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.
What Is Mesothelioma?
The rare cancer mesothelioma is caused by asbestos, a group of minerals that are remarkably durable and fire-resistant. Because of these attributes, manufacturers included asbestos in thousands of products during the 1900s, especially construction materials such as insulation. Unfortunately, there is a significant downside to what was once considered a “miracle mineral.” Asbestos is made up of microscopic fibers. When the material is damaged or disturbed, these fibers can become airborne and enter the body, which has no way of expelling them. Over time, the asbestos fibers can damage to the mesothelium, the thin tissue that lines the organs of the chest and abdominal cavities.
Although asbestos can cause other forms of cancer as well as another lung condition called asbestosis, mesothelioma is the most devastating asbestos-caused disease.
Asbestos Use in the Navy
Asbestos, a mineral prized for its durable, fire-resistant nature, was used extensively by the U.S. Navy during much of the 20th century. The Navy used the material as insulation to prevent fires on board ships and submarines.
The surgeon general of the Navy released a report in 1939 that connected asbestos to debilitating lung conditions. However, although asbestos was a known carcinogen, manufacturers continued distributing the material to the military, which continued to use it.
Where Were Navy Veterans Exposed to Asbestos?
The Navy used asbestos 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. This meant that asbestos was an unknown but ever-present threat, putting generations of service men and women at risk. Some of the Navy roles with the highest risk of asbestos 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 most asbestos exposure. However, the abundant use of the toxic material — coupled with poor ventilation — put all Navy 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 carcinogenic 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 with or near asbestos in the past, speak with your doctor immediately and let them know about your potential history with asbestos.
- Abdominal pain and swelling
- Body aches
- Bowel obstruction
- Blood clots
- Chest pain
- Coughing up blood
- Difficulty swallowing or breathing
- Fever/night sweats
- Fluid build up 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 symptoms. Early detection can significantly improve a mesothelioma or other asbestos-related cancer prognosis.
Next Steps for Navy Veterans Diagnosed with Mesothelioma
Many Navy 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 (honorable, under honorable conditions, general). However, some veterans who received undesirable, bad conduct, or other types of dishonorable discharges may still qualify for VA benefits. The VA will determine this. All veterans with mesothelioma regardless of the character of their discharge may also consider filing a legal claim.
Applying for Veterans Benefits
For Navy veterans with mesothelioma 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 your doctor 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. This includes veterans who were dishonorably discharged or discharged for bad conduct, as well as veterans who were honorably discharged or who received a general discharge or discharge under honorable conditions.
An experienced mesothelioma attorney can guide you through the process of filing a lawsuit or filing a claim against an asbestos trust fund. Contact us today for a free case evaluation by a lawyer who specializes in asbestos law.