Written By: Devin Golden

Mesothelioma and the Navy

There’s a strong link between mesothelioma and U.S. Navy veterans. This branch has the most veterans with mesothelioma in the military. Navy veterans such as yourself or a loved one are eligible for VA benefits if you have mesothelioma, likely due to asbestos on ships and submarines.

Retired LCDR Carl Jewett

Reviewed By

Retired LCDR Carl Jewett

VA-Accredited Claims Agent


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Important Facts About Asbestos and Mesothelioma in the Navy

  • Asbestos use spiked during World War II, as the military mass-produced ships and built the world’s largest fleet. The trend continued until the 1980s, meaning veterans serving during this period faced the highest rates of exposure.
  • Naval ships and shipyards were the most frequent sites of asbestos exposure. Everyone from shipbuilders to Navy officers serving onboard ships spent hours, days and weeks around asbestos.
  • Navy veterans with mesothelioma typically receive the full amount of Disability Compensation from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Payment starts at $3,146 per month for single veterans. It increases for married veterans or those with a dependent child.

Rates of Navy Veterans With Mesothelioma

Veterans account for one-third of people with mesothelioma. There are around 3,000 cases in the U.S. each year, which means nearly 1,000 are veterans. Hundreds of them are Navy veterans, accounting for the highest number of veterans with mesothelioma.

The Boston VA health care system reported that 56 veterans mesothelioma cases occurred from 2011-2016. Half of them (28) were Navy veterans.

One study published in the International Journal of Radiation Biology discovered an increase in mesothelioma deaths among Navy veterans. Navy veterans had between three and five times the rate of mesothelioma deaths compared to other branches. The only explanation given was asbestos exposure on Navy ships.

Even in other countries, the rates of mesothelioma for seamen far outweigh the rates for the general population. A report in the European Journal of Cancer Prevention included all reports of seamen working aboard ships, either commercial vessels or military ships, who later developed mesothelioma. There were 235 cases or deaths of mesothelioma found, more than double the 115 expected to be found based on the rates of mesothelioma.

Asbestos on Navy Ships

Every ship built between the 1930s and 1970s contained asbestos. More than 300 asbestos products were used, and thousands of pounds of asbestos were used on some ships.

Asbestos causes cancer, which is why it was a problem for the military to use and companies to manufacture during the 20th century. Navy veterans were exposed to asbestos, and some developed mesothelioma or lung cancer. Asbestos is inhaled or ingested and can stick into tissue linings, such as the mesothelial cell linings or lung tissue.

Why the Navy Built Ships With Asbestos

The reason for using asbestos on Navy ships is simple: The heat generated in these vessels created a fire risk, which the military tried to avoid.

At the time, during the mid-20th century, asbestos was the go-to insulation and fireproofing material to keep people onboard safe. The military didn’t know asbestos was unsafe, as they were following the lead of construction companies using asbestos for homes, offices and more.

Unfortunately, asbestos materials in any confined space may result in exposure. Materials decay with time and tiny fragments of asbestos dust can break apart. This can cause mesothelioma and asbestos lung cancer.

Where Was Asbestos on Navy Ships?

Asbestos use wasn’t limited to specific vessels. It had applications in virtually every ship, from small patrol boats to aircraft carriers.

Regardless of the type of vessel, asbestos was used in:

  • Engine and boiler rooms
  • Insulation
  • Deck tiles
  • Firewalls and doors
  • Pipe lagging and pipe fittings
  • Gaskets, valves and pumps
  • Wardrooms and berthing spaces
  • Pump rooms
  • Galleys and mess decks
  • Rudders, propellers, cranes and turrets
  • Officer quarters
  • Captain’s and admiral’s cabins
  • Sick bay

Asbestos was often added to different materials to fire-proof them. Asbestos usually is white in appearance and looks like a clump of cloth. It was applied it to:

  • Adhesives
  • Mixtures
  • Compounds
  • Boiler insulation
  • Pipe insulation
  • Electrical wiring and cables
  • Deck covering
  • Gaskets
  • Panels
  • Paint
  • Pumps
  • Spray-on insulation
  • Valves

This puts most Navy veterans at some level of risk to asbestos exposure, especially if they served prior to 1980.

In the late 1970s, the Environmental Protection Agency and Occupational Safety and Health Administration began implementing and enforcing safety standards for asbestos. As a result, asbestos was no longer produced in large capacities for Navy usage.

Types of Navy Ships With Asbestos

Asbestos was used on all types of ships in the U.S. Navy. The risk of fire at sea was relevant for all vessels.

The types of Navy ships made with asbestos included:

Navy Occupations and Asbestos Exposure

Shipyard workers and sailors were at the greatest risk of asbestos exposure. This is because of the industrial nature of shipyard work. Everyone from the commanding officer to the lowest-ranking seaman faced some risk when the shipyard was available to the military.

Shipyard work tends to produce a large amount of asbestos dust, which is when the mineral becomes dangerous. This puts everyone at risk regardless of whether they worked with asbestos directly. Similarly, many occupations on board vessels naturally had an increased risk of exposure. Navy veterans working these jobs were more likely to get mesothelioma or lung cancer.

The International Journal of Radiation Biology reported a few Navy occupations at high risk of mesothelioma. They were:

  • Machinist’s mate
  • Boiler technicians
  • Water tender
  • Pipefitters
  • Fireman

Other occupations with high risks of asbestos exposure were:

  • Hull technician/welder
  • Electrician’s mate
  • Steelworker
  • Seabees
  • Damage controlman
  • Machinery repairman
  • Gunner’s mate
  • Boatswain’s mate
  • Aviation machinist’s mate
  • Aviation boatswain’s mate
  • Storekeepers

Mesothelioma Compensation for Navy Veterans

Navy veterans with mesothelioma can file claims and receive compensation. There are two types of claims:

  • VA claims
  • Legal claims

VA Mesothelioma Claims for Navy Veterans

Navy veterans with mesothelioma may qualify for benefits from VA claims. The type depends on how often the veteran was exposed to asbestos during military service compared to as a civilian.

Navy veterans exposed to asbestos mostly during their service can receive VA Disability Compensation. The monthly benefit starts at $3,146. The amount can go above $3,500 if the veteran has a spouse and dependent children.

Veterans exposed mostly as a civilian can file for VA Pension. This is an income-based benefit that is usually smaller than VA Disability Compensation.

Other VA claims for Navy veterans with mesothelioma include:

  • Survivors Pension
  • Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (disability benefits for survivors)
  • Housebound benefits

Mesothelioma Settlements for Navy Veterans

There were a few reports outlining the hazards of asbestos for military personnel. However, the risks were not widely known until the 1970s and 1980s. Manufacturing companies producing asbestos products kept the dangers of their profitable commodities a secret.

In fact, they actively engaged in preventing the government from knowing about its dangers. Therefore, it was impossible for the government to warn the military.

The manipulation by these companies makes them responsible for thousands of mesothelioma cases each year. They’re just as responsible for cases involving Navy veterans.

Navy veterans with mesothelioma can file legal claims. These often lead to asbestos settlements. The average amount for a mesothelioma recovery is $1 million to $1.4 million, which usually comes from settlements and asbestos trust funds.

How Can Navy Veterans Take Action?

Navy veterans are the largest single group of mesothelioma diagnoses in the military. Thankfully, there are free resources available to help Navy veterans. Veteran service representatives are available to help with VA claims, which is how veterans gain access to monthly benefits.

Our VA-accredited claims agent, LCDR Carl Jewett, is a retired Navy veteran. He spent most of his 24-year submarine career in the engine room. Following his retirement from the Navy, he became an expert at filing VA claims and getting veterans approved for VA benefits for asbestos illnesses.

Frequently Asked Questions About Navy Veterans and Mesothelioma

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When did the use of asbestos increase in the Navy?

World War II caused the biggest spike in asbestos use during the 20th century. The rampant production of Navy ships helped create the world’s most powerful fleet. This manufacturing relied on asbestos, which was easy to find, cheap to produce and sensible to implement as a safeguard from fires at sea.

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Which Navy occupations were at risk of exposure to asbestos?

Most occupations onboard naval ships faced regular exposure to asbestos. Some of the at-risk jobs included:

  • Shipbuilder
  • Steelworker
  • Welder or hull technician
  • Boiler technician
  • Electrician
  • Machinist or machinery repair worker
  • Pipefitter or shipfitter
  • Gunner’s mate
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Do some Navy ships still include asbestos?

Starting in the 1980s, the military phased out asbestos as a central component of Navy ships. Therefore, Navy veterans who served prior to the 1980s face the greatest risk of mesothelioma. Many older ships built prior to this time had asbestos removed for safety, but some ships still have asbestos present.

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What benefits are available to Navy veterans with mesothelioma?

Navy veterans with mesothelioma can file for monthly compensation, health care, specialized treatment and asbestos trust funds. VA claims, in the form of either Disability Compensation or Pension, provide financial assistance for Navy veterans who have this cancer.

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How do I access these VA benefits?

The quickest way to access VA benefits is by speaking with a VA claims agent. These experts can detail whether you’re eligible for compensation, health care or legal claims. They’ll also help you find treatment at a VA hospital with a mesothelioma specialist on staff.

Sources & Author

  1. Blake, Charles L., Giffe T. Johnson, Raymond D. Harbison. (2009). Airborne asbestos exposure during light aircraft brake replacement. Tampa, FL.
  2. Mesothelioma among seamen: a systematic review and meta-analysis. European Journal of Cancer Prevention. Retrieved from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/38502527/. Accessed: 04/05/2024.
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About the Writer, Retired LCDR Carl Jewett, VA Claims Agent

LCDR Carl Jewett is a retired Naval Officer who serves as the Veterans Department Director and Patient Services Director at Mesothelioma Guide. He is a VA-Accredited Claims Agent with more than 14 years of experience filing asbestos-related VA claims. He has helped over 1400 veterans who have been diagnosed with asbestos-related illnesses get approved for VA Disability Compensation, VA Pension, and/or Aid & Attendance benefits. Because veteran’s are also entitled to compensation through the legal system, Carl has communicated with many mesothelioma law firms across the country. He has gained extensive knowledge of asbestos trust funds, mesothelioma lawsuits, settlements, and the claims process. He provides both veterans and civilians with information regarding their legal options.