Generations of Navy sailors, marines, members of other military branches and shipyard workers breathed in asbestos fibers while serving in and working on naval vessels. Those individuals’ family members were also exposed to toxic and cancer-causing asbestos when fibers were carried home on uniforms and overalls.

Once asbestos enters a person’s body, it never leaves. The microscopic fibers directly damage tissues, cutting and scarring like tiny shards of glass. Asbestos fibers also stimulate the growth of malignant cells that over decades can become full-blown cases of lung, bladder, stomach and intestinal cancer.

Perhaps the worst disease linked to on-the-job exposures to asbestos is mesothelioma. This cancer of the thin lining around internal organs typical affects the mesothelium aencasing the lungs. It can also appear in the stomach and lower abdominal region.


Almost no one survives longer than five years after receiving a mesothelioma diagnosis. Effective treatments to arrest the spread of mesothelioma do not exist, and supportive treatments to make breathing easier or reduce pain lose efficacy over time.

As personal injury and wrongful death attorneys for more than 40 years, we have represented many clients who suffered from mesothelioma and other asbestos-related occupational illnesses. Most of our clients were railroad employees in their younger days, but asbestos was widely used in all industries for much of the 20th century.

Where and How Did the U.S. Navy Use Asbestosis?

The Navy began phasing out asbestos insulation and asbestos-containing components in 1975. Before then, and going back to the introduction of recognizably modern naval vessels shortly before World War II, the Navy used asbestosis in

  • Pipe wraps
  • Pump housings
  • Valve seals
  • Gaskets
  • Cables
  • Deck coatings
  • Hydraulic assemblies
  • Fire-resistant paneling
  • Heat-resistant adhesives
  • Capacitors
  • Fire-resisting bedding

Surface ships, tenders and submarines of all types contained asbestos. The material suffused engine rooms, kitchens, quarters, shipyard buildings, maintenance vehicles and every space with overhead pipes and conduits. This remained true through the 1980s and into the 1990s until repairs removed the asbestos or older vessels and equipment were scrapped and replaced altogether.

By one estimate. 30 percent of the people who receive a first-time diagnosis of asbestosis each year served in the military. That means hundreds of Navy retirees who settled down in Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Chesapeake, Suffolk, Hampton, Newport News or another community in Virginia or northeast North Carolina are at risk.

Won’t the Government Help Former Military Who Develop Mesothelioma?

Possibly. A Department of Veterans Affairs webpage explains people can apply for post-service medical benefits if they

  • Receive a confirmed diagnosis of asbestos disease,
  • Can prove they came into contact with asbestos while on active duty, and
  • Received an honorable discharge.

The VA can still dispute or deny a claim, and even approved claims merit only coverage of medical costs. Shipyard workers and military families are not eligible for VA benefits at all.

Under current rules, veterans and others who wish to receive just compensation must file a lawsuit against an asbestos manufacturer or former employer. Succeeding with such a case requires documenting exposures as precisely as possible, presenting reams of medical evidence, and dealing with courts and corporate defense attorneys. Enlisting the assistance of an experienced asbestos claims lawyer who will fight only for your best outcome is recommended.