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Mesothelioma Exposure Within U.S. Navy Veterans

It's estimated that one-third of mesothelioma patients in the U.S. are veterans. This is the largest of any group of people that have been diagnosed with this type of cancer. Over the years, several veterans have reported different health complications directly linked to asbestos exposure while in active service.

Below, we have discussed how navy veterans developed Mesothelioma and why asbestos exposure was so prevalent in the Navy in past decades. You'll also learn more about the available treatment options for affected navy veterans and compensation options for victims, families, and loved ones.

What is Navy Mesothelioma and Why U.S. Navy Veterans?

The term Navy mesothelioma became popular in the 1990s and early 2000s when there were several legal claims by U.S Navy veterans exposed to asbestos, a cancer-causing mineral, while on active duty in the years between 1930 and 1980.

Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that affects either the lung cavity, the abdominal cavity, or the protective lining around the heart. It forms from damaged mesothelial cells that turn cancerous to produce a protein called mesothelin at above-normal levels. These protein cells mutate and create tumors, which duplicate and spread to other body organs.

One of the scientifically proven risk factors of Mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos fiber. When asbestos enters the human body, they interact with mesothelial cells in the lungs and abdominal cavity. Asbestos fibers do not pose a risk when they are undisturbed. However, the moment they become loose and enter the air, they can be inhaled easily into the body.

These fibers also stick to food, clothes, and other objects and could easily be carried to different places, increasing the risk of secondary exposure. Before we look at why Mesothelioma is common among navy veterans, let's have a quick overview of asbestos in the military.

Asbestos in the Military

Asbestos is a readily available mineral that can be cheaply processed to get the thin and fibrous asbestos used for construction and insulation purposes. Throughout the 20th century, asbestos was widely used in the military due to the material's heat and fire-resistant properties. Most military veterans that served during the early and mid90s faced some severe risk of asbestos exposure. Most Americans didn't know of asbestos' danger, plus the material was quite common in the consumer market.

The U.S. military, in particular, needed a fire-resistant material for much of its vehicles, equipment, defense locations, warships, vessels, and even helmets and body armor. And while many manufacturers were aware of the risks of using asbestos, they kept it a secret to preserve profits and continued supplying the mineral to the market.

During World War II, the Navy, army, Marine Corps, coast guard, and even the air force used equipment made of asbestos. This exposed active personnel to Mesothelioma and other asbestos-related health complications. Of all the U.S. military branches, the U.S. navy was found to be the most affected. The main reason is that asbestos was heavily used on aircraft carriers, naval vessels, and patrol ships.

Asbestos Products Linked to Mesothelioma

While not all the products used in the Navy were made of asbestos, most installations inside the naval vessels had some asbestos in them. Below are some of the asbestos products and how they were used in the Navy.

  • Block insulation made of asbestos – Used to reduce the transfer of thermal heat, noise, and vibration in and around the ship.

  • Adhesives – used to create seals and repair parts of the vessels.

  • Bedding compounds – Used as a fireproofing agent.

  • Boiler insulation, including wrap insulation and asbestos jackets applied to marine boilers.

  • Paint – Asbestos paint was used on ships since it added some texture and offered greater resistance to salt corrosion.

  • Pumps – they contained asbestos gaskets, valves, and packing and were repaired frequently due to wear and tear.

  • Textiles – Asbestos blankets were used in shipyards and vessels to put out fires and prevent burns.

Other asbestos products mainly used in the Navy were heat panels, deck covering materials, cables, spay-on insulations applied to hulls, pipes, valves, etc. Some naval vessels with high asbestos exposure risk were auxiliary ships, destroyers, aircraft carriers, cruisers, minesweepers, and submarines.

Most Affected Occupations within the Navy

Most veterans who served in World War II and until the late 1970s were exposed to asbestos. Those who worked in the shipyards and engine rooms suffered the most significant exposure. Naval shipyard workers inhaled asbestos dust inside the enclosed spaces and even carried some of this dust home, exposing their families and loved ones to the deadly mineral. Families that lived on military bases were also exposed to asbestos fibers from old building materials used to construct military housing and communal quarters.

And while most navy veterans who served from the 1930s to 1980s were at risk of asbestos exposure, some navy occupations have been linked to more acute mesothelioma cases than others. These occupations included:

  • Boiler technicians – They were in charge of repairing and maintaining the marine steam boilers that contained insulation, valves, and gaskets made of asbestos.

  • Fire control technicians – They operated and maintained various weapon systems on submarines. Most of them wore asbestos gloves and hoods to prevent burns while handling heated machinery.

  • Welders – Wore asbestos protective clothing and blankets to protect against burns and heat injuries. Some welders also used wet asbestos fibers to keep metals from expanding.

  • Pipefitters – they built and maintained asbestos-containing pipe systems. Pipefitters also removed asbestos coverings and insulations from pipes and interacted with loose asbestos.

The other navy occupations that suffered from increased asbestos exposure were hull maintenance technicians, metalsmiths, water tenders, electrician's mates, and boatswain's mates.

Apart from the navy veterans, civilian shipyard workers who helped disassemble or overhaul the navy ships also had a higher risk of asbestos exposure. Others were exposed to asbestos while handling navy ships sold as scrap in the 1990s. These civilians didn't receive the necessary training on handling asbestos, which further exposed them to the cancerous material.

Royal Navy officers salute

Mesothelioma Treatment Options for Navy Veterans

Any veteran exposed to asbestos while in active service and suffering from Mesothelioma should prioritize getting VA treatment before filing Navy Mesothelioma claims or applying for benefits and compensations.

Navy veterans with Mesothelioma have access to exclusive medical services explicitly designed to meet their needs. The U.S. government provides these treatment services through the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA). Thanks to the enormous investments in setting up mesothelioma centers, the VA can accurately diagnose active cases and even link affected veterans with mesothelioma specialists for further diagnosis.

Three major VA treatment centers offer high-end mesothelioma cancer care for veterans. These are:

Boston VA

The Boston VA has a team of multidisciplinary specialists led by thoracic surgeon Dr. Hassan Kalil, the only VA mesothelioma specialist along the east coast. This treatment center gets direct support from Brigham and Women's Hospital's mesothelioma program.

The Boston VA received the commission on cancer accreditation in 2006 and has served as reputable research and development center for mesothelioma-related conditions. It's also a teaching facility for the Boston University of Medicine and Harvard Medical School.

West Los Angeles VA

The West Los Angeles VA center is the only mesothelioma care center along the West Coast. Besides serving more than a million veterans from California and the neighboring regions, this care facility is designed to accommodate and help veterans with Mesothelioma from all parts of the country. It's also one of the most extensive care facilities in the VA system, with access to a wide range of specialists and high-end cancer treatment technologies.

Houston VA

The Michael E. DeBakey in Houston is the newest mesothelioma VA treatment center. This facility has partnered with the country's renowned cancer hospital, St. Luke's Medical Center, to offer treatment through an expert medical team.

St. Luke's mesothelioma program and the Houston VA are led by Dr. Taylor Ripley, a pleural mesothelioma specialist.

Another surgeon, Dr. Lorraine Cornwell, also conducts pleural mesothelioma surgeries under the oversight of Dr. Ripley. A third specialist, Dr. Eugene Choi, focuses on peritoneal mesothelioma cases.

In all three facilities, veterans with Mesothelioma get access to expert treatment without paying more than they would at their local VA hospital, which is often free for most veterans.

Besides surgery, other treatment options that can extend survival for patients with Mesothelioma include chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and radiation therapy. The mesothelioma specialists in each facility will thoroughly examine your overall health before customizing the best treatment solution to meet your unique needs.

Compensation for Navy Veterans with Mesothelioma

The VA acknowledges several Navy Mesothelioma cases that have been settled and many others that are underway in the settlement process. These veterans are eligible for disability compensation, free healthcare, and several other VA benefits.

Most financial assistance programs available for Navy mesothelioma victims are channeled through the VA. Below are the different types of compensation available for veterans with Mesothelioma. The latter offers disability compensation for service-related health conditions and pension benefits for non-service-related disabilities.

VA Disability Compensation

This compensation package is available for veterans with service-related diseases. Peritoneal and Pleural Mesothelioma are the cancers that qualify for VA disability compensation. Before you can be eligible for monthly compensation, you must prove that the condition is service-connected.

The VA often rates disability compensation on a scale of 0% to 100%. A severe condition linked to direct military service, Mesothelioma receives a 100% rating. This means veterans with Mesothelioma can expect maximum compensation from the VA. The exact amount given to veterans with Mesothelioma varies depending on the number of dependents the veteran has, i.e., whether they are married, have kids, dependents parents, etc.

VA Pension

VA pension is a compensation program for non-service-related disability. Most wartime veterans would qualify for a VA pension if they developed a disability outside of active duty. Retired military personnel who developed Mesothelioma due to heavy asbestos exposure can also be eligible for a VA pension.

Unlike VA disability compensation, this benefit is dependent on the veteran's income, making it difficult to determine the exact amount one can qualify. And while the VA provides the maximum annual pension rate for veterans with Mesothelioma, this number varies depending on whether the veteran qualifies for the Housebound or Aid/Attendance benefits.

According to the 2022 rates, the maximum annual pension rate for veterans who don't qualify for additional benefits and have no dependents receives $ 14,753. However, veterans with at least one dependent and qualifies for Aid & Attendance benefits receive $29,175.

Aid & Attendance and Housebound Benefits for Mesothelioma

The Aid & Attendance and Housebound benefits are additional compensation options offered to veterans who qualify for VA pension or disability compensation. Veterans who have Mesothelioma and need assistance from another person to perform the day-to-day tasks such as bathing, preparing meals, dressing, etc., can apply for the Aid and Attendance benefits.

On the other hand, housebound benefits are available for veterans who suffer from Mesothelioma and are confined to their homes. These two types of benefits are determined once the disability compensation or VA pension has been approved.

Dependency and Indemnity Compensation

This benefit is available for dependent children, spouses, and dependent parents of veterans who died from service-connected Mesothelioma. Specific qualifications must be met before each of these dependents can receive the benefit. Some of the qualifying factors include the length the spouse was married and the age of the dependent children.

Spouses and dependent children, and parents of veterans who died from Mesothelioma should contact relevant authorities in the VA department to check if they qualify for dependency and indemnity benefits.

Survivors Pension

If a veteran died from mesothelioma cancer that wasn't service-related, their survivors wouldn't be eligible for the dependency & indemnity compensation. However, their dependent children and spouses could apply for the Survivors Pension.

Several factors determine whether the spouse or dependent children will qualify. One of them is whether the dependent children are married. Under the VA Pension rules, only unmarried dependent children are eligible for the Survivors Pension. Similarly, the spouse or dependent child's income will determine how much they can receive.

Additional Compensations

The monthly stipends offered by the government may not be enough for certain families that may have incurred significant medical expenses or other losses as a result of service-related Mesothelioma. Additionally, the U.S. government isn't to blame for the damages caused by asbestos; rather, the companies than manufactured and sold the mineral.

Veterans can choose to seek further compensation outside of the VA by filing legal claims against the asbestos-involved companies, not the U.S. government. Therefore, veterans shouldn't shy off for fear of betraying their country or getting disqualified from receiving VA benefits and compensations.

There are two compensation options available after filing a mesothelioma lawsuit for families that have spent all their life savings fighting mesothelioma cancer and caring for their loved ones. These are:

Asbestos Trust Fund Claims

Veterans with Mesothelioma may qualify for compensation under the asbestos trust funds by filing an asbestos trust fund claim. The latter are accounts set aside by asbestos-related companies to ensure victims get compensated from the many asbestos companies that filed for bankruptcy. Claiming these trust funds doesn't involve a complicated legal process. Affected veterans should work with experienced mesothelioma lawyers familiar with active trusts and who can guide them through the claim process.

Wrongful Death Lawsuits

As one of the cancers affecting the lungs and abdominal cavity, Mesothelioma can be very aggressive, and many families have lost their loved ones to this disease. A wrongful death lawsuit is a legal option taken by the immediate family of the deceased veteran against the asbestos companies.

But since wrongful death claims cannot be made against bankrupt companies, survivors will redirect their Navy Mesothelioma claims to the asbestos trust funds. With proper guidance, families of deceased veterans can also get a share of the asbestos trust fund payments to cover medical bills, debts, and even funeral expenses.

Bottom Line

If you are a veteran suffering from service-related Mesothelioma and have not received the necessary treatment or/and compensation, you should seek professional guidance as soon as possible. Similarly, suppose you are a spouse, child, or parent dependent on a veteran who died from this deadly cancer. In that case, several compensation options could help make your entire family's life more bearable.

A place to start is to get in touch with the relevant authorities, specifically VA officials from different Veteran departments such as the Veterans Assistance Network. This personnel will connect you with appropriate professionals such as mesothelioma specialists, counselors, and lawyers to help with your unique case.

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