Mesothelioma in Navy Veterans – Causes, Dangers, and Prognosis

Updated on November 6, 2023
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There are more mesothelioma cases among military veterans than in the general population. The Navy’s asbestos-using ships account for the highest rate of occupational diseases among veterans.

For the middle decades of the 20th century, both military and civilian ship components used asbestos. Veteran workers came into contact with the chemical present in the poorly ventilated ships exposing them to the risks associated with the disease.

Asbestos: the history of its use

Years ago, people used asbestos as a natural mineral. The two most common applications were insulation and fireproofing, as it was cheap and available in quantity. Since ships were prone to catching fires, asbestos was also the popular material for shipbuilding in both the civilian sector and the United States armed forces. 

Since asbestos is extremely light to mold and easy to handle, the workers at the ships were at the highest risk of exposure.

If I Was Involved in the Navy, What Should I Do?

If you suspect that you have come into contact with asbestos on navy ships, you must immediately consult a doctor and get a diagnosis. In the event that you have been diagnosed with mesothelioma or another asbestos-related disease, let a specialist know right away so you can begin treatment. 

Asbestos exposure was common before the 1980s. So if you worked in cramped, poorly ventilated ship areas or had a high-risk job in that era, you should be especially concerned.

Asbestos or mesothelioma lawyers can help you navigate the legal system and VA. Navy veterans with mesothelioma can get compensation from the legal system and VA. Asbestos diseases are costly. The money you receive may help cover your medical care.

What was the Navy’s use of asbestos?

Before World War II, asbestos was common in shipbuilding. But, as the war approached, the military stocked up on the chemical to build new ships and its use heavily increased. 

The use of asbestos only slowed down after the government began regulating the mineral in the 1970s, but during the war, it was present on all the Navy ships.

How was Asbestos used on Navy Ships?

The presence of Asbestos on Navy ships extended far beyond the structure. Ships had them all over them and even in the sailors’ living and dining quarters. 

Since ships produce a lot of heat the pipes and ducts leading to and from the boiler needs insulation. The boiler rooms contained asbestos to keep the insulator in control. It means, workers in the boiler room were at greater risk of exposure than other sailors. 

In addition to heating, cooling, and bilge systems, asbestos was also used in valves, gaskets, and mechanical pumps. Navy members who repair these parts of ships are now plagued by mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases.

 All on board were exposed to some degree of risk. However, some were at greater risk than others. Almost everything onboard contained asbestos: flooring, wall paneling, wiring, adhesives, materials for the deck, bedding, and fireproofing.

Asbestos exposure in which Navy jobs is highest?

Asbestos illnesses are more common in certain Navy veterans depending on their jobs on ships:

  • Workers in the boiler room
  • Engineers
  • Plumbers
  • Gunner’s friends
  • Men in charge of damage control
  • Firefighters
  • Engineers who perform maintenance

Shipyard workers were also exposed to asbestos in addition to the military members and civilians who built, maintained and repaired ships.

Shipboard materials and components containing asbestos

Asbestos was found in nearly every part of Navy ships in the past. The Navy used asbestos-containing products, including paint, floors, tiles, ceilings, pipes, valves, boilers, cables, and even safety gear. 

Is Asbestos Still Used in the Navy?

Asbestos is no longer actively used on Navy ships after the 1980s. The process of eliminating or encapsulating asbestos on ships and bases took a lot of years, but its use it’s completely banned now as per the law.

Despite the presence of asbestos on ships now, it shouldn’t be a concern. It is harmless once it is enclosed. However, if its fibers are to release into the air as a result of damage, deterioration, or other exposure to the ship, it can pose a health risk.

Hazards of Asbestos Exposure for Navy Veterans

Many veterans have suffered severe illnesses due to asbestos exposure, including cancer.

If asbestos fibers are inhaled, they cause a lot of damage. The cancer lodge in tissues, especially in and around the lungs. When one inhales the asbestos fibers, they are likely to develop chronic pulmonary diseases. Some common symptoms include coughing and wheezing. This condition is not curable.

Asbestos can even cause lung cancer, which is often fatal and difficult to treat. One may even develop mesothelioma after being exposed to asbestos. The disease is a rare and aggressive type of cancer, most commonly affecting the lining of the lung or abdomen. 

There is a higher rate of mesothelioma among U.S. former navy personnel. These navy veterans exposed to asbestos during wartime and non-active duty service were unaware of the danger. These illnesses were not detected until decades later. Often, it is too late to treat many of these illnesses by the time they are diagnosed.

Why Do Navy Veterans Still Get Sick?

Asbestos exposure causes damage over decades; more than 60 years can elapse between exposure and diagnosis of mesothelioma. A diagnosis is still possible today for those who served in the 1960s or 1970s.

U.S. Medical Surveillance Program for Asbestos

When asbestos was dangerous in the 1970s, the U.S. Navy launched the Asbestos Medical Surveillance Program. Veteran and civilian personnel who worked on Navy ships or who worked near them were likely to have been exposed to asbestos were monitored by the program.

Tests in the program can detect illnesses related to asbestos early and patients can have a better prognosis.

Does the VA consider mesothelioma a disability?

Mesothelioma is classified as 100% disabling by the VA. If your illness is related to asbestos exposure while serving in the military you are eligible to avail the disability benefits.

Asbestosis, lung cancer, pleural plaques, and other asbestos diseases are also considered disabling by the VA. These conditions are rated according to the severity of their symptoms and their illness.

Benefits and Compensation for Navy Veterans

Asbestos exposure is compensation that both civilians and service members can seek. Those companies that produced and distributed asbestos are responsible for exposing and infecting their employees. 

For veterans who have been exposed to asbestos while serving, the VA offers benefits.

Veterans Benefits

Navy veterans and their families exposed to asbestos during service can receive benefits from the VA. These benefits include:

  • Compensation for disabilities
  • Compensation for dependencies and indemnities
  • Monthly and special disability benefits
  • VA hospitals and medical centers provide health care

Defending mesothelioma lawsuits

As a Navy veteran, you can also seek compensation through a lawsuit. Veterans or their surviving families can sue asbestos-containing materials. As per the law, those manufacturers that supply harmful materials to the military are liable.

Through lawsuits against companies, veterans can receive a lot of compensation. Family of an asbestos victim can recover up to $10 million from manufacturers of asbestos materials.

Asbestos Trust Fund Claims

The company that supplied asbestos materials to the Navy may be ineligible to sue if it is out of business or bankrupt. However, it probably established a trust fund to compensate victims if they file a claim.

You have the right to claim compensation if, during service, you were exposed to asbestos and became ill. It is also available for families who lost a loved one as a result of mesothelioma.  You can contact an asbestos lawyer for more information about your options and how to move forward.


Asbestos was heavily used in making ships during World War II and affected everyone who spent most of their time around those ships. Its dangers were discovered in the 1970s, and its use was completely banned after the 1980s, but to date, veterans suffer from asbestos-related diseases, including lung cancers, asbestosis, or mesothelioma. All of these diseases are incurable and expensive to treat. Veterans, however, can receive compensation and VA benefits if they claim or file a case. A lawyer’s assistance can help. If you or someone you know has worked in the navy during that era, get diagnosed right away.

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The Editorial Team at Healthcare Business Today is made up of skilled healthcare writers and experts, led by our managing editor, Daniel Casciato, who has over 25 years of experience in healthcare writing. Since 1998, we have produced compelling and informative content for numerous publications, establishing ourselves as a trusted resource for health and wellness information. We offer readers access to fresh health, medicine, science, and technology developments and the latest in patient news, emphasizing how these developments affect our lives.