United States Coast Guard Veterans

Quick Summary

Collectively, the USCG has 1,800 vessels, 200 aircraft and 80,000 service personnel including reservists and auxiliary volunteers. They’ve been operating for 227 years and adhere to the motto “Semper Paratus” or “Always Ready”. But 80 years ago, the United States Coast Guard wasn’t ready for the massive health problem facing their veterans stemming from asbestos exposure onboard USCG vessels and inside shore buildings.

About the US Coast Guard

The United States Coast Guard is a paramilitary organization falling under the Department of Homeland Security. The USCG, as it’s well-known, was removed from the U.S. Navy as part of the federal government’s restructuring after the 9-11 terrorist attacks. This change hasn’t affected Coast Guard daily operations. These naval veterans are far too experienced to let an administration move change how they protect American coastlines and waterways.

The USCG divides itself between the Pacific and Atlantic coasts as well as servicing American rivers and inland lakes. They also have offshore deployments in Hawaii, American Samoa and the Bering Sea. That’s a lot to ask from a relatively small defense force that also provides search and rescue support including maintaining navigation controls.

No branch of the American government protective forces foresaw that asbestos exposure would create serious long-term health disabilities. These include mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases like lung cancer, asbestosis and pleural disorders.

Asbestos Exposure in the United States Coast Guard

The United States Coast Guard extensively used asbestos-containing materials (ACM) in ship construction and stationary shore buildings. This period coincided with when all military departments thought asbestos was a godsend to mankind. From the 1930s to the 1980s, the USCG built boats, cutters and icebreakers with ACM from stern to bow. Cramped and poorly ventilated spaces below decks were the highest hazard locations for asbestos exposure. However, shipyards, mess halls, and Coast Guard homes also contained large amounts of ACM in their construction.

The entire American shipbuilding industry used ACM as a primary construction material. Coast Guard vessels weren’t built any different than Navy, Marine and civilian commercial ships were in the years before, during and after World War II. The biggest risk onboard all vessels was fire. Asbestos appeared the perfect fireproofing material.

Asbestos’s heat-resistant properties also made it an ideal shipbuilding insulator. As well, asbestos wouldn’t rust which was ideal around salt water. Asbestos also didn’t conduct electricity, it was lightweight, added strength and stayed chemically stable when added to every other material. From an economic point, asbestos was cheap, readily available and simple to work with.

Many Coast Guard vessels were transferred to the United States Navy during World War II. The Navy was the highest asbestos consumer in all industries including other military departments and civilian applications.

The Navy added tons of asbestos protection to borrowed USCG ships and returned them after the war in that condition. Coast Guard sailors and maintainers then became exposed to the same asbestos levels as Navy personnel who have the highest rate of mesothelioma in America.

It wasn’t only Coast Guards sailors who were surrounded by ACM. Most shore workers who built, maintained, and refitted USCG vessels experienced high-risk environments. This included personnel who constructed and maintained building containing asbestos products. Some of these jobs were extremely high-risk asbestos exposure occupations.

Coast Guard High-Risk Asbestos Exposure Occupations and Products

Coast Guard Veterans at Risk

Every Coast Guard veteran employed during the peak asbestos use period from the late 1930s to the early 1980s had some degree of asbestos exposure. It was inescapable onboard ships and in Coast Guards buildings. The risk of developing an asbestos-related disease such as mesothelioma depended a great deal on the amount of asbestos a veteran had contact with, the type of asbestos fiber and the duration of their exposure.

There are 2 classifications of asbestos risk:

  1. Primary exposure—when USCG veterans worked directly with ACM by handling, installing and removing asbestos products. This also occured below decks, with asbestos becoming extremely toxic due to the confined space and poor ventilation.
  2. Secondary exposure—many Coast Guard vets had the innocent misfortunate of working near others who created the free-floating fibers. They, too, inhaled asbestos particles and developed mesothelioma as a result.

These were the highest-risk Coast Guard occupations being exposed to asbestos fibers:

  • Boilermakers and tenders
  • Engine room technicians
  • Mechanics and maintenance personnel
  • Carpenters and construction  workers
  • Insulators, drywallers and painters
  • Electricians, plumbers and pipefitters
  • Shipbuilders and hull technicians
  • Sailors and Seabees
  • Metalworkers, welders and steel fabricators
  • Millwrights and machinists

Each of these Coast Guard roles used a number of different ACM products. Many veterans spent their entire day using asbestos products, and this went on for months and years on end.

USCG products containing asbestos included:

  • Boiler liners and pipe wrap
  • Gaskets, hoses, valves, and packing
  • Friction devices like clutches and brakes
  • Electrical wiring
  • Concrete powder and mortar mixes
  • Ceiling and floor tiles
  • All types of insulation
  • Roofing and siding materials
  • Drywall board and joint compound
  • Paint, sealants, and adhesives

Support for Coast Guard Veterans Exposed to Asbestos

Asbestos-related diseases have different characteristics than almost every other illness type. There’s an extremely long latency period from the time a Coast Guard veteran had asbestos exposure until when mesothelioma occurs. That can be between 10 and 50 years after asbestos exposure stopped. By then, most USCG veterans have moved on into civilian life or retired altogether.

United States Coast Guard veterans have healthcare coverage administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). As long as a veteran received an honorable discharged, they remain covered for duty-related disability compensation and various other benefits. They also have plenty of options for seeking proper support for mesothelioma illnesses.

Support options include:

Seeking Treatment for Mesothelioma

If you’re a Coast Guard veteran who has been diagnosed with mesothelioma, you may be eligible for VA health benefits. The VA Healthcare system offers 2 world-class mesothelioma programs at the Boston VA and Los Angeles VA led by two of the world’s most prominent mesothelioma doctors.

Mesothelioma Help Now also makes understanding and dealing with mesothelioma easier. We have VA-accredited claims agents who know what VA entitlements Coast Guard vets are eligible for. We’re here to help mesothelioma patients and their families cope with difficult times. Our compassionate patient advocates at Mesothelioma Help Now are available to chat live online or we’re just a call away at (800) 584-4151.

View Author and Sources

  1. US Coast Guard Official Website, General Information, Retrieved from https://www.uscg.mil/ Accessed on 07 January 2018
  2. US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health. “Mortality Among Shipyard Coast Guard Workers: A Retrospective Cohort Study”, Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2078389/ Accessed on 07 January 2018
  3. Mesothelioma Veterans Center, “Mesothelioma in the Coast Guard”, Retrieved from https://www.mesotheliomaveterans.org/veterans/military/coast-guard/ Accessed on 07 January 2018
  4. Department of Veterans Affairs, War Related Illness and Injury Study Center, “Asbestos Fact Sheet”, Retrieved from https://www.warrelatedillness.va.gov/WARRELATEDILLNESS/education/factsheets/asbestos-exposure.pdf Accessed on 07 January 2018
  5. Department of Veterans Affairs, “Compensation – Asbestos”, Retrieved from https://www.benefits.va.gov/COMPENSATION/claims-postservice-exposures-asbestos.asp Accessed on 07 January 2018
  6. Department of Veterans Affairs, “I am a Veteran” Retrieved from https://va.gov/opa/persona/index.asp Accessed on 07 January 2018
  7. Department of Veterans Affairs, “Exposure to Hazardous Materials – Asbestos” Retrieved from https://www.vets.gov/disability-benefits/conditions/exposure-to-hazardous-materials/asbestos/ Accessed on 07 January 2018
  8. VA/Vets.gov website, Veterans Disability and Healthcare Benefits”, Retrieved from https://www.vets.gov/ Accessed on 07 January 2018
  9. Military.com, “Asbestos Illness Related to Military Service” Retrieved from https://www.military.com/benefits/veteran-benefits/asbestos-and-the-military-history-exposure-assistance.html Accessed on 07 January 2018
  10. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, “Asbestos Fact Sheet” Retrieved from https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxfaqs/tfacts61.pdf Accessed on 07 January 2018

Last modified: June 7, 2018