Mesothelioma and Navy Veterans

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Jennifer Lucarelli Legal Advisor and Contributor

The United States Navy frequently used asbestos products on ships and in shipyards. As a result, Navy veterans have a high risk of developing mesothelioma from asbestos exposure during their service. Navy veterans with mesothelioma may be eligible for compensation and other benefits.

01. Asbestos on Ships & Shipyards

Asbestos Exposure in the Navy

United States Navy service members may have faced frequent asbestos exposure during military service. The Navy, as well as other military branches, used asbestos products until around 1980. Exposure to asbestos increases the risk of developing mesothelioma and other asbestos diseases.

Researchers reported the Navy began using asbestos as early as the 1880s. Asbestos was used for its valuable qualities of heat resistance, chemical durability and tensile strength. The Navy often used it in fireproofing materials to mitigate the risk of fire spreading in close quarters, like aboard ships and submarines.

Navy service members often handled raw asbestos and worked with asbestos-containing products. Sailors faced dangerous exposure levels because of their extensive time working and living aboard ships. Shipyard workers also faced high exposure risk while building and maintaining naval vessels.

When Did the Navy Stop Using Asbestos?

Asbestos was used in the construction and repair of U.S. Navy ships until the late 1970s. By 1985, the Navy eliminated many uses of asbestos. However, asbestos may still be present in older ships and buildings that have not been updated.

For many decades, the Navy did not acknowledge the health effects of asbestos. In the 1940s, government agencies began creating some guidelines for exposure limits. At the same time, medical researchers continued to explore the health impacts of asbestos exposure. However, Navy service members were often unable to avoid inhaling asbestos fibers.

As a result, Navy veterans continued to face high exposure risks until the Navy stopped using asbestos.

Asbestos Exposure Aboard Navy Ships

Navy service members aboard ships were at risk of asbestos exposure in their everyday lives and jobs. Asbestos could potentially be found in every area of naval vessels from the 1930s through the late 1970s.

Some occupations most at risk for asbestos exposure aboard Navy vessels include:

These individuals may have come into contact with asbestos-containing materials throughout the ship.

Chart illustrating the risks of asbestos on ships

Asbestos was integrated into many different types of Navy ships. Asbestos-containing products could most commonly be found in storage rooms, boiler rooms, engine rooms and pump rooms. These rooms usually contained high-heat machinery.

Poor ventilation and tight quarters aboard Navy ships made it easy for asbestos fibers to travel. This meant asbestos fibers could also be found in sleeping quarters, cafeterias, mess halls and common areas. Navy service members who were not directly handling asbestos may have been exposed to the fibers.

Asbestos exposure conditions affected personnel on a variety of naval vessels.

Asbestos Exposure in Navy Shipyards

Shipyard workers built and maintained ships for both military and commercial use. These ships were built with a variety of asbestos products that enabled them to withstand high heat from engines. As a result, shipyard workers frequently experienced asbestos exposure while building, repairing and retiring ships.

Workers were often responsible for cutting and sawing raw asbestos for pipe insulation, gaskets and other uses in Navy shipyards. When they cut asbestos-containing products, they could inhale airborne asbestos fibers.

Shipyard workers and shipbuilders did not receive adequate protection from potential asbestos exposure. The Navy did not start documenting the connection between asbestos and respiratory illnesses until the 1940s. However, shipyard workers continued to handle asbestos without necessary precautions for decades.

Asbestos Products Present on Ships and in Shipyards

Secondary Asbestos Exposure

Families of Navy shipyard workers have also been at risk of secondary asbestos exposure. Service members often returned home with asbestos-contaminated clothing. Loved ones could accidentally inhale the microscopic asbestos fibers and later develop an asbestos-related illness.

There is no safe level of asbestos exposure. Family members and others exposed to asbestos secondhand are also at risk of developing mesothelioma and other asbestos diseases.

02. Veterans’ Mesothelioma Risk

Mesothelioma Risk Among Navy Veterans

Many Navy veterans are at risk of developing mesothelioma because of asbestos exposure. Military veterans, including Navy veterans, make up approximately 30% of all mesothelioma cases.

The Navy is believed to have used asbestos more than any other U.S. military branch. As a result, Navy veterans are among the highest at-risk groups for developing mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases.

Nuclear Testing and Mesothelioma

Between 1945 and 1962, the United States conducted 230 above-ground nuclear weapons tests involving over 250,000 military personnel. Researchers ran a study to determine which veterans were at higher risk of asbestos exposure because of these nuclear tests.

The study found mesothelioma deaths were significantly higher among Navy veterans. Occupations with the highest risk of increased asbestos exposure included boiler technicians, machinist mates and pipefitters.

Past asbestos exposure also continues to be a risk for veterans. Veterans who were exposed to asbestos decades ago are still at risk of developing mesothelioma.

The latency period of mesothelioma ranges from 10 to 50 years. Navy veterans may be diagnosed with mesothelioma many years after initial exposure. Additionally, older ships may still contain asbestos components, and asbestos materials may still be found in shipyards. Navy service members working on these ships may still be at risk of exposure today.

The health impacts of asbestos on Navy service members and shipyard workers were first documented in 1942. Dr. Phillip Drinker, Chief Health Consultant to the U.S. Maritime Commission, studied the health of shipyard workers.

Dr. Drinker’s study details the health risks among shipyard workers at the Bath Iron Works shipyard. Since his study, the long-term health impacts among Navy veterans have been widely documented. Elevated levels of asbestos diseases and related deaths have been documented in shipyard workers. These include:

In one study, researchers found the mortality rate for asbestosis among U.S. shipyard workers is 16 times higher than in other occupations.

Navy veterans who may have been exposed to asbestos should talk to their doctor. A medical professional can help develop a plan to monitor for any signs of asbestos disease and aid early detection.

03. VA Benefits & Compensation

Benefits for Navy Veterans With Mesothelioma

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers financial compensation, health care and other benefits to U.S. Navy veterans with mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases. Navy veterans who develop an illness or injury from asbestos exposure while serving in the armed forces may be eligible for these VA benefits.

Many veterans are diagnosed with mesothelioma as a result of the Navy’s history of widespread asbestos use. Although all military branches used asbestos, reports suggest Navy veterans are among those most at risk of developing mesothelioma or other asbestos diseases.

Service members who developed illnesses as a result of their work on ships or in shipyards may also seek compensation from lawsuits. Legal compensation can help cover mesothelioma treatment costs and provide financial security. A mesothelioma lawyer can help Navy veterans determine if they are eligible for a lawsuit against companies that supplied asbestos products to the Navy.

VA Benefits for Navy Veterans Impacted by Asbestos Exposure

Navy veterans exposed to asbestos in the military who later develop a disease, such as mesothelioma or asbestos-related lung cancer, may be eligible for compensation. Navy veterans may receive compensation benefits by filing a VA claim.

The VA rates injuries and illnesses from 0% to 100%. Compensation is awarded based on an individual’s disability rating. Higher ratings earn a higher rate of compensation. Mesothelioma and asbestos lung cancer have a 100% disability rating.

In 2023, veterans with mesothelioma with no dependents may receive about $3,600 each month.

VA Benefits for Merchant Marines

Merchant Marines are a supplemental branch of the U.S. Navy. They serve on merchant ships and vessels. Merchant Marines faced asbestos exposure while serving on asbestos-ridden ships.

Merchant Marines are technically civilians and do not qualify for many VA benefits. However, under the Ocean Shipping Reform Act of 1998, Merchant Marines who served in World War II may qualify for VA benefits.

VA Benefits for Veterans and Family Members

Loved ones of Navy veterans with mesothelioma may also be eligible for compensation through VA claims. VA financial benefits come from the U.S. government with funds set aside specifically for veterans to acknowledge their service. Spouses and surviving family members may qualify for dependency and indemnity compensation or special monthly compensation. In these cases, family members would receive financial aid.

Surviving family members may also be eligible to file a legal asbestos claim, such as a mesothelioma lawsuit or asbestos trust fund, against those responsible for asbestos exposure. For veterans with mesothelioma or lung cancer, VA disability compensation payments start at about $3,100 each month. A mesothelioma law firm can help surviving families file a VA claim after the death of a veteran.

Other Benefits for Navy Veterans

Along with financial benefits, the VA also offers healthcare benefits for veterans. These benefits can help veterans receive mesothelioma treatment. A mesothelioma lawyer can help veterans explore their options for maximum compensation, benefits and care.

Navy veterans may receive cost-free treatment and services through VA treatment centers. These services may range from regular checkups to specialized cancer care. Once a veteran is accepted into the VA system, they can receive care from any VA healthcare facility in the country. Immediate family members of veterans may also be able to receive health care at VA centers.

Navy workers with mesothelioma or other asbestos-related diseases may also be eligible for compensation under the Federal Employees Compensation Act (FECA). FECA provides compensation benefits to civilian employees for disability due to personal injury or disease sustained in the performance of duty. It also provides benefits to family members if a work-related injury or disease causes an employee’s death.

Asbestos Trust Fund Claims for Navy Veterans

Navy veterans may also consider filing an asbestos trust fund claim. Asbestos companies create these funds to pay current and future victims of asbestos exposure. Eligible veterans with asbestos-related diseases or their families can file a claim against these trusts to receive compensation.

For instance, Combustion Engineering manufactured fuel-burning equipment like boilers that were used on Navy vessels. Mesothelioma claims against Combustion Engineering began in the 1970s. Eventually, legal claims related to asbestos exposure led the company to file for bankruptcy and create a trust fund. Some Navy veterans may be eligible to file a claim with the Combustion Engineering 524(g) Asbestos Personal Injury Trust and receive compensation for their asbestos diseases.

Many other companies supplied asbestos products to the Navy. Depending on the ships, shipyards or bases they worked on, Navy veterans may be able to file a trust fund claim against these corporations.

Mesothelioma Lawsuits & Settlements for Veterans

Veterans and their loved ones may be eligible to file mesothelioma lawsuits against companies that sold asbestos products to the Navy. When veterans file lawsuits, they are not suing the government or military. They are filing a lawsuit against companies that supplied the armed forces with asbestos products.

For instance, one lawsuit involved John Crane Inc. and a Navy veteran who had pleural mesothelioma. The company supplied asbestos materials to the Navy, contributing to the veteran’s exposure. The plaintiff filed a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of the veteran and was awarded about $18 million in compensation.

Asbestos lawsuits have an average mesothelioma settlement payout of $1 million to $1.4 million. A dedicated mesothelioma law firm can help asbestos exposure victims get the largest possible settlement. An experienced mesothelioma lawyer can also provide free consultations, assist with filing claims and lawsuits and help negotiate settlements.

A mesothelioma settlement is an agreement between an asbestos victim and a company to end a lawsuit before, during or after a trial. A mesothelioma verdict is a decision a judge or jury makes at the end of a trial to determine asbestos liability. Both are possible outcomes of a mesothelioma lawsuit and can result in financial compensation.

04. Other Programs for Veterans

Continued Support for Navy Service Members and Veterans

The government created various programs to support and protect the health of Navy service members and veterans. For instance, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) developed a program for asbestos in shipyards. These programs work to prevent Navy personnel from being exposed to asbestos and to monitor the health of Navy veterans.

  • OSHA’s National Emphasis Program (NEP) on Shipbreaking: OSHA developed this program to mandate inspections and other practices to limit asbestos in shipyards. OSHA conducts joint inspections with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to identify asbestos products and other environmental contaminants. The program aims to remove asbestos from high-maintenance areas and protect workers from the dangers of asbestos.
  • The Asbestos Medical Surveillance Program (AMSP): The Navy created this program to maintain records of service members who have faced occupational asbestos exposure. Doctors conduct chest X-rays and perform lung tests to monitor the health of those who were exposed to asbestos in the military. This program aims to detect mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases early. Although some Navy veterans may have already been exposed to asbestos, early detection is crucial.

Early detection allows Navy veterans with mesothelioma to start treatment sooner. Starting treatment early is the best way to potentially improve prognosis for mesothelioma patients.

05. Common Questions

Common Questions About Mesothelioma

Is there still asbestos on Navy ships?

Asbestos may still be present on naval vessels built from the 1930s through the late 1970s. While asbestos and asbestos products are no longer used in new construction, older ships may still have asbestos or asbestos-containing products.

What should I do if I believe I was exposed to asbestos in the Navy?

Veterans and Navy workers who believe they have been exposed to asbestos should see a mesothelioma specialist. These doctors can conduct tests to determine if mesothelioma is already developing and set up regular health screenings. This can increase the chances of identifying lung cancer or mesothelioma with an early-stage diagnosis.

How much compensation is available for Navy veterans affected by mesothelioma?

Navy veterans may be eligible for compensation through VA benefits or asbestos lawsuits and settlements. Monthly VA benefits can exceed $3,000 monthly. Mesothelioma lawsuit verdicts average $2.4 million, while mesothelioma settlements average $1 million – $1.4 million.