United States Marines Veterans and Mesothelioma Risks

Quick Summary

For five decades from the 1930s to the 1980s, almost every Marine veteran experienced some amount of asbestos exposure. Asbestos was everywhere in a Marine’s environment.

Marine vets worked with asbestos-containing materials (ACM). They fought in ships, trucks, and planes containing ACM. They even ate, relaxed and slept in buildings built with asbestos products. Even when Marines were transported by Navy vessels and Air Force craft, they had toxic asbestos exposure.

About the US Marine Corps

The United States Marine Corps is a division of the U.S. Navy. Although it operates as an individual entity, the Marines’ role is to support the Navy through amphibious assaults and subsequent land-based operations.

This elite fighting force currently contains 186,000 personnel in active service, a reserve force of 38,000 as well as many civilian employees and private contractors. The Marines operate on the land, on the sea, and in the air by utilizing an assortment of specialized vehicles, vessels and aircraft.

US Marine Corps Update

The U.S. Marine Corps has roots dating to 1775 and the Revolutionary War. This tight unit supported every American combat since and was highly decorated in the Pacific Theater during World War II. But, this was also a dark period in Marine history.

Asbestos hazards were well-known by the medical community in the 1930s. United States Navy commanders and administrators were specifically warned how harmful asbestos was to human health. This wasn’t made public knowledge and passed on to the Marine Corps.

In fact, ample evidence exists to show that health warnings were covered up to prevent problems with World War II military equipment production.

By the 1980s, asbestos health hazards were impossible to ignore.

Every U.S. military department began removing asbestos products or encasing them to prevent discharge of airborne asbestos fibers. The Marine Corps took a leading role in asbestos abatement programs. Sadly, many Marine vets had already developed life-threatening asbestos-related diseases like malignant mesothelioma.

Asbestos Exposure in the United States Marines

The United States Marine Corps made full use of asbestos products wherever they could. This wasn’t an intentional program to harm veterans by any means. Marine engineers, designers and constructors thought ACM products were ideal to protect their Marine service people.

The military intentionally specified asbestos products in every Marine ship, mechanized vehicle, aircraft and stationary land building.

In the early to mid-1900s, asbestos was seen as the ideal, all-around material to add to hundreds of different products. Foremost, asbestos wouldn’t burn. That made it the perfect ship, plane, truck and house protector. ACM products were thermally inert making them excellent for insulation. Asbestos wouldn’t corrode or conduct electricity. It made products strong, lightweight and chemically stable. And asbestos was economical to purchase, easy to source and simple to work with.

From a medical view, asbestos exposure was a disaster for Marine veterans. There is no safe level of airborne asbestos exposure and many Marine vets were placed in contained environments where asbestos dust constantly filled the air. There was poor ventilation and no respiratory protection available.

A lack of education compounded the problem as most veterans had no idea how dangerous inhaling and ingesting asbestos fibers was.

When asbestos fibers enter the lungs, they lodge in soft tissues and stay there. They can’t be expelled nor biologically decomposed. Over time, asbestos particles make their way through to the lungs’ outer lining. It takes a 10 to 50 year latency period for asbestos scar tissue to turn into the cancerous disease known as mesothelioma.

Marine High-Risk Asbestos Exposure Occupations and Products

Most Marine veterans had no idea they would develop mesothelioma due to service-related asbestos exposure. The risk degree depended on the numbers of asbestos fibers they had exposure to, the duration or time length they were exposed and the specific asbestos fiber type they inhaled.

These were the highest-risk Marine occupations for asbestos exposure:

  • Shipboard engine and boiler technicians
  • Marine, heavy-equipment and automotive mechanics
  • Weapons systems operators
  • Hull and frame technicians
  • Engine and boiler room workers
  • Electricians, plumbers, and pipefitters
  • Welders and metal fabricators
  • Insulators, drywallers, and painters
  • Carpenters and general construction workers
  • Demolition and renovation specialists
  • All shipyard and drydock employees
  • Armored vehicle crews

Marine veterans experienced a wide variety of ACM products in these high-risk occupations. Practically every Marine plane, boat, land vehicle and base building was full of asbestos materials and it was an accepted way of life.

These were the most common ACM products that Marine veterans experienced:

  • Insulation in ships, buildings, vehicles, and airplanes
  • Friction products like clutch plates and brake pads
  • Gaskets, valves, packing, and hoses
  • Boiler liners and fire protective shields
  • Pipe and duct wraps
  • Cement and mortar powder
  • Roof shingles and asbestos sheeting
  • Drywall and joint compound
  • Adhesives, sealants, and paint
  • Ceiling and floor tiles
  • Asbestos felt and underlayment paper

Support for Marine Veterans Exposed to Asbestos

Very few Marine veterans escaped some form of asbestos exposure if they served during the period when ACM products commonly supported the Marine military infrastructure. Most veterans didn’t develop mesothelioma or other asbestos-related disease symptoms until they’d left the service or took retirement. Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer but Marine and Navy veterans have a disproportionality high rate of this ACM-caused disease.

Fortunately, these ill veterans have a wide support network to help them. Regardless if out of the Marine Corps, every honorably discharged veteran is eligible for Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) disability compensation and healthcare benefits. That’s provided their illness was caused by duty-related activities. Marine veterans can also take civil action against negligent ACM manufacturers or they can pursue a number of other recourses.

Options for Marine veterans include:

Seeking Treatment for Mesothelioma

US Marines with mesothelioma diagnoses may be eligible for VA health benefits to cover their costs of treatment and additional damages. Veterans can also undergo treatment at 2 VA Hospitals with mesothelioma treatment programs—the Boston VA and the West Los Angeles Va.

Mesothelioma Help Now also understands the requirements for Marine veterans to file VA claims. We have accredited agents to advise patients and guide them through the claim steps. Our compassionate Mesothelioma Help Now advocates assisting mesothelioma patients and their families to understand the disease and prepare for what to expect on the road ahead. Call us at (800) 584-4151 for a confidential talk.

View Author and Sources

  1. United States Marine Corps Official Website, General Information, Retrieved from https://www.marines.com/ Accessed on 07 January 2018
  2. Mesothelioma Veterans Center, “Mesothelioma in the Marines”, Retrieved from https://www.mesotheliomaveterans.org/veterans/military/marines/ Accessed on 07 January 2018
  3. 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
  4. Department of Veterans Affairs, “Compensation – Asbestos”, Retrieved from https://www.benefits.va.gov/COMPENSATION/claims-postservice-exposures-asbestos.asp Accessed on 07 January 2018
  5. Department of Veterans Affairs, “I am a Veteran” Retrieved from https://va.gov/opa/persona/index.asp Accessed on 07 January 2018
  6. 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
  7. VA/Vets.gov website, Veterans Disability and Healthcare Benefits”, Retrieved from https://www.vets.gov/ Accessed on 07 January 2018
  8. 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
  9. 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: May 7, 2018