History of Mesothelioma and the Navy
Veterans make up approximately 30 percent of mesothelioma diagnoses in the United States. Of all the military branches, the Navy was the largest consumer of asbestos products. For this reason, Navy vets face the highest risk of developing mesothelioma later in life.
What Is Mesothelioma?
The rare cancer mesothelioma is caused by asbestos, a group of minerals that are remarkably rugged and fire-resistant. Because of these attributes, manufacturers included asbestos in thousands of products during the 20th century (especially construction materials such as insulation).
Unfortunately, asbestos is made up of microscopic fibers that, when damaged or disturbed, can become airborne and enter the body. When this occurs, the body has no way of expelling them. Over time, these fibers can damage the mesothelium (the thin tissue that lines the organs of the chest and abdominal cavities).
Although asbestos can cause other forms of cancer (such as asbestosis) mesothelioma is the most devastating related disease.
Where Were Navy Sailors Exposed to Asbestos?
For decades, the Navy used asbestos as insulation to prevent fires on its ships and submarines. In 1939, the surgeon general of the Navy released a report that connected asbestos to debilitating lung conditions. However, manufacturers continued distributing the material to the military, which continued to use it.
It was used in weapons, on bases, in vehicles, and on ships and submarines. Because of its heat-resistant nature, the material was primarily used in insulation and could be found in walls, floors, pipes, and motors. It was especially common in rooms that required extra fire-proof insulation, such as engine rooms, boiler rooms, and weapons storage areas. Asbestos was even used in mess halls and barracks. Subsequently, the toxic fiber is an unknown but ever-present threat, putting generations of servicemen and women at risk. Some of the roles with the highest risk of exposure included:
- Aviation machinist mates
- Boiler technicians
- Damage controlmen
- Electrician’s mates
- Gunner’s mates
- Hull maintenance technicians
- Machinery repair technicians
Because the Navy was so reliant on asbestos to prevent fires on ships and submarines, boilermakers and shipyard workers faced the highest amounts of exposure. However, the abundant use of the carcinogenic material — coupled with poor ventilation — put all DoD employees at risk, even those in clerical and administrative roles.
Many sailors went into the workforce after they left the Navy. Since asbestos was also used extensively in manufacturing and in the automotive and construction industries, this potentially prolonged these veterans’ exposure to the mineral.
Symptoms of Mesothelioma
Mesothelioma has a long latency period (meaning the time between exposure to asbestos and the onset of symptoms). This rare form of cancer can take between 10 and 60 years to develop. If you are exhibiting any of the symptoms listed below and know that you may have worked near asbestos in the past, speak with your doctor immediately and let them know about your history.
- Abdominal pain and swelling
- Body aches
- Bowel obstruction
- Blood clots
- Chest pain
- Coughing up blood
- Difficulty swallowing or breathing
- Fever/night sweats
- Fluid buildup around the lungs
- Loss of appetite
- Persistent dry cough
- Shortness of breath
- Weight loss
These are the most common symptoms of mesothelioma, but this list is not comprehensive. If you believe you may have been exposed to asbestos during or after your military service, speak with your doctor right away, regardless of your symptoms. Early detection can significantly improve a cancer prognosis.
Many veterans with mesothelioma are eligible for veterans benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). In general, in order to receive veterans benefits and services through the VA, the veteran must have been discharged under other-than-dishonorable conditions. However, some veterans who received undesirable, bad conduct, or other types of dishonorable discharges may still qualify for VA benefits. All veterans with mesothelioma, regardless of the character of their discharge, should also consider filing a legal claim.
Applying for Veterans Benefits
For veterans who qualify for VA benefits, these may include disability compensation, health insurance, life insurance, and compensation for survivors and dependants in cases where the veteran has passed away. You will likely need to produce the following documentation in order to qualify for benefits and compensation:
- Service records listing your job within the Navy or area of expertise
- Medical records stating your illness or disability
- Documentation of mesothelioma diagnosis linking asbestos exposure during your time in the military to your disability
You can find more information about how to apply for veterans’ benefits on the VA’s website. However, we recommend working with an experienced VA claims specialist when filing any veterans claim for benefits related to mesothelioma.
Filing a Legal Claim
If you are a Navy veteran who has been diagnosed with mesothelioma or another asbestos-related disease, you may also seek compensation by taking legal action against the asbestos company or companies responsible for your diagnosis.