Written By: Devin Golden

Asbestos Exposure and Mesothelioma for Marine Corps Veterans

Veterans of the U.S. Marines Corps are at risk of developing mesothelioma, a rare cancer caused by exposure to the mineral asbestos. This mineral was used to build or repair tanks, aircraft, vehicles, barracks and Navy ships, all of which are locations where Marines spent time.

Retired LCDR Carl Jewett

Reviewed By

Retired LCDR Carl Jewett

VA-Accredited Claims Agent

Retired LCDR Carl Jewett

Reviewed By

Retired LCDR Carl Jewett

VA-Accredited Claims Agent


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Important Facts About Asbestos Exposure and Mesothelioma in the Marine Corps

  • Many veterans of the Marine Corps were exposed to asbestos, either onboard Navy ships or from asbestos products used in Marine Corps vehicles, aircraft or buildings. 
  • U.S. Marine Corps veteran Steve McQueen, a famous actor most known for his role in the movie “The Great Escape,” died of mesothelioma. He was exposed to asbestos during his service in the Marine Corps.
  • Marines stationed aboard Navy ships were at the highest risk of asbestos exposure due to the amount of asbestos used in the construction of Navy vessels.
  • The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers benefits to Marine Corps veterans with mesothelioma and their family members, such as VA Disability Compensation, VA Pension, Aid & Attendance and more. These benefits provide essential financial compensation.

Rates of Mesothelioma for Marine Corps Veterans

The high rates of veterans with mesothelioma are due to how much asbestos was present in military ships, aircraft, barracks and more. The military relied on asbestos through the beginning and middle of the 20th century, with usage surging during World War II and continuing through nearly all of the Cold War period.

Asbestos was valued for its durability and fire resistance. It was manufactured into many materials used to build ships, aircraft, barracks and more. However, asbestos fell out of favor during the late 1970s when the public and military learned how dangerous it was. Companies began using alternatives and asbestos lost its place in American industrialism.

Exposure to asbestos, a naturally occurring mineral, can cause mesothelioma, lung cancer, ovarian cancer and other deadly health conditions. Mesothelioma is a rare cancer primarily of the linings around the lungs and abdominal cavity.

There are nearly 3,000 cases of mesothelioma diagnosed in the U.S. each year, and approximately 30% of the people diagnosed are veterans. According to the Boston VA, doctors treated 65 cases of veterans with mesothelioma between 2011 and 2016, and three of the cases were Marine veterans with mesothelioma.

Mesothelioma has a long latency period, which is the amount of time the cancer takes to develop. Mesothelioma has a latency period of 20-50 plus years, which explains why Marine Corps veterans exposed to asbestos during the mid- and late-20th century are being diagnosed today.

Asbestos is most dangerous when touched and disturbed, causing sharp fibers to break apart and contaminate the air. Veterans working in the area or sleeping in rooms with disturbed asbestos can inhale or swallow the fibers, which can get stuck in tissue linings, cause inflammation, and lead to cells mutating. This process is how cancer forms.

Actor Steve McQueen’s Death From Mesothelioma

Steve McQueen was a famous movie actor during the 1960s and 1970s and had his last few movies released in 1980. The actor was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 1979 and passed away less than one year later.

McQueen said he was exposed to asbestos during his Marine Corps service from 1947-1950. In an interview, he said he remembered asbestos around pipes in ship engine rooms where he was tasked with removing the asbestos pipe lagging. McQueen’s experience is similar to that of many other Marine Corps veterans.

How Were Marine Corps Veterans Exposed to Asbestos?

Veterans of the U.S. Marine Corps were exposed to asbestos both at sea and on land, as they could spend time in Army barracks or aboard Navy ships. Marines were exposed to asbestos during the 20th century in these locations and transports.

Marines were also exposed aboard aircraft. Asbestos was used to insulate jet engines. Marines working on aircraft as mechanics were likely exposed to asbestos. Other techs who repaired and maintained these planes often had to work with asbestos insulation and brakes containing asbestos.

Marine Asbestos Exposure in Navy Ships

Asbestos, which is durable and fire-resistant, was manufactured to help build Navy ships and protect against fires at sea.

Asbestos was present in Navy ship:

  • Boiler rooms
  • Engine rooms
  • Asbestos insulated pipes
  • Electrical wire conduits
  • Gaskets
  • Valves
  • Electrical boards
  • Decks
  • Bulkheads
  • Sleeping quarters

Since all ships built before the 1980s were made with asbestos, ships in drydock or in overhaul would often have asbestos stripped off of any system requiring it for insulation. Many Marines who served in shipyards, or those assigned to ships in a shipyard, also came in close contact with airborne asbestos.

Marine Exposure in Army Barracks

Asbestos was used to build Army barracks by adding the mineral to:

  • Ceiling tiles
  • Floor tiles
  • Pipes
  • HVAC systems
  • Electrical wires
  • Roofing materials

On-site military housing was rampant with asbestos. In May 2020, the Department of Defense Office of the Inspector General criticized the military after an investigation found thousands of housing units still containing asbestos. The investigation revealed inadequate asbestos record-keeping in some of these units, and the military failed to inform occupants that asbestos was present in other houses.

Asbestos Exposure at Yuma Marine Corps Air Station

In 1990, the Environmental Protection Agency declared the Marine Corps Air Station in Yuma a superfund site, which is an area highly contaminated with a hazardous substance due to improper management of a certain toxin. The EPA’s decision was due to asbestos contamination.

The agency found asbestos-containing materials (ACM) at three subsites and ordered the cleanup contractor to remove all visible asbestos. By 2001, all visible asbestos-containing materials were removed, but the study indicated the base placed “…a fence around the site and listed land use controls in the base master plan” in order to prevent any further exposure to asbestos.

Even though visible asbestos was removed by 2001, any Marine Corps members who served at the Yuma Air Station prior to the removal faced a risk of exposure.

Mesothelioma Compensation for Marine Corps Veterans and Families

Mesothelioma has impacted many Marine Corps veterans and their loved ones. Fortunately, there are resources available to help marines cope with this cancer.

The VA offers financial and health care benefits to veterans with mesothelioma. These benefits help pay for treatment, cover lost wages, relieve debt, and give veterans and families the financial stability that was put at risk due to their mesothelioma diagnosis.

The companies that sold asbestos to the military are responsible for mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases in veterans. Veterans or their surviving loved ones can file legal claims to receive compensation from these asbestos manufacturers. This compensation is separate from VA compensation, and veterans or their families can seek both independently of one another.

Mesothelioma VA Benefits for Marine Corps Veterans

VA benefits for Marine veterans with mesothelioma can help offset costs of living and other necessary expenses.

The benefits for veterans include:

  • VA Disability Compensation – If the veteran has “service-connected” mesothelioma, meaning at least 50% of their asbestos exposure occurred during military service
  • VA Pension – Wartime veterans with more than 50% of the their asbestos exposure occurring in their civilian career (outside of military service), if their income is below the limits set by Congress
  • Aid & Attendance – If the veteran requires the assistance of another person to perform at least two activities of daily living (the veteran may also receive additional compensation if a spouse requires Aid & Attendance)
  • VA Health Care If the veteran meets the criteria of one of the eight health care priority groups

VA compensation amounts vary if the Marine Corps veteran has a dependent spouse or dependent children.

Note: VA Health Care, which is not a financial compensation benefit, gives eligible veterans free health coverage and low or no-cost copayments for medical care, including mesothelioma treatment. Eligibility for VA Disability Compensation or VA Pension automatically qualifies them for Priority Group 1 or Priority Group 5, respectively.

Mesothelioma VA Benefits for Family Members of Marine Corps Veterans

Family members of Marine Corps veterans with mesothelioma are also affected by this cancer. Mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer, spreads quickly, and is associated with low survival rates. Many families are left without their loved one due to mesothelioma death.

VA benefits for family members of veterans with mesothelioma provide the spouse and dependent children with monthly assistance in the form of compensation, health care and reimbursements:

  • Dependency and Indemnity Compensation – If the deceased veteran had service-connected mesothelioma
  • Survivors Pension – If the veteran’s asbestos exposure primarily occurred in their civilian career, and if they served during a wartime period and their surviving family does not exceed certain income and net worth limits set by Congress
  • Aid & Attendance – If the surviving family member requires the assistance of another person to perform at least two activities of daily living
  • CHAMPVA – A health care program for spouses and children of disabled veterans available to family members regardless if the veteran is alive or deceased
  • Burial benefits – Financial assistance offered to families of deceased veterans to reimburse funeral costs

Legal Claims for Marine Veterans With Mesothelioma

Marine veterans with mesothelioma can file legal claims to receive compensation for their cancer diagnosis. The companies that manufactured asbestos chose profits over the health and safety of military personnel.

Filing legal claims is the most effective way to hold asbestos companies responsible for their negligent actions. A legal claim also ensures other companies do not repeat these actions and expose veterans to asbestos.

Note that mesothelioma legal claims are not filed against the U.S. military. They are filed against asbestos manufacturing companies that sold asbestos to the military.

The U.S. court system favors people with mesothelioma who file legal claims against asbestos companies. The courts often award mesothelioma compensation to veterans.

The amount of mesothelioma compensation varies. There are examples of verdicts and settlements exceeding $1 million.

The two types of mesothelioma legal claims are:

  • Asbestos trust funds — Filed with bankrupt asbestos companies’ trust funds that result in a fixed compensation amount previously established by the trustees
  • Mesothelioma lawsuits — Filed against viable (non-bankrupt) asbestos companies that often result in compensation through a settlement agreement or a verdict decided by a jury

An experienced mesothelioma lawyer can help Marine Corps veterans navigate the legal process and file the appropriate claim for their specific case. The veteran’s unique history of asbestos exposure – such as which companies produced the specific asbestos materials they were exposed to – will determine the type of claim.

Our mission at Mesothelioma Guide is to help veterans and civilians with mesothelioma find the support and resources they need. Contact our veterans advocate and VA-accredited claims agent, retired LCDR Carl Jewett for help filing VA benefits and finding a veteran-friendly mesothelioma law firm.

Carl is a 24-year Navy veteran and will help answer any questions regarding how Marine Corps veterans were exposed to asbestos and the resources available to them.

Mesothelioma Treatment for Marine Corps Veterans

U.S. Marine Corps veterans can seek mesothelioma treatment at VA medical centers or civilian hospitals with programs led by doctors who specialize in this cancer. The VA offers VA Health Care for veterans with mesothelioma, which can cover the cost of treatment.

Veterans with VA Health Care can receive treatment at one of the VA hospitals with mesothelioma treatment programs. The two VA medical centers with specialized mesothelioma programs are: 

If a veteran chooses to receive treatment from a civilian specialist, they must obtain a referral from the VA to receive VA Health Care coverage. Mesothelioma Guide veterans advocate Carl Jewett can help veterans through the referral process.

Mesothelioma Guide recommends veterans choose an experienced mesothelioma specialist rather than a general oncologist. Mesothelioma is a complex cancer, and specialized knowledge of the disease is needed to effectively treat it.

Treatment options for veterans with mesothelioma include:

The treatment a veteran receives heavily depends on the type of mesothelioma they have been diagnosed with, the stage of their cancer and their overall health.

Frequently Asked Questions About Mesothelioma and Asbestos Exposure for Marine Corps Veterans

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How often do marines develop mesothelioma?

Since mesothelioma is a rare cancer, there aren’t many cases of Marines diagnosed. However, they do happen, as military veterans account for approximately 30% of all cases. Steve McQueen, a famous actor and Marine Corps veteran, died of mesothelioma.

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Where were marines exposed to asbestos?

Marines were often exposed to asbestos in ships, aircraft, barracks and Marine Corps buildings. They were at risk of exposure in these settings, as they served both on land and at sea. Asbestos was used to insulate pipes, boilers, furnaces, engines and more in ships, jets and barracks.

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What benefits are available to Marine Corps veterans with mesothelioma?

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) provides financial benefits, such as VA Disability Compensation and VA Pension. Other benefits include compensation for surviving loved ones, free health care, burial reimbursement for families of deceased veterans, and access to state-of-the-art treatment.

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Can Marine Corps veterans receive any other mesothelioma compensation?

Yes, Marine Corps veterans with mesothelioma can receive compensation through mesothelioma legal claims. Options include mesothelioma lawsuits and asbestos trust funds. The same is true for the surviving family members of veterans who died of mesothelioma. Mesothelioma legal claims are filed against the asbestos manufacturing companies that sold asbestos to the military.

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Is the U.S. military or government involved in mesothelioma lawsuits filed by Marine Corps veterans?

No, mesothelioma lawsuits involving veterans and military asbestos exposure are not filed against the U.S. military or government. The military bought and used asbestos in aircraft, ships, barracks and more without knowing the harm it could cause. The companies that knew asbestos was dangerous – the manufacturing companies – are the subject of lawsuits filed by Marine Corps veterans.

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What mesothelioma support options are there for Marine Corps veterans and families?

Mesothelioma Guide provides several free support services to Marine veterans with mesothelioma and their families, along with veterans and families from the other military branches. Our VA-accredited claims agent can help veterans and their family members file for VA benefits such as VA Disability Compensation or VA Pension. He’ll also help with applying for VA Health Care and finding mesothelioma treatment. Mesothelioma Guide can also help find a mesothelioma lawyer for veterans if you wish to pursue legal action through a lawsuit or asbestos trust fund claim. Email our veterans advocate, Carl Jewett, at cjewett@mesotheliomaguide.com to get started.

Sources & Author

  1. Evaluation of the DoD’s Management of Health and Safety Hazards in Government-Owned and Government-Controlled Military Family Housing. Department of Defense Office of Inspector General. Retrieved from:
    https://www.dodig.mil/reports.html/Article/2174435/evaluation-of-the-dods-management-of-health-and-safety-hazards-in-government-ow/. Accessed: 05/13/2020.
  2. Yuma Marine Corps Air Station. United States Environmental Protection Agency. Retrieved from: https://cumulis.epa.gov/supercpad/SiteProfiles/index.cfm?fuseaction=second.cleanup&id=0900885. Accessed: 01/30/2021.
  3. FY2023 NDAA: Active Component End-Strength. Congressional Research Service. Retrieved from: https://crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/IN/IN11994/. Accessed: 03/21/2024.
  4. What kind of cancer did Steve McQueen have? Armco Asbestos Surveys. Retrieved from: https://www.armco.org.uk/asbestos-survey-news/steve-mcqueen-death/. Accessed: 01/30/2021.
  5. Malignant Pleural Mesothelioma (MPM): Analysis of Military Occupation Related to Asbestos Exposure and Subsequent VA Disability Entitlements in Veterans at the Boston VA (VABHS). AVAHO Updates. Retrieved from: https://www.mdedge.com/fedprac/avaho/article/113975/oncology/malignant-pleural-mesothelioma-mpm-analysis-military?sso=true. Accessed: 02/01/2021.
  6. Current Veterans disability compensation rates. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Retrieved from: https://www.va.gov/disability/compensation-rates/veteran-rates/. Accessed: 06/03/2024.
Devin Golden

About the Writer, Devin Golden

Devin Golden is a content writer for Mesothelioma Guide. He produces mesothelioma-related content on various mediums, including the Mesothelioma Guide website and social media channels. Devin's objective is to translate complex information regarding mesothelioma into informative, easily absorbable content to help patients and their loved ones.