What Veteran Families Need to Know About Asbestos on Navy Ships

For the children and spouses of mesothelioma victims, both the illness period and its aftermath are typically characterized by a myriad of powerful emotions-including fear, anger, guilt and regret. It is also common for the constant stress of the grieving and bereavement periods to be compounded by financial struggles and an overwhelming list of new responsibilities.

Losing a loved one is devastating enough. Families of asbestos cancer victims don’t deserve to suffer the logistics of their tragic loss too. This ongoing series is dedicated to providing information and guidance to the newly bereaved as well as those anticipating the loss of a loved one in the near future.

Over the course of the next month, we’ll feature articles covering topics including: legal rights of asbestos’ victims families, benefits available to asbestos-injured veterans’ dependents, making hospice and palliative care arrangements for a terminally ill loved one, providing support to a family member suffering from mesothelioma, coping with grief, types of bereavement and what to expect from each, helping the terminally ill draft advance directives and other final documents-and more.

Families of Meso Victims-PART FIVE

Asbestos on navy ships has been linked to thousands of cases of mesothelioma and other related illnesses in military and civilian workers. Despite making up only 8 percent of the total U.S. populations, navy vets comprise almost a third of all mesothelioma victims. And those who served in virtually every other branch of the military have been affected by asbestos-related illnesses as well (though at a significantly less inflated rate). That means that, all together, veterans make up a highly disproportionate number of meso victims-more than three times higher than would be statistically expected.

Asbestos on Navy Ships and Other Military-Sanctioned Constructs

For those thousands of veteran victims’ families, questions about how and why this anomaly exists play a huge role in the grief and bereavement process. The bottom-line answer is relatively simple, though often difficult to fully grasp: heavy military use of asbestos-containing building materials to construct everything from ships and tanks to barracks and family housing units-particularly during the combat-laden years between the two World Wars and Vietnam-resulted in dangerous asbestos exposure for millions of military works, civilian works and their families.

Navy Mandate on Asbestos Usage

The reason for the especially high rate of asbestos-related illness in navy vets relates directly back to a 1939 mandate, issued by the U.S. Navy, that required the use of asbestos-made materials in ship construction. This action-believed at the time to be a safety precaution, rather than safety risk, intended to prevent deadly fires at sea-resulted in more than 300 different products containing asbestos being crammed into virtually every ship constructed from that year until the mid-1970s.

Secondary Exposure in Military Families

Beyond the obvious risk associated with direct exposure while living in military housing units that contained asbestos, families of veterans who served during the aforementioned time period also faced another hazard in the form of what’s called secondary exposure.

Unfortunately, tiny fibers of asbestos on navy ships often came home on the clothing of military workers. It could also be found in small amounts on workers’ hair and skin. When shipyard asbestos was brought into the homes of military families, in this manner, spouses and children of veterans were potentially exposed to a significantly less lethal but still toxic amount of asbestos that can result in the subsequent development of illnesses like mesothelioma and other related cancers.


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