Asbestos is a highly toxic fibrous substance that was widely used in construction and manufacturing during the 20th century, including in the United States Armed Forces. Thousands of Americans have been diagnosed with mesothelioma, a devastating cancer, after being exposed to asbestos decades ago. Unfortunately, the United States Armed Forces are no exception, as one in three new mesothelioma diagnoses today are veterans of the American military.
Asbestos was used across all branches of the military from 1930 until the 1980s, and unfortunately, veterans of the United States Navy may be at higher risk for having been exposed to asbestos than veterans of other service branches. When a veteran is exposed to asbestos during their service and later contracts mesothelioma, he or she may be eligible to receive compensation.
Asbestos Exposure and Mesothelioma
Asbestos is a fibrous material that is composed of microscopic fibers that mesh together to make an inexpensive, fireproof, waterproof, and durable material. Asbestos can take many different forms – in construction contexts, it is frequently used as a pillowy insulation material, and in manufacturing contexts, it can be used for rigid, durable parts.
Because of the microscopic fibers that make up asbestos, those fibers can break loose when disturbed or exposed to air, thus clinging to skin, hair, and clothing, and otherwise floating through the air. Today, any exposure to airborne asbestos would warrant a heavy duty respirator, as inhaling asbestos can cause cancer and other dangerous health conditions.
But during the height of its use during the 20th century, it was not known to be toxic and carcinogenic. Because of that lack of knowledge, asbestos was freely inhaled by a countless number of people. Many of those people developed mesothelioma later in life – sometimes even decades later. In addition to mesothelioma, exposure to asbestos can also cause other asbestos-related conditions, which include the following and can usually result in compensation in the same manner as mesothelioma:
- Lung cancer
- Colorectal cancer
- Stomach cancer
- Throat cancer
- Ovarian cancer
- Pleural plaque and thickening
Asbestos in the Navy
The United States Navy used asbestos in almost all of its newly built ships from the early 1900s until the 1970s. Most often, the Navy used asbestos as a fireproof insulation and as a fireproofing material for other construction components, such as flooring, cladding, and drywall. In combination with asbestos being inexpensive, its fireproof and waterproof qualities made it attractive for usage on ships because it lessened the risk of fires breaking out onboard. Because the Navy was not aware of asbestos’ toxic properties, Navy veterans who handled the material did so without any precaution or protection from inhaling asbestos fibers.
Asbestos on Navy Boats and Ships
While asbestos was used in virtually every part of a navy ship, some parts of Navy vessels were more prone to cause asbestos exposure than others. Because asbestos was used as a heat insulator, it was often used in high volumes in rooms onboard ships that contained machinery that could reach high temperatures, such as boiler rooms and engine rooms.
These spaces were often located in the belly of a ship, with minimal air circulation and poor ventilation to the outside air. Thus, when asbestos was exposed to the air, it stayed in the air for longer periods of time, and the workers in these rooms were at a much higher risk for prolonged exposure to asbestos. But in addition to boiler rooms, asbestos could be found in generally all areas of the ship due to a lack of ventilation, the transferable nature of asbestos fibers, and the manner in which asbestos was used in so many components of the ship itself – including in ventilation ducts.
More specifically, asbestos could be found in the following parts of a Navy vessel:
- Wall insulation
- Pipe insulation and electrical wiring insulation
- Flooring materials
- Ceiling tiles
- Adhesives and filters
- Ventilation ducts
- Packing materials
- Gaskets and pumps
Types of Navy Vessels with Known Asbestos Usage
Asbestos could be found in virtually every Navy vessel built in between the early 1900s and the 1970s. The vessels on which asbestos was used include boats and ships of all sizes and uses, including:
- Aircraft carriers
- Destroyer ships
Common Navy Jobs With Asbestos Risk
After asbestos is exposed to the open air anywhere onboard a Navy vessel, those asbestos fibers were likely to travel far. In addition to sticking onto skin, hair, and clothing, the poor ventilation onboard Navy vessels allowed asbestos fibers to travel openly through the air below deck. Thus, it would not be uncommon for asbestos fibers to be present in all parts of the ship, including in barracks, cafeterias, and common areas, putting all service members on board at risk of exposure.
Nonetheless, some jobs onboard Navy ships remained at a much higher risk for repeated exposure to asbestos than others. These jobs usually involved working in steam rooms or boiler rooms, where asbestos was frequently used in high volumes, and where exposed asbestos was more likely to be seen than in commonly used areas of the ship. The most common Navy jobs at high risk for asbestos exposure include the following:
- Electricians and pipefitters
- Submarine workers
- Machinists and engine mechanics
- Construction and ship repair workers
- Culinary workers and maintenance staff
Navy Shipyards and Asbestos Exposure
In addition to exposure onboard active Navy vessels, many Navy veterans were exposed to asbestos at Navy shipyards, where vessels are built, repaired, and maintained. In Navy shipyards, veterans frequently handled asbestos materials directly with no type of protection while building and repairing ships.
These workers handled and installed asbestos insulation, and also worked with asbestos material in rigid form. When rigid form asbestos is cut, its fibers are released into the air in very large quantities, thus putting workers at high risk for inhalation. Shipyard workers are at the highest risk of developing mesothelioma due to their prolonged and repeated exposure to asbestos materials.
Navy Veterans and Risk for Mesothelioma
Due to many various factors, including the lack of ventilation onboard vessels and the manner in which asbestos was used in virtually all aspects of ship construction, Navy veterans are at a significantly higher risk for developing mesothelioma than veterans of other branches of the Armed Forces. Because the risks of asbestos were not discovered until the 1970s, any Navy veteran who served between 1930 and 1970 is at high risk for developing mesothelioma. That time period includes World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, but even veterans of the Gulf War in the 1990s may be at risk, as it remains unclear whether the Navy has completely remediated its ships of asbestos products and materials.
Today, any Navy veteran who believes that he or she may have been exposed to asbestos during service should talk to their doctor about their risk for developing mesothelioma. As is the same with any form of cancer, early detection is key in treatment, and a doctor can assist veterans with looking for signs and symptoms of mesothelioma.
Secondhand Exposure to Asbestos
Because asbestos fibers can cling to any surface, including the human body and the clothing which covers it, they are highly mobile, and can be transferred from space to space by a person who was exposed. Many times, Navy veterans who experienced repeated and prolonged exposures to asbestos could carry the asbestos fibers back home to their family members, causing a “secondhand” exposure to asbestos.
These family members, upon inhaling the asbestos fibers, were thus at risk for developing mesothelioma and other asbestos-related conditions. Today, these military family members who are victims of secondhand exposure may be entitled to receive compensation in the same manner as a military veteran who was directly exposed to asbestos.
Compensation Sources for Navy Veterans
The asbestos crisis is one of the greatest injustices in American history, and especially in the manner that it has affected our country’s veterans. American veterans choose to put their lives on the line to defend our country, and they deserve respect and honor for that choice. In concealing the risks associated with exposure to asbestos, manufacturers committed a hugely wrongful act. Today, affected veterans may be able to seek legal recourse against manufacturers of asbestos, in addition to seeking funding from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
VA Benefits and Programs
The Department of Veterans Affairs administers a variety of programs and benefits that may provide funding to eligible veterans and their families. While none of these programs are specifically directed toward mesothelioma victims, they do provide benefits for disabilities, and the VA considers mesothelioma and other asbestos-related illnesses to be qualifying disabilities. In order to be eligible for VA funding, a qualifying veteran must have:
- Served on active duty and received an honorable discharge
- Been diagnosed with mesothelioma or another asbestos-related illness
- Been exposed to asbestos during service time in the military
These eligibility requirements are general, and each of these programs has its own specific requirements, along with procedures for obtaining funding. A mesothelioma attorney can assist you and your family in assessing your eligibility for benefits and accessing funding where available.
VA Disability Payments
VA disability benefits provide a tax-free monthly payment to veterans who have been disabled because of their service in the military. Mesothelioma is a qualifying disability, and if mesothelioma can be linked to an asbestos exposure during service, an eligible veteran receives a monthly check from the VA to assist with living expenses and medical costs.
VA Pension Benefits
Pension benefits provide a monthly payment in a similar fashion as disability payments, but pension benefits are only accessible to low-income veterans who must fall below an income threshold set by Congress.
In-Home Healthcare Benefits
Aid and attendance benefits, sometimes called “A&A” benefits, are designed to assist eligible veterans with paying for in-home health care. A&A benefits can be awarded in addition to other VA benefits. The VA also offers housebound benefits to veterans who are unable to leave home due to their disabilities. These benefits can be used toward in-home healthcare or as supplemental income to other benefits programs.
Legal Action Against Asbestos Manufacturers
Importantly, the US government and the Navy cannot be sued for asbestos-related injuries, but manufacturers of asbestos materials can be sued. Since the public has become aware of the risks associated with asbestos exposure, it has also been discovered that the manufacturers of asbestos products knew of those risks but continued to sell asbestos without disclosing them. As a result, thousands of lawsuits have been filed by mesothelioma victims and their families against asbestos manufacturing companies to seek compensation.
Navy veterans may be able to take legal action against asbestos manufacturers if their asbestos exposure can be traced back to a specific manufacturer. An attorney can assist you in determining which types of compensation you may be eligible for. Additionally, legal action against asbestos manufacturers is entirely separate from the VA benefits process, and should not affect your eligibility unless you are receiving a VA pension due to low-income status.
Asbestos Trust Funds
Because so many mesothelioma lawsuits have been filed in recent years, many asbestos manufacturers have organized asbestos trust funds which hold money to be accessed by victims of asbestos exposure. These funds are usually offered as settlement money in exchange for a promise not to sue the company, and they can sometimes be accessed without filing a lawsuit. There are more than 100 asbestos trust funds in the United States today, and each has its own requirements and procedures for accessing funding. A mesothelioma attorney can assist you in determining whether you may be able to access an asbestos trust fund.
Lawsuits and Settlements
Sometimes, a lawsuit needs to be filed to access a trust fund. Otherwise, if a mesothelioma victim is not eligible to access an asbestos trust fund, they may be able to file a personal injury lawsuit against the manufacturer directly. In filing such a lawsuit, victims may be able to obtain a settlement or a jury verdict entitling them to compensation from an asbestos manufacturer.
Get in Touch With a Mesothelioma Lawyer
Our team understands the devastating nature of mesothelioma, and we understand the need to ensure that our veterans are taken care of. We’re committed to assisting Navy veterans and their families in accessing as much compensation that they may be entitled to receive.
To get started with your prospective claims for compensation, contact our office today to set up a free consultation with a member of our team.