used a variety of asbestos products in construction. These products included insulation and heat resistant gloves used for protection by welders.

Asbestos Exposure in Shipyards

Navy personnel stationed in a shipyard had an increased risk of asbestos exposure. This is because of the very industrial nature of shipyard work. Sailors serving aboard ships undergoing overhaul were also at an increased risk of asbestos exposure.

Much of the work that occurred in shipyards involved the removal and reinstallation of asbestos materials. This released a great deal of asbestos dust fibers into the air.

Anyone working, or transiting through that space, would have been breathing in asbestos fibers. The Navy did not start protecting its sailors with breathing protection until the late 1970s. Anyone working in a shipyard before this time, regardless of rating, would have had significant exposure to asbestos.

Get a FREE Veterans Packet

Get information on:

  • Treatment Options
  • Mesothelioma Specialists
  • Veterans Benefits

Learn More

Getting Compensation and Benefits

There are so many resources available to Navy veterans. From VA health care to legal claims, these forms of compensation can give you and your family peace of mind. There is also world-class treatment available within the VA. And if you are looking for treatment elsewhere, VA benefits or a legal settlement may cover your medical expenses.

  • VA benefits require you to prove your asbestos exposure happened in the Navy.
  • If you were honorably discharged, you likely qualify for VA benefits.
  • If you had occupational asbestos exposure, you can file a legal claim.

Starting the process of getting compensation is overwhelming. That’s why there are people who can help. Our VA-accredited service representatives can help you file a VA claim quickly. They can also discuss your asbestos exposure history to determine if you have a legal claim. Talk to a representative now.

Author:Mesothelioma Veterans Center

Veterans Support Team

Mesothelioma Veterans Center

The Mesothelioma Veterans Center editorial team consists of experienced veterans, family members and medical professionals. Our work is focused on helping veterans with mesothelioma receive the benefits they need and the compensation they deserve. We love our country and are passionate about serving those who first served us.

Last modified: September 25, 2019

View Sources

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. “Compensation - Asbestos Exposure.” Retrieved from: Accessed on September 27th, 2017.

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.”

War Related Illness and Injury Study Center. Office of Public Health. Department of Veterans Affairs. “Exposure to Asbestos: A Resource for Veterans, Service Members and Their Families.” Retrieved from: Accessed on September 27th, 2017.

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