The U.S. Navy has a long history of using asbestos in its ships, shipyards, and bases, exposing service members to this toxic mineral and putting them at risk of developing mesothelioma, lung cancer, and other devastating asbestos-related diseases.
As a result, military veterans make up an alarming 30% of all mesothelioma claims filed across the country each year.
Every sailor who served on a Navy vessel prior to the mid-1980s was likely exposed to asbestos in any number of ways. Asbestos-containing thermal insulation was used throughout naval ships in, and on, steam piping, propulsion equipment, and mechanical equipment. Further, boilers, turbines, pumps, valves, compressors, and steam traps, for example, were not only insulated but also utilized asbestos gaskets and packing on their seals and internal parts. These asbestos products were located in boiler rooms, engineering spaces, living and sleeping quarters, corridors, and common areas. A general lack of protective gear during this time further increased the danger of exposure to asbestos fibers that were inhaled or ingested unknowingly by sailors.
While any individual can contract mesothelioma from asbestos exposure, those who served in the U.S. Navy are particularly vulnerable due to their direct, continual contact with asbestos during their service in confined spaces aboard ships. The effects of this contact can be seen in Navy veterans today who are suffering from mesothelioma cancer and other health problems related to their asbestos exposure decades ago, especially if they served before the military implemented regulations to reduce risks for new generations of service members.
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How Were Navy Veterans Exposed to Asbestos?
Naval personnel, and particularly those performing maintenance and repair tasks on equipment, pipes, and fittings, were especially vulnerable to asbestos exposure due to its widespread use by the Navy in ships and shipyards. Asbestos was valued for its fireproofing properties and resilience against corrosion and was used across many applications and in a wide variety of industries, especially naval ships.
Because the Navy used the most asbestos of any U.S. military branch, virtually all Navy veterans were exposed to the hazardous material. Some examples of how Navy service members were exposed to asbestos include:
Asbestos on Navy Ships
According to military records, nearly every ship commissioned by the U.S. Navy between 1930 and 1970 contained several tons of asbestos insultation. These ships – which included everything from aircraft carriers and auxiliary ships to battleships, cruisers, destroyers, minesweepers, submarines, and more – also contained tons of asbestos, such as insulation, fireproofing, gaskets, and packing in other components and equipment both above and below deck, such as turbines, boilers, pumps, valves, engines, bulkheads, deck coatings, and paint, to name just a few examples.
Sailors who served on these ships would have been exposed to high concentrations of deadly asbestos fibers, especially if they had jobs which required them to work directly with asbestos-containing materials or disturb those materials while conducting preventative maintenance or emergent repairs. And because the often-cramped confines and lack of air circulation on these vessels enabled asbestos particles to amass in areas where servicemen worked and rested, even sailors who did not directly handle asbestos were still likely exposed.
Products on Navy ships that contained asbestos during this time:
Asbestos on Navy Shipyards & Other Navy Property
Because asbestos-laden materials were pervasive in Naval ships, the toxic substance could also be found in abundance in Navy shipyards. Any U.S. Navy personnel who frequented or worked in these shipyards could have been exposed, with those who were involved in building, servicing, rehabilitating and overhauling, or decommissioning these ships facing the greatest exposure risks.
The following Navy shipyards are just a few of the facilities that have documented cases of asbestos exposure:
- Bremerton Puget Sound Naval Shipyard
- Charleston Naval Shipyard
- Hunter’s Point Naval Shipyard
- Long Beach Naval Shipyard
- Newport News Naval Shipyard
- Norfolk Naval Shipyard
- San Diego Naval Shipyard
In addition to shipyards, many other structures and property owned and used by the Navy contained asbestos. This included everything from the insultation, flooring, and ceiling tiles found in barracks and Naval bases to ground transportation and various equipment, machinery, and protective gear used and worn by service members. Navy service members who served abroad in countries with little to no asbestos regulations would have also faced exposure risks well into the 21st century.
Navy Occupations with the Highest Asbestos Exposure Risks
Because asbestos was used so abundantly and for so long by the Navy, nearly every Navy veteran who served in the 20th century was likely exposed. However, some Navy occupations faced greater exposure risks due to working directly with asbestos-containing materials and performing tasks and duties that were more likely to disturb asbestos.
Navy jobs linked to asbestos exposure include:
- Boiler Technician
- Machinist Mate
- Electrician’s Mate
- Boatswain’s Mate
- Communications Technician / Radioman
- Hull Maintenance Technician
Civilians Exposed to Asbestos on Navy Ships
When the Navy eventually decommissioned and sold some of its aging ships, they frequently sent the vessels to ports and shipyards where workers were not equipped with the knowledge or expertise to appropriately handle asbestos-containing materials.
Unfortunately, this negligence caused a large number of civilians who worked at these facilities to be exposed to hazardous asbestos fibers while taking apart and reassembling the decommissioned vessels.
This exposure was especially dangerous because old asbestos materials become brittle over time and can release high concentrations of dust when disturbed. As a result, many of these civilians now suffer from mesothelioma and other diseases from their contact with asbestos.
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Navy veterans who served in the past five decades are in danger of developing mesothelioma, a rare and deadly form of cancer. This is because asbestos fibers, when present in the environment and inhaled or otherwise ingested, cause cellular damage over many years before later manifesting in a diagnosis of this dangerous condition.
Symptoms of mesothelioma often do not appear until decades after initial exposure, which makes detecting and treating the disease even more difficult. Those affected by this illness may suffer from extreme chest pain, difficulty breathing, fatigue, and coughing up blood, or fluid accumulation in the lungs. Therefore, it is important for Navy veterans who served in recent decades to be aware of these symptoms and get frequent medical screenings, as early detection can lead to a better prognosis.
Because the risks of developing mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases are so pronounced for Navy veterans, there are programs designed to monitor the health of former service members. This includes the Asbestos Medical Surveillance Program (AMSP), which was first established by the U.S. Navy in the late 1970s to monitor the health of service members and civilian personnel who had been exposed to asbestos.
This program has proven invaluable for veterans who have encountered asbestos during their time in service, as it offers proactive medical care to diagnose mesothelioma early when more treatment options are available and provides a documented record of exposure that can assist them in getting VA benefits if they develop an asbestos-related illness. In addition to providing regular screenings and medical examinations, AMSP also provides educational resources on how to identify signs and symptoms of asbestos-related diseases and conducts research into asbestos exposure risks.
Benefits Available to Navy Veterans with Mesothelioma
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs offers a variety of benefits to Navy veterans with mesothelioma and other diseases connected to asbestos exposure, including asbestos lung cancer.
These individuals are eligible for free health care at VA treatment centers throughout the nation, along with disability compensation to cover expenses not covered through VA healthcare. Moreover, veterans diagnosed with service-connected lung cancer or mesothelioma may be eligible for 100% service-connected disability, resulting in the highest level of monthly payments.
In addition to these benefits, survivors of veterans who passed due to an asbestos-related illness may also be eligible for dependency and indemnity compensation (DIC) from the VA. This includes spouses who have lost a loved one to mesothelioma.
Eligible, honorably discharged Navy veterans may be able to file a claim and access some of the following benefits:
- Aid and Attendance Payments (also known as “Household Benefits”)
- Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (death benefits)
- Caregiver Benefits
- Geriatric and Extended Care
Outside of the standard VA claims, veterans diagnosed with mesothelioma may pursue compensation from other sources. This includes:
- Civil personal injury lawsuits brought against solvent companies responsible for producing asbestos products; and
- Claims filed with asbestos bankruptcy trust funds established specifically to compensate victims of asbestos exposure.
Through these legal avenues, victims and families can recover financial compensation for damages such as past and future medical expenses, lost income, and pain and suffering. Navy veterans cannot sue the U.S. military or any government entity and may only file personal injury or wrongful death lawsuits against private companies that sold asbestos-laden materials to the Navy.
SWMW Law has extensive experience helping Navy veterans and their families pursue compensation through various means. If you have questions about your rights and legal options, we want to help.
Mesothelioma Lawyers for Navy Veterans
SWMW Law is an award-winning trial practice with a reputation for helping victims of mesothelioma and asbestos exposure in the fight for justice. Backed by top-rated attorneys, we’ve recovered more than $750 million in compensation for our clients and have helped countless Navy veterans and military families nationwide.
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