Mesothelioma in the Navy

Mesothelioma is a devastating cancer caused by asbestos exposure. Unfortunately, asbestos use was widespread in the U.S. Navy for many decades, putting countless servicemembers at high risk of exposure. Navy veterans who develop mesothelioma, even years after their service, may be eligible for VA benefits and other compensation. 

Key Takeaways
  • Navy veterans who were exposed to asbestos in ships and shipyards risk developing mesothelioma, a cancer linked to this exposure.
  • The U.S. Navy used asbestos extensively until the early 1980s due to its insulating and fire-resistant properties.
  • Affected veterans are eligible for VA benefits, including disability compensation and potentially higher rates with dependents, given mesothelioma’s classification as a presumptive condition.
  • Veterans may also seek additional compensation through lawsuits against asbestos product manufacturers and claims against asbestos trust funds established by bankrupt suppliers.

Although the dangers of asbestos are now well-known, the mineral was widely used in Navy ships, shipyards, and other facilities for much of the 20th century. Many Navy veterans were exposed to asbestos during their service, putting them at risk of developing mesothelioma later in life. If you suspect your mesothelioma resulted from asbestos exposure in the Navy, you have options for accessing health care, benefits, and compensation.

Asbestos Exposure in the Navy

Mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer that develops in the lining of the lungs, chest, abdomen, or heart due to inhaling or ingesting asbestos fibers. These microscopic fibers can cause inflammation and scarring that may lead to tumors decades after exposure. Mesothelioma is often advanced and difficult to treat by the time it is diagnosed.

Use of asbestos in the Navy

The Navy used asbestos extensively in ships, shipyards, and other facilities because of its heat resistance, insulating properties, and affordability. Asbestos was contained in many materials, including insulation, gaskets, pipes, flooring, and wiring.

Years of asbestos use

The Navy used asbestos heavily from the 1930s through the early 1980s.

Naval Shipyards

Naval shipyards were a major site of asbestos exposure for Navy veterans. Asbestos was used extensively in constructing and repairing Navy ships at shipyards, and many shipyard workers, including civilian employees, were exposed to asbestos on the job.

Many components of ships built or repaired at naval shipyards contained asbestos,  including the following:

  • Boilers and engines
  • Pipes and valves
  • Insulation and fireproofing
  • Gaskets and packing
  • Flooring and ceiling tiles
  • Electrical wiring

Cutting, grinding, or otherwise disturbing these asbestos-containing materials releases tiny fibers into the air that workers can inhale.

Naval Occupations

Certain naval occupations carried a heightened risk of asbestos exposure and mesothelioma, including the following:

  • Boiler technicians and operators
  • Machinist’s mates
  • Pipefitters and plumbers
  • Electricians and welders
  • Hull maintenance technicians
  • Shipfitters and metalworkers
  • Firefighters and damage controlman

These jobs often involved direct contact with asbestos-containing materials in tight, poorly ventilated spaces on ships or in shipyards. Other naval occupations with elevated asbestos exposure risk included gunner’s mates, radiomen, and enginemen.

Naval Ships

Many U.S. Navy ships built before the 1980s contained asbestos materials. Asbestos was used in virtually every part of Navy ships, including:

  • Boiler and engine rooms
  • Navigation rooms
  • Mess halls and kitchens
  • Sleeping quarters
  • Pipes and valves
  • Pumps and condensers
  • Deck matting and tiles

Any damage or maintenance work on these ships could disturb asbestos materials and release fibers into the air. Navy veterans who served on ships or worked in shipyards are at risk of mesothelioma from asbestos exposure. The types of ship the Navy used asbestos on could range from anything from submarines to destroyers.

naval asbestos exposure infographic

Secondary Asbestos Exposure in the Navy

Family members of Navy veterans may also be at risk of contracting mesothelioma from secondary exposure. Secondary exposure occurs when workers exposed to asbestos bring fibers home on their clothing, shoes, skin, or hair.

Especially at risk for secondary exposure are Navy veterans’ spouses who laundered work clothes covered in asbestos dust. Children could also have been exposed by hugging a parent wearing contaminated clothing. While secondary exposure is less common than direct occupational exposure, it has been linked to many mesothelioma cases among veterans’ family members.

Exposed to Asbestos in the Military?

Benefits for Navy Veterans With Mesothelioma

Navy veterans diagnosed with mesothelioma caused by military asbestos exposure are entitled to several VA benefits.

VA Disability

The VA considers mesothelioma a presumptive condition, meaning veterans can qualify for disability compensation if they were exposed to asbestos during their service and later develop the disease. The VA presumes that exposure during service caused the disease. Mesothelioma has a 100 percent disability rating, entitling veterans to the maximum monthly compensation amount.

The 2024 VA disability rate for mesothelioma is $3,737.85 per month for a single veteran. Higher rates are available for veterans with dependents. To qualify, veterans must provide medical evidence of their diagnosis and records showing their probable asbestos exposure during naval service.

In addition to monthly payments, a 100 percent disability rating provides other valuable benefits, including priority VA health care enrollment, travel allowances, educational and employment benefits, home and vehicle adaptation grants, and more.

VA Pension

Low-income Navy veterans with mesothelioma may be eligible for a VA pension in addition to or instead of disability compensation. The pension is a needs-based benefit designed to bring a veteran’s total income up to a minimum level set by Congress.

Eligibility for the VA pension requires the veteran to have served during wartime, meet certain income and net worth limits, and be 65 or older or have a permanent disability, including mesothelioma.

Veterans cannot get VA pensions and disability compensation simultaneously. Thus, if you are diagnosed with service-connected mesothelioma, you would probably collect the higher disability payment at the 100 percent rating for the disease. However, if you have a lower-rated asbestos-related disability, a pension may be an option.

Aid and Attendance

Navy veterans with mesothelioma who need help with daily living activities may qualify for the Aid and Attendance allowance. This benefit provides additional monthly compensation on top of the VA Pension or disability compensation to help cover the costs of in-home care, assisted living, or nursing home care.

To qualify, veterans must need assistance with activities like bathing, dressing, and feeding themselves or have limited mobility or eyesight.

You may also be eligible for Housebound benefits if you get a VA pension and you spend most of your time in your home because of a permanent disability. However, you can’t receive Aid and Attendance and Housebound benefits simultaneously.

Mesothelioma Compensation for Navy Veterans

Navy veterans with mesothelioma may also be able to obtain compensation through legal claims against the asbestos companies that supplied the Navy.

Navy Mesothelioma Lawsuit

While veterans cannot sue the military directly, they can file lawsuits against the manufacturers of the asbestos products they were exposed to during their service. Many companies that made asbestos-containing materials for the Navy knew of the health risks but failed to warn veterans.

Some of the largest asbestos companies to be sued by Navy veterans include Johns-Manville, Owens Corning, W.R. Grace, and Foster Wheeler. An experienced mesothelioma lawyer can identify the companies responsible for a veteran’s exposure and pursue a lawsuit on their behalf.

Settlement Amounts

Most successful Navy mesothelioma lawsuits result in settlements rather than going to trial. The average settlement is around $1 million, but some cases have resulted in amounts as high as $100 million. Factors affecting mesothelioma settlement amounts include:

  • The veteran’s age and health
  • The severity of their illness
  • The strength of evidence linking their cancer to naval asbestos exposure
  • The number of companies sued
  • The state where the lawsuit is filed

While not all cases result in such large amounts, an experienced attorney can help veterans seek fair compensation.

Asbestos Trust Fund Claims for Navy Veterans

Many companies that manufactured asbestos-containing materials opted to file for bankruptcy protection amid the mounting lawsuits filed against them. The courts required the companies to establish trust funds to ensure future mesothelioma victims can still receive compensation. Therefore, many Navy veterans are eligible to file claims with asbestos trust funds.

To qualify for a trust fund claim, Navy veterans must provide proof of their diagnosis and exposure to the bankrupt company’s asbestos products during their service. Trust fund claims are typically processed faster than a lawsuit and can provide quicker access to compensation.

However, the payment from a trust fund claim is often lower than a veteran might receive from a successful lawsuit verdict or settlement. A knowledgeable mesothelioma attorney can advise veterans on balancing trust fund claims and lawsuits to get their fair compensation.

Contact Veterans Guide and Hire a Mesothelioma Lawyer

An experienced mesothelioma lawyer can identify who is responsible for your asbestos exposure in the Navy, advise you of the benefits and compensation you can recover, assist you with your VA claim, and pursue mesothelioma lawsuits and asbestos trust fund claims for you.

If you or someone you love was exposed to asbestos while in the military, contact Veterans Guide for help. We can connect you with an experienced mesothelioma lawyer.

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