Written By: Devin Golden

Asbestos Exposure and Mesothelioma for Navy Veterans

Due to the extensive use of asbestos in shipbuilding, veterans who served in the U.S. Navy have a significantly high risk of developing asbestos-related diseases, such as mesothelioma. This risk extends beyond those who served on Navy ships to personnel stationed or working in shipyards where asbestos exposure was even more prevalent, attributing to the number of veterans with mesothelioma. As a result, U.S. Navy veterans have the highest rates of mesothelioma of all military branches.

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


jump to icon


Important Facts About Asbestos and Mesothelioma in the Navy

  • During World War II, the military used asbestos to mass-produce ships and build the world’s largest fleet to support the war effort. Asbestos use continued until the 1980s, meaning Navy veterans serving through the Cold War period were all potentially exposed to asbestos.
  • Navy ships and shipyards were the most common sites for asbestos exposure. Everyone from shipbuilders to Naval officers serving on board ships spent hours, days and weeks surrounded by asbestos in bulkheads, overheads, decks, boilers, heaters and more.
  • Navy veterans with mesothelioma are eligible to file claims with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to receive benefits such as Disability Compensation, Pension, Aid & Attendance and free Health Care.

Rates of Navy Veterans With Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma is a rare and aggressive cancer caused only by asbestos exposure. Although the military used asbestos for its durability, insulation qualities and fire resistance, it can easily break apart when disturbed, contaminating the air with microscopic asbestos fibers. Airborne asbestos fibers can be inhaled or ingested, potentially causing mesothelioma to form decades later.

Nearly 30% of annual mesothelioma diagnoses are veterans of the U.S. military. There are less than 3,000 new cases of mesothelioma diagnosed in the U.S. each year, which means approximately 1,000 are veterans, with the majority of them being Navy veterans.

According to the Boston VA health care system, doctors reportedly treated 56 veterans mesothelioma cases from 2011-2016, and half of these cases (28) were Navy veterans.

Asbestos on Navy Ships

Every Navy ship built between the 1930s and 1970s contained large amounts of asbestos. More than 300 asbestos-containing products and materials were used during construction, and – in some cases – thousands of pounds of asbestos were installed on Navy vessels.

Why the Navy Built Ships With Asbestos

During the mid-20th century, asbestos was the dominant material employed across various industries for insulation and fireproofing due to its unique properties.

In naval shipbuilding, asbestos served a critical role in:

  • Thermal management – Effectively insulating high-temperature components within the ship’s systems
  • Friction reduction – Enhancing the durability of components subject to friction
  • Fire prevention – Mitigating the spread of fire, a significant concern on naval vessels

However, it is now recognized that the manufacturers and distributors of asbestos-containing materials were aware of the associated health risks. Despite this knowledge, they failed to provide adequate safety warnings to their customers. Consequently, individuals working with asbestos, including Navy personnel, were often unprotected and at an elevated risk of exposure.

Health Risks Associated with Asbestos Exposure

The lack of awareness and proper safety protocols surrounding asbestos use in the past has resulted in significant health concerns for those exposed. Any form of asbestos, when deteriorated, releases microscopic fibers that can be inhaled or ingested, potentially leading to severe health complications such as mesothelioma and asbestos lung cancer decades later.

Where Was Asbestos on Navy Ships?

Asbestos use in the Navy wasn’t limited to specific vessels. It had applications in virtually every ship, including structural components, paint, mattresses and more.

Asbestos was used in the ship’s:

  • 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 used for fire-proofing different materials, such as:

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

The U.S. built asbestos-containing ships during World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. Due to the widespread use of asbestos throughout Navy ships during these war periods, most Navy veterans experienced some level of asbestos exposure, especially if they served prior to 1980.

In the late 1970s, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) began implementing and enforcing safety standards for asbestos. As a result, the Navy began phasing out asbestos and replacing it with non-asbestos-containing insulation and fire protection materials.

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:

  • Aircraft carriers
  • Battleships
  • Cruisers
  • Destroyers and escorts
  • Frigates
  • Landing craft and amphibious ships
  • Submarines
  • Tugs
  • Repair ships
  • Oilers
  • Cargo ships
  • Minesweepers
  • Stores ships
  • Floating drydocks
  • Ammo ships
  • Tenders
  • Auxiliary ships
  • Hospital ships
  • Transport ships

Navy Occupations and Asbestos Exposure

Due to shipyard work’s industrial nature, shipyard workers and sailors were at the greatest risk of asbestos exposure. Everyone from the commanding officer to the lowest-ranking seaman faced some risk of asbestos exposure.

Work performed in Navy shipyards often involved the removal and reinstallation of asbestos, creating asbestos dust. This is when the tiny asbestos fibers become airborne, making asbestos especially dangerous. This puts everyone working in that area of the shipyard at risk because the weightless fibers can float through the air and contaminate the entire working area.

Similarly, many occupations on board ships were at increased risk. Asbestos was used in boiler rooms, pipe lagging, bulkheads, deck tiles and other parts of the ships to insulate machines, wires and pipes.

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

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

Other Navy occupations with a high risk of asbestos exposure were:

  • Hull technician/welder
  • Engineman
  • 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 and Family Members

Navy veterans with mesothelioma and their immediate family members can file various types of claims to receive financial compensation through the VA and legal system, along with health care benefits through the VA:

  • VA benefits – Claims for benefits filed with the VA; veterans can apply for VA Disability Compensation, VA Pension, Aid & Attendance, VA Health Care and other benefits available to family members
  • Legal claims – Filed with the assistance of an experienced mesothelioma lawyer; veterans can file lawsuits against asbestos companies or asbestos trust fund claims if the responsible asbestos company is now bankrupt 

VA Mesothelioma Claims for Navy Veterans

Navy veterans with mesothelioma may qualify for benefits through the VA depending on how much the veteran was exposed to asbestos during military service compared to the amount of their exposure in their civilian jobs.

VA benefits for Navy veterans with mesothelioma include: 

  • VA Disability Compensation – If at least 50% of the veteran’s asbestos exposure occurred in the military compared to the veteran’s civilian career
  • VA Pension – If more than 50% of the veteran’s asbestos exposure occurred in the veteran’s civilian career; wartime veterans under the maximum income level for their household size can qualify for VA Pension
  • Aid & Attendance (A&A) and Housebound benefits –  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 their spouse requires A&A 
  • VA Health Care – If the veteran meets the criteria of one of the eight health care priority groups

VA Benefits for Family Members of Navy Veterans

Family members of Navy veterans with mesothelioma can also qualify for VA benefits, such as:

  • Dependency and Indemnity Compensation – If the veteran passed away due to service-connected mesothelioma or a similar condition
  • Survivors Pension – If the surviving spouse meets certain income and net worth requirements
  • Aid & Attendance – If the survivor 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 (alive or deceased)
  • Burial benefits – Financial assistance offered to families of deceased veterans to contribute to funeral costs

Mesothelioma Legal Claims for Navy Veterans

Because asbestos manufacturing companies knew the health risks associated with asbestos but chose not to disclose the information to the government, regulatory agencies, entities they sold their products to, or the general public, they are now legally liable for all asbestos exposure and asbestos-related diseases, such as mesothelioma. 

Navy veterans with mesothelioma can file legal claims against the responsible companies. Mesothelioma legal claims include: 

  • Asbestos trust fund claims — Legal claims filed with bankrupt asbestos companies’ trust funds that result in a fixed compensation amount previously established by the courts
  • Mesothelioma lawsuits — Legal claims filed against viable asbestos companies that often result in a settlement agreement or a verdict decided by a jury; lawsuits can be personal injury or wrongful death

The average amount for a mesothelioma recovery is $1 million-$1.4 million, which usually comes from a combination of lawsuit settlements and asbestos trust funds.

Mesothelioma Settlements for Navy Veterans

Mesothelioma lawsuits often result in asbestos settlements, which means all parties involved reach an agreement regarding the compensation amount awarded to the victim.

Lawsuits for mesothelioma rarely end in verdicts, as most asbestos companies do not want to risk the courts ordering them to pay multi-million-dollar amounts to victims. Instead, settlements are favorable to asbestos companies, as they have a say in compensation amounts, and they end the legal process faster than in a lengthy trial.

Mesothelioma Treatment for U.S. Navy Veterans 

Navy veterans can receive mesothelioma treatment from experienced doctors at VA hospitals or civilian hospitals. The VA offers VA Health Care, which is healthcare with either low or no copayments for veterans with mesothelioma.

If the veteran has insurance through VA Health Care, they can receive medical care at either of the two VA hospitals with mesothelioma treatment programs:

If the veteran chooses to receive treatment from a civilian specialist, they must first obtain a referral from the VA for their VA Health Care plan to cover the visit and treatment.

Mesothelioma Guide recommends Navy veterans with mesothelioma look for a doctor at a top cancer center or VA medical center. Mesothelioma is a complex cancer and requires medical professionals to have years of specialized experience to effectively treat it.

The mesothelioma treatment options for veterans include: 

The treatment a veteran receives depends on the type of mesothelioma they have, the stage of their mesothelioma, and their age and overall physical health.

How Can Navy Veterans Take Action for Their Asbestos Exposure?

Navy veterans are the largest group of mesothelioma diagnoses in the military. Thankfully, there are free resources available to help Navy veterans, such as VA benefits and legal claims.

Mesothelioma Guide’s VA-accredited claims agent, LCDR Carl Jewett, is a retired Navy veteran. He spent most of his 24-year military career in the engine room of a submarine. Following his retirement from the Navy, he dedicates his time to assisting veterans with filing VA claims and getting veterans and their family members approved for VA benefits for asbestos illnesses. Carl also connects veterans and their family members to the top mesothelioma lawyers if interested in filing legal claims for their mesothelioma. 

To learn more about mesothelioma VA benefits and legal claims, contact Carl at cjewett@mesotheliomaguide.com.

Frequently Asked Questions About Navy Veterans and Mesothelioma

blue box icon

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.

blue box icon

Which Navy occupations were at risk of exposure to asbestos?

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

    • Shipbuilder
    • Electrician
    • Steelworker
    • Machinist mate
    • Machinery repair worker
    • Welder or hull technician
    • Pipefitter or shipfitter
    • Boiler technician
    • Engineman
    • Gunner’s mate
blue box icon

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.

blue box icon

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 benefits, in the form of either Disability Compensation or Pension, provide financial assistance for Navy veterans who have this cancer.

blue box icon

How do I access these VA benefits?

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

Sources & Author

  1. Asbestos exposure and mesothelioma mortality among atomic veterans. International Journal of Radiation Biology. Retrieved from: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/09553002.2018.1551641. Accessed: 01/27/2021.
  2. 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.
  3. 2024 Veterans disability compensation rates. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Retrieved from: https://www.va.gov/disability/compensation-rates/veteran-rates/. Accessed: 12/21/2020.
  4. Active and reserve U.S. military force personnel numbers by service branch and reserve component in 2019. Statista. Retrieved from: https://www.statista.com/statistics/232330/us-military-force-numbers-by-service-branch-and-reserve-component/. Accessed: 01/30/2021.
Jenna Campagna image

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.