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The Navy is the military branch most affected by the armed forces’ use of asbestos. Many Navy veterans who were exposed to asbestos and have been diagnosed with mesothelioma and other asbestos-related illnesses qualify for VA benefits.

Asbestos Use in the Navy

U.S. Navy

Navy veterans run the highest risk of developing mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases due to the military branch’s heavy use of asbestos. The naturally fire-resistant mineral was used extensively in ships for fireproofing at sea. Asbestos use in the U.S. military peaked during World War II, when the demand for navy ships skyrocketed. To meet this demand, the military turned to manufacturers who offered asbestos as a cost-effective, versatile insulative material.

Asbestos was used on every part of the ship, ranging from sleeping quarters to the boiler room, exposing Navy servicemen to the mineral’s cancer-causing fibers. According to the VA, millions of people serving in WWII alone were exposed to asbestos-containing products used to manufacture ships. It is important for Navy veterans to understand how they were exposed to asbestos, the health risks of exposure, and what options are available if they have been diagnosed with mesothelioma.

What Navy Veterans Are At Risk?

According to the War Related Illness and Injury Study Center, a division of the VA, the following Navy service members are the most at-risk:

  • Navy veterans who performed their duty on ships made before 1983.
  • Navy veterans who worked in shipyards between the 1930s and 1990s.
  • Navy veterans who served below deck before the 1990s. Below deck, limited space and poor ventilation led to dangerous amounts of asbestos exposure.
  • Navy veterans who worked in engine rooms without respiratory protection.


There are also specific occupations connected to service-related asbestos exposure. These Navy personnel are at high-risk of exposure and may have come into contact with asbestos-containing materials on a daily basis:

  • Boiler technicians
  • Engine Mechanics
  • Gunner’s Mates
  • Steelworkers and welders
  • Pipefitters
  • Naval Vessel Electricians
  • Merchant marines
  • Shipbuilders
  • Shipfitters
  • Other shipyard workers


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Where the Navy Used Asbestos

Almost every U.S. Navy ship built between the 1930s and 1970s contained asbestos. This means that any U.S. military veteran that spent time working in Navy shipyards is at a high risk of mesothelioma. The Navy used asbestos to insulate the close quarters below decks and fireproof hazardous boiler rooms. The fire-resistant mineral was used in every part of the ship, including:

  • Storage rooms
  • Engine and boiler rooms
  • Mess halls
  • Pumps, motors, condensers and compressors
  • Flooring
  • Sleeping quarters
  • Cables, gaskets, valves pipe fittings (also known as pipe lagging)


As part of their daily duty, many Navy personnel had to remove damaged pipe lagging and re-wrap the pipe with more asbestos-containing lagging and asbestos paste. They often performed this work in tight quarters without adequate respiratory protection.

The Navy’s use of asbestos also extended beyond ships. Bases and military housing were built with asbestos-containing material. Exposure to the dangerous mineral even occurred until the early 1990s, when workers tore down these bases without proper protection against the microscopic asbestos fibers.

The areas the most risk for asbestos exposure were shipyards. Ships constructed with asbestos-containing materials were often built up and broken down at shipyards. This activity released large amounts of asbestos dust into the air, affecting servicemen, dockworkers and anyone in the vicinity of the shipyard.

The Dangers of Asbestos Exposure for U.S. Navy Veterans

Military veterans who spent significant time working on Navy vessels between the 1930s and 1990s experience greater risk of asbestos exposure. These veterans are in danger of developing a number of asbestos-related diseases, including mesothelioma, lung cancer and asbestosis. Veterans with a mesothelioma diagnosis may experience symptoms like:

      • Abdominal pain or swelling
      • Chest pain
      • Fatigue
      • Persistent, painful cough
      • Shortness of breath
      • Unusual lumps under the skin
      • Weight loss

Mesothelioma treatment can be very expensive and emotionally taxing. Veterans whose military service led to asbestos exposure may be eligible to receive benefits from the government.

Benefits for U.S. Navy Veterans with Mesothelioma

U.S. Navy Veterans who have a history of asbestos exposure have many VA benefit options available. These benefits include financial compensation, healthcare, and disability benefits, and dependency and indemnity compensation. Veterans and their loved ones may file mesothelioma claims with  the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to receive these and other veteran benefits. 

Financial compensation

Navy veterans may be entitled to financial compensation, which they can use to visit mesothelioma doctors, replace lost wages and more. These veterans often receive a 100 percent disability rating from the VA, and financial compensation may net over $3,600 per month. To begin your claim, make sure you have documentation in order, including your DD-214 and medical records. You can start your claim at or by calling 1-800-827-1000.

 VA healthcare & disability

U.S. Navy veterans may qualify for VA healthcare and VA disability benefits if they have been impacted by asbestos exposure during their military service. These veterans may receive mesothelioma treatment at VA medical centers. To receive these benefits, Navy veterans can file a VA claim with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to be compensated with these healthcare or disability benefits.

Other benefits for navy veterans and loved ones

If you or a loved one have been impacted by mesothelioma or other asbestos-related illnesses, you may be eligible to make a variety of legal claims, including through the VA, to get financially compensated for treatment and other expenses. Surviving spouses and other family members may qualify for dependency and indemnity compensation (DIC) from the VA, which is a special monthly compensation made for family members.

Outside of these VA programs, you may consider pursuing legal options, including starting a mesothelioma lawsuit against those responsible for the exposure. These lawsuits may result in receiving a mesothelioma settlement.

Next Steps for Navy Veterans

Navy veterans exposed to asbestos during active duty have resources available to help pay for treatment. The VA readily recognizes the connection between asbestos and mesothelioma and offers veterans disability compensation. Our Veterans Help Team can provide Navy veterans the assistance they need to file a disability claim with the VA. Contact a member of our Patient Help Team to get more information about filing a claim.

Frequently Asked Questions

What percentage of mesothelioma cases impact U.S. Navy veterans?

Around 30 percent of all mesothelioma claims come from U.S. armed forces veterans. U.S. Navy veterans make up the largest share of these veteran claims. 

What are the symptoms of mesothelioma?

Symptoms of mesothelioma may vary by the type (pleural, peritoneal, pericardial) and stage, but generally include:

  • Abdominal pain or swelling
  • Chest pain
  • Fatigue
  • Persistent, painful cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Unusual lumps under the skin
  • Weight loss

Are other military service members at risk of developing asbestos-related diseases?

All branches of the U.S. military have used asbestos, so members of all branches are at risk of asbestos exposure and developing asbestos-related diseases including mesothelioma, lung cancer and asbestosis. 

Are current and previous mesothelioma patients eligible to make VA claims?

As long as veterans meet eligibility requirements (such as demonstrating asbestos exposure during military service), they can make claims to the VA.