Mesothelioma and Navy Veterans

Quick Summary

Of all military branches, the one with the greatest risk of asbestos exposure was the U.S. Navy. Asbestos is the only known cause of mesothelioma, an aggressive form of cancer. Navy mesothelioma veterans can access treatment and benefits through the VA, and may be able to get more help through private claims.

Get Help Filing for VA Benefits

How Were U.S. Navy Veterans Exposed to Asbestos?

Military veterans make up the largest group of mesothelioma patients in the United States — and many of these veterans served in the U.S. Navy.

Asbestos was used in nearly all Navy ships built between the 1930s and early 1980s. During this time, the health risks were hidden by makers of asbestos-based products. Millions of veterans are now at risk of mesothelioma after Navy service as a result.

Since asbestos was cheap and heat resistant, the U.S. Navy used it for everything from fireproofing materials on ships to insulation in onshore buildings.

If you were exposed to asbestos in the Navy and now have mesothelioma, you can pursue financial and medical benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

Walter Mesothelioma Testimonial Video Thumbnail

Video Summary: Military veteran Walter talks about his time in the U.S. Navy, being diagnosed with mesothelioma, and filing a mesothelioma claim.

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.

Get help filing for VA benefits from our team — some of whom are fellow veterans — and learn about other forms of compensation right now.

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Where Was Asbestos Found on Navy Ships?

Almost every U.S. Navy ship used asbestos before the health risks were widely known.

Types of military ships that used asbestos included:

A wide assortment of asbestos-containing products were used to keep U.S. Navy ships fireproof and durable.

Asbestos could be found aboard Navy vessels in:

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

The image below shows the areas on a Navy vessel where asbestos could be found.A diagram showing where asbestos could be found on Navy ships

Navy personnel working on these ship parts often unknowingly released asbestos into the air while performing their normal duties. When disturbed, asbestos fibers can stay in the air for hours.

Inhaling or swallowing asbestos fibers can cause mesothelioma, lung cancer, or other illnesses later in life.

Mesothelioma Navy Asbestos Risks in Shipyards

U.S. Navy shipyard workers are also at a high risk of mesothelioma. Shipbuilders often had to remove used or damaged asbestos materials and install new ones, releasing asbestos fibers into the air.

“The large group most threatened is the 4.5 million people who worked in World War II shipyards, where asbestos dust was so pervasive that one often could not see across a room.”

— New York Times

The U.S. Navy did not start equipping service members with breathing protection until the late 1970s. Anyone who worked in shipbuilding before this time would likely have had significant asbestos exposure.

Many U.S. Navy rates (jobs) put service members at risk of asbestos exposure. Some rates, such as boiler technicians and machinist’s mates, required veterans to work with asbestos daily.

High-risk mesothelioma Navy jobs included:

  • Boiler technicians worked on boilers that propelled U.S. Navy ships. Boilers often contained asbestos in insulation and other parts. Further, technicians often wore asbestos-laced gloves.
  • Damage controlmen fixed parts of the ship after an enemy attack. Before the 1980s, repair jobs put damage controlmen in contact with asbestos-based products. They also wore firefighting suits lined with asbestos for heat protection.
  • Electrician’s mates were often exposed to asbestos insulation used to line wires in turbine and motor generators, motor controllers, and switchboards.
  • Gunner’s mates wore asbestos gloves to reduce the risk of burns while operating machine guns, anti-aircraft artillery, and other weapons. As the gloves became worn, they released asbestos into the air. Ammo storage rooms were also lined with asbestos insulation to prevent explosions.
  • Hull maintenance technicians (HTs) were responsible for installing and repairing insulation, gaskets, valves, sanitation, and plumbing systems on ships, all of which used asbestos.

    a black and white photo of a Navy sailor working on machinery
    A machinery repairman cuts a valve seat on board a repair ship.

  • Machinery repairmen were put at risk when installing or removing gaskets lined with asbestos. They also fixed machinery and furnaces that used asbestos.
  • Machinist’s mates and enginemen fixed the engines and other equipment. Working in engine rooms exposed them to asbestos from piping, insulation, adhesives, and gaskets.
  • Merchant marines provided aid to the U.S. Navy while still remaining civilians. They may have been exposed to asbestos as their ships likely contained tons of asbestos-based products, like boilers, insulation, and gaskets.
  • Metalsmiths worked on equipment at high temperatures, so they wore protective gear lined with asbestos to prevent burns.
  • Pipefitters were exposed to asbestos through the piping systems that they worked on. They often had to remove and install asbestos insulation, for example.
  • Seabees used various asbestos products in construction, including insulation, ceiling and flooring tiles, roofing shingles, and more.

The Mesothelioma Veterans Center can help if your Navy rate exposed you to asbestos. Get our Free Veterans Packet to learn more.

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Secondhand Asbestos Exposure in the U.S. Navy

Family members who lived on U.S. Navy bases also may have been exposed to asbestos.

Did you know?

Navy housing, office buildings, and construction sites could all be sources of exposure if asbestos fibers in these areas were disturbed and entered the surrounding air.

Further, Navy personnel may have brought dusty, asbestos-covered clothing back home after working. Family members could have been exposed if they touched the clothes (such as while doing laundry).

U.S. Navy Mesothelioma Survivors

Though mesothelioma has a poor long-term prognosis (health outlook), many U.S. Navy veterans have bravely battled this cancer and lived longer than expected. Read about some of these mesothelioma Navy veterans who became survivors below.

Walter Twidwell

Walter served in the U.S. Navy for almost 20 years as a fireman and boiler tender, being exposed to asbestos as he worked. Decades later, he was diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma after several bouts of pneumonia.

Walter sought help from mesothelioma attorneys following his diagnosis, securing over $40 million from the makers of the asbestos-based products that harmed him.

Jim Gahan

Jim served a proud 20-year tenure in the Navy, working on boilers that were laced with asbestos. However, decades later Jim began to complain of respiratory issues and was diagnosed with advanced mesothelioma.

Jim bravely fought the cancer and lived for over a year despite being given just months to live.

Frank Curre

Frank was just out of high school when he survived the attack on Pearl Harbor while serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II. After the war’s end, Frank was exposed to asbestos in his civilian trades and was diagnosed with mesothelioma decades later.

Frank passed away from the cancer at the age of 88 on December 7, 2011 — the 70th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attacks. He lived for more than a year following his diagnosis.

“He never considered himself a hero, but to me Frank was a hero, not only for his service, but for the life he lived after the War. I’m honored I was able to help him and his family.”

— Randy Cohn, Frank’s mesothelioma lawyer

The Mesothelioma Veterans Center can connect you with mesothelioma lawyers who can pursue financial aid for your medical expenses. Contact us now to get started.

Benefits and Compensation for Mesothelioma Navy Veterans

Financial and health care benefits from the VA, as well as private claims and asbestos trust fund payouts, can help mesothelioma Navy veterans fight this cancer and afford treatment.

Learn more about benefits and financial compensation options for Navy veterans with mesothelioma and their families below.

VA Financial Benefits

Certain VA benefits, such as disability compensation and pensions, can help cover lost wages and caregiver expenses.

To get VA benefits, mesothelioma Navy veterans must:

  • Have been honorably discharged
  • Provide a detailed report of their U.S. Navy asbestos exposure
  • Show that over 50% of their exposure occurred while serving in the U.S. Navy

The VA often awards a 100% disability rating to mesothelioma Navy veterans. As of December 2022, this means married veterans can receive $3,823.89 each month or more from disability compensation alone.

Get help applying for Navy mesothelioma VA benefits right now.

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Get a FREE Veterans Packet

Get information on:

  • Top Treatments
  • Best Doctors
  • Improving Prognosis

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VA Health Care

U.S. mesothelioma Navy veterans can access low-cost or free treatment from cancer specialists if they have VA health care benefits.

Several world-renowned mesothelioma doctors serve Navy veterans as part of the VA Health Care System.

  • Dr. Daniel C. Wiener

    Dr. Daniel C. Wiener leads the thoracic surgery team at the VA Boston Healthcare System. Dr. Wiener is highly experienced and is a Harvard Medical School Assistant Professor.

  • Dr. Robert Cameron

    A top cancer doctor in California, he treats pleural mesothelioma in Navy veterans using the most effective treatments available.

    Visit the UCLA Health website to learn more about Dr. Robert Cameron.

Disclaimer

The Mesothelioma Veterans Center has no affiliation with and is not endorsed or sponsored by Dr. Robert B. Cameron. The contact information above is listed for informational purposes only. You have the right to contact Dr. Cameron directly.

Legal Claims

Veterans with mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases may qualify to file private legal claims (mesothelioma lawsuits) and asbestos trust fund claims. The average payout from a private mesothelioma claim is $1 million.

  • Mesothelioma lawsuits are filed against manufacturers of asbestos products, not the U.S. Armed Forces or the government.
  • Asbestos trust fund claims can be filed if a veteran was exposed to asbestos-based products made by a bankrupt company that set aside money in trusts.

Pursuing lawsuits and trust fund claims won’t prevent veterans from filing for VA benefits or collecting them.

Call (877) 450-8973 to explore your legal options after a mesothelioma diagnosis.

Mesothelioma Navy Settlements

An asbestos settlement is the most common outcome of a mesothelioma lawsuit. With one, Navy veterans get money from the makers of the asbestos-based products they were exposed to and the lawsuit won’t go to trial.

Mesothelioma settlements are often preferred since veterans usually start to receive money in as soon as 90 days. Further, veterans might receive millions of dollars and avoid the risks of a trial.

Recent Navy asbestos settlements and verdicts include:

  • Army Truck$40.1 millionU.S. Navy veteran, Washington
  • Navy Ship$3 millionU.S. Navy veteran, California
  • Boiler Tender$2.4 millionNavy boiler tender, Pennsylvania
  • Navy Mechanic$1.29 millionNavy mechanic, Florida

Mesothelioma lawyers for Navy veterans can file lawsuits and negotiate asbestos settlements. Start the process now: Get connected with an experienced mesothelioma lawyer.

Get Help Filing a Mesothelioma Navy Veterans Claim

U.S. Navy veterans fighting mesothelioma deserve to get top VA benefits, medical treatments, and private compensation. The Mesothelioma Veterans Center can help.

Our VA-accredited service representatives can quickly assist you in filing a mesothelioma Navy claim. They can also discuss your asbestos exposure history and determine what other benefits may be available to you.

File a mesothelioma VA claim right now and get other benefits with our help.

FAQs About Mesothelioma and Navy Veterans

How much does a Navy veteran get for mesothelioma?

U.S. Navy veterans with mesothelioma may qualify for nearly $4,000 a month or more through VA benefits, and over $1 million on average through a private compensation claim.

You can apply for mesothelioma Navy benefits and file private claims by working with our team. Contact us to learn more about accessing VA benefits and other compensation options.

Can you sue the Navy for asbestos exposure?

Our legal partners do not sue the U.S. Navy or any other branch of the military. Instead, we file lawsuits against the manufacturers of asbestos-containing products.

These manufacturers relied on asbestos knowing full well that it could kill people, but said nothing.

Is there still asbestos on Navy ships?

Yes. While most vessels are asbestos-free, a small number of U.S. Navy ships still have asbestos-based products on board.

These include the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, the USS Mount Whitney, the USS Nimitz, and others. The asbestos on these ships is contained and not dangerous.

Mesothelioma Navy veterans were typically exposed before the risks of asbestos were well-known. The military has since taken steps to prevent more people from being exposed.

What if I was exposed to asbestos in the Navy?

If you were exposed to asbestos while you served in the Navy, keep a close watch on your health.

See a doctor if you develop possible symptoms of mesothelioma, like shortness of breath or chest pain. Mesothelioma is more treatable if you’re diagnosed before the cancer spreads.

If you have mesothelioma or another asbestos-related disease, see what VA benefits are available to you. Mesothelioma lawyers for U.S. Navy veterans can also help file private claims to get even more compensation.

When did the U.S. Navy stop using asbestos?

The U.S. Navy stopped using asbestos in new ships in the early 1980s. Massive renovation projects were also undertaken to remove asbestos in older U.S. Navy ships.

However, millions of U.S. Navy veterans had already been exposed to asbestos. This is why mesothelioma Navy veterans make up 33% of cases today.

Veterans Support Team
Eric P.W. Hall (Major USAFR) PhotoReviewed by:Eric P.W. Hall (Major USAFR)

VA-Accredited Attorney

  • Fact-Checked
  • Legal Editor

Eric P.W. Hall (Major USAFR) 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 Major in the United States Air Force Reserve (USAFR), 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 bravely earned.

Christopher Dryfoos PhotoWritten by:

Contributing Author

Christopher Dryfoos is a journalist and member of the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA). As the grandson of the U.S. Navy’s first forensic pathologist, he aims to help veterans with mesothelioma access needed care.

  1. Davis, R. (2011, December 09). Pearl Harbor survivor dies on anniversary. Retrieved July 28, 2023, from https://www.pressherald.com/2011/12/09/pearl-harbor-survivor-dies-on-anniversary_2011-12-09/
  2. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2023, July 18). Veterans asbestos exposure. Retrieved July 28, 2023, from https://www.benefits.va.gov/COMPENSATION/claims-postservice-exposures-asbestos.asp.
  3. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2022, September 06). Exposure to Asbestos: a Resource for Veterans, Service Members, and Their Families. Retrieved July 28, 2023, from https://www.warrelatedillness.va.gov/education/factsheets/asbestos-exposure.pdf.
  4. 80-G-K-13886 Aviation Mechanic, Archives Branch, Naval History and Heritage Command, Washington, DC
  5. NH 90738 USS Guam (CB-2), Archives Branch, Naval History and Heritage Command, Washington, D.C.
  6. NH 60219 USS Georgia, Archives Branch, Naval History and Heritage Command, Washington, D.C.
  7. 80-G-K-4523 (Color) USS Missouri (BB-63), Archives Branch, Naval History and Heritage Command, Washington, D.C.
  8. NH 75302 Thornycroft Water Tube Boiler, Archives Branch, Naval History and Heritage Command, Washington, D.C.
  9. 80-G-477163 USS Ajax (AR-6), Archives Branch, Naval History and Heritage Command, Washington, D.C.