The United States Navy is the world’s largest and most capable naval force. The U.S. Navy currently employs 325,000 active service personnel and 107,000 reservists. They operate and maintain 430 vessels and over 3,700 aircraft, including eleven deployable aircraft carriers and two more under construction.
The USN currently has a huge worldwide presence but had a larger complement of ships and sailors during the height of World War II. That was a time when asbestos was prevalent in all seagoing navy vessels and stationary shore facilities.
Asbestos Use in the Navy
Every American navy ship built between 1930 and 1980 contained asbestos materials.
So did every shipyard and navy base. Asbestos was once thought the perfect material for shipbuilding. It was fireproof which significantly improved safety at sea. Asbestos-containing materials (ACM) had excellent thermal resistance making them ideal for insulating engines, boilers and delivery ducts. Adding asbestos to ship manufacturing products improved their strength and lightened their weight. Additionally, asbestos was noncorrosive, nonconductive and suppressed sound. It was also cheap and in limitless supply.
The U.S. Navy phased-out asbestos products in the 1980s when the associated health hazards became widely publicized. How harmful airborne asbestos fibers were was no secret within high naval ranks, though. By the late 1930s, naval physicians warned the commanders that asbestos exposure would cause long-term health dangers. These warnings were minimalized, ignored and even hidden from sailors and ship workers. That’s because senior administrators feared curtailing asbestos use would slow shipbuilding and hamper the war effort.
No arm of the U.S. military or civilian industry used more asbestos materials than the navy.
Consequently, navy veterans are the largest group who suffer asbestos-related diseases like asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma. Over one-third of all mesothelioma patients are military veterans and navy vets comprise most of those cases.
High-Risk U.S. Navy Occupations for Asbestos Exposure
Being the largest consumer of asbestos products naturally made the U.S. Navy the leading employer that exposed its service people and civilian workers to airborne asbestos fibers. Exposure levels compounded onboard navy vessels. That was due to lack of ventilation in confined spaces below deck and failure to provide workers with personal respiratory protection.
Similar conditions existed in shore facilities. Shipyard and drydock workers constantly installed, repaired and removed ACM. Their buildings also contained asbestos materials in roofing, siding, cement powder, flooring, wallboard and paint. There was no escaping asbestos exposure for many navy veterans.
- Boiler technicians
- Engine operators
- Gunners and weapons specialists
- Hull maintenance workers
- Machinists and mechanics
- Steelworkers and welders
Every U.S. Navy veteran exposed to asbestos while on duty was at high risk for developing asbestos-related diseases. There is a long latency period between initial asbestos exposure and when disease symptoms present. Between 10 and 50 years can pass before a veteran realizes they have health problems due to asbestos exposure. Many early cases of asbestosis, mesothelioma and lung cancer were misdiagnosed or not reported.
Today, the navy has strict controls guiding asbestos handling. It’s been phased out of shipbuilding and many original ships containing ACM were decommissioned or destroyed. Unfortunately, many navy veterans now suffer the long-term health effects from asbestos exposure. They turn to the Department of Veterans Affairs for compensation and healthcare benefits.
Compensation and Healthcare Benefits for Navy Veterans
United States Navy veterans have disability compensation and special healthcare benefits available through the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA). These are entitlements, not negotiable bonuses. Navy veterans who honorably served their country are eligible to apply to the DVA for various compensation and healthcare benefits.
Criteria for disability benefit eligibility are:
- Must have had military service resulting in an honorable discharge. Dishonorable dismissals are not accepted.
- The claimed disability was caused by duty-related injury such as a latent disease like mesothelioma that manifests decades after leaving the Navy.
The VA administers all veteran affairs, including benefits to Navy vets. Benefits include regular pension payments and extra compensation under special circumstances. There are a variety of compensation classifications, claim types and special healthcare benefits available to disabled veterans.
The VA has the following compensation classes:
- Disability Compensation: A tax-free monthly monetary compensation plan where claimants receive guaranteed income for being disabled due to active-duty dangers such as asbestos exposure.
- Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC): DIC is paid to surviving spouses and children of military veterans who died from active duty circumstances, including a disease like mesothelioma.
- Special Monthly Compensation (SMC): Veterans with special requirements receive additional monthly compensation to cover expenses like home care workers and more.
- Additional Special Circumstances: Additional compensation is available for special circumstances where extensive hospitalization is required.
Navy Veteran Benefit Claim Types
The VA has different claims covering different situations to help them determine a sufficient amount of compensation.
Here are the main VA claim types:
- Pre-Discharge Claims: Active service personnel within 180 days of discharge may file for already-known disabilities.
- Pre-Service Claims: Vets with pre-existing disabilities prior to entering the military may claim when occupational hazards aggravated their condition.
- In-Service Claims: Covering disabilities incurred during active duty may claim benefits but can continue duty.
- Post-Service Claims: Disabilities that arise after discharge can be claimed by proving they were caused by in-service conditions.
- Special Claims: Special circumstances occasionally dictate claims being processed on their particular merits.
Other VA Healthcare Benefits for Navy Veterans
The VA doesn’t just offer financial compensation for medical assistance. They also help veterans adjust to life after their service-related injuries.
Some extended VA healthcare benefits include:
- Disability Pensions
- Preventive Healthcare Services
- Personal Health Programs
- Education and Training
- Home Loans
- Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment
- Mental Health Assistance and Counseling
- Survivors Benefits
- Burial and Memorial Services
Healthcare benefit applications aren’t restricted to active-service personnel or veterans discharged to pension plans. Every United States Navy veteran is permanently eligible for special compensation and healthcare benefits as long as the initial disability cause was duty related. That includes navy personnel discharged before pension eligibility as well as those whose condition worsened during or after service time.
This is how to apply for VA compensation and healthcare benefits:
- Online application with the eBenefits portal on the VA website
- In person at a VA field office
- Having assistance from an accredited third-party representative
- Retaining a specialized law firm to file claims
United States Navy veterans have the legal right to pursue other compensation funds. Many vets retain specialized law firms that practice asbestos-related disease litigation. These injured vets work with asbestos attorneys to file lawsuits against negligent asbestos companies that supplied dangerous asbestos products to the navy. Lawyers who specialize in mesothelioma and other asbestos-related disease cases also know how to access an asbestos company’s bankruptcy trust funds. These attorneys are familiar with all benefits and healthcare services provided by the VA.
Private civil claims filed in asbestos cases won’t affect a navy vet’s VA claim in any manner. Navy veterans are entitled to draw funds from multiple sources, and it won’t interfere with their VA healthcare benefits.