U.S. Navy veterans have the highest risk of developing mesothelioma out of all military branches. Veterans who were diagnosed with mesothelioma due to asbestos exposure while serving in the Navy can get treatment and benefits through the VA. Mesothelioma victims and their families may also be entitled to compensation through VA claims and asbestos trust funds.
U.S. Navy Veterans With Mesothelioma
Military veterans make up the largest group of mesothelioma patients in the United States — and a majority of them served in the U.S. Navy.
The only known cause of mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos, a toxic mineral that could be found on nearly every Navy ship prior to the 1980s.
When asbestos fibers are inhaled, they can embed into the lining of the lungs or abdomen, leading to mesothelioma, lung cancer, asbestosis, or other asbestos-related illnesses later in life.
Former sailors who were exposed to asbestos during active duty can pursue financial and health care benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Talk to our team to get help filing for VA benefits and learn whether you may be eligible for additional compensation.
Video Summary: Walter, a victim of mesothelioma, shares the story of his journey in the Navy, diagnosis with mesothelioma, and filing of an asbestos claim. View Transcript.
The word mesothelioma I didn’t know anything about. When I turned 70 I started getting pneumonia, but then as time went on they kept getting closer and closer and closer together [the occurrences] and I asked the doctor, I said, I wanna know why.
And they sent me downstairs to get a chest X-ray and the X-ray made it back before I got back up there.
He says, we’re gonna go inside and take a look. He come up right to my bedside after the operation and showed me the pictures they took on the inside of the lung and he pointed out the cancer.
I really can’t explain it. I got a knot in my stomach, you know. But he told me then that there was no cure for it.
I was impressed by the Navy – seeing my uncle in that Navy uniform, you know – take pictures of him. So I just decided when I come outta school that I was gonna join the Navy.
I was very proud of that uniform. I was a boiler tender when I went aboard my first ship and started doing my first job. They told me — I asked them what the material was made out of and they told me it was asbestos.
It didn’t kill anybody on the spot that’s for sure, but it took years later when it started catching up with us. But, my understanding [is] that the powers-that-be knew.
I didn’t wanna sue my government and I damn sure didn’t wanna sue the Navy cause they’re still feeding me. I wasn’t suing the government, I wasn’t suing the U.S. Navy, I was suing the manufacturer.
It was only 2 or 3 days and he was here [the lawyer]. He came and seen me, talked to me personally. He knew what kind of a man I was and how involved I was with my job in the Navy. Felt very comfortable with them. I was watching the way they handled it, they did good.
[It was] positive thinking, there was nothing negative about it, it was positive. They were prepared, they could go back to day 1, and I appreciated that. There was no guessing about it, they had the paperwork to back them up.
It was a hands-on approach I guess, and that’s what drew me. Cause that’s the way I do things – a hands-on approach. They damn well earned it.
History of Asbestos Use in the Navy
Because asbestos is cheap and extremely heat-resistant, the U.S. Navy used it for everything from fireproofing to insulation on ships and in their buildings on shore.
Asbestos was used in ship construction, repairs, and maintenance. It was also used to line engine rooms, walls, doors, deck flooring, piping, and insulation.
The widespread use of asbestos continued from the 1930s to the late 1970s. During this time, the mineral’s severe health risks weren’t known outside of the asbestos manufacturing industry.
Manufacturers of asbestos-containing products hid the deadly truth from the military — in the name of profits — until the 1980s, when lawsuits began to surge.
Asbestos-related diseases like mesothelioma generally take around 20-50 years to develop, meaning many people who were exposed to asbestos while serving in the U.S. Navy are only now getting diagnosed.
Where Was Asbestos Found on Navy Ships?
Asbestos onboard Navy ships could be found in:
- Boiler rooms
- Deck flooring
- Engine rooms
- Pipe lagging
When disturbed, asbestos fibers can become airborne for hours and stick to the clothing, hair, or skin of people nearby. Service members working on insulation, piping, or other areas parts of the ship often unknowingly released asbestos on Navy ships into the air while performing their normal duties.
Navy Asbestos Exposure in Shipyards
Both Navy shipyard workers and sailors serving on ships being serviced in shipyards were at an increased risk of asbestos exposure.
Much of the work that occurred in these areas involved the removal and reinstallation of asbestos materials, releasing thousands of fibers into the air. Anyone working in or even walking through a shipyard was at risk of inhaling asbestos.
Below, see which states are home to Navy shipyards.
The U.S. Navy did not start equipping its servicemen and servicewomen with breathing protection until the late 1970s. Anyone working in a shipyard before this time would likely have had significant asbestos exposure.