Faces of Mesothelioma: Navy Veterans, the Heroes Who Fell Prey to Asbestos

Of all of the occupational groups that have been stricken with mesothelioma, navy veterans make up perhaps the most tragic and seemingly unjust example of corporate greed gone too far. Many people do not realize or understand the high numbers of former members of the U.S. Navy who have, in recent years, been diagnosed with mesothelioma or another related illness. To date, thousands of former shipmen have fallen ill, and that number continues to grow. But understanding how or why these brave men and women ultimately fell prey to a domestic attack right here on U.S. soil requires an understanding of asbestos—its history, military connection, and how it causes terminal cancer.

Mesothelioma navy veterans almost certainly developed their illnesses as a result of coming into contact with an all-natural phenomenon called asbestos. Asbestos was discovered to be an ideal insulate, as well as an ingredient in a variety of other consumer products, during the Industrial Revolution of the 1800s. As a result of being hailed a “miracle of manufacturing” for being both strong and impervious to heat and fire, asbestos was used widely in construction materials and mechanical parts—among other things—throughout the first part of the 20th century.

The U.S. military took heed of the highly touted traits asbestos held and used it widely—to build and fireproof military structures, including battleships, combat planes, and more. However, no branch was more proactive in the use of asbestos products than the navy. In fact, between the 1940s and 1970s, the manufacturing of asbestos products for use on navy ships was at a record high. In terms of risk for mesothelioma, navy veterans who worked aboard vessels or in shipyards during that period of time are considered most at risk. But the long latency period of mesothelioma cancer leaves any individual exposed to asbestos in the last 50 or so years at considerable risk.

Asbestos-related illnesses, including mesothelioma and other cancers, are generally caused by regular and repeated contact with asbestos-containing materials. When these materials age and/or break apart, tiny fibers are released into the air and then breathed in or ingested by unknowing bystanders. The fibers then become lodged inside the victim’s body—often in the lungs or the surrounding tissue of the lungs—where they will remain for the lifetime of the victim. Over many years, those crystal-like fibers cause agitation and friction—ultimately resulting in the development of scar tissue, followed by tumors and eventually, malignant mesothelioma.

So, as a result of working on ships with asbestos materials, millions of vets were placed in harm's way without having any idea of the danger lurking just beneath the surface. After being diagnosed with mesothelioma, navy veterans are advised to contact both an attorney and the U.S. Navy to determine where and when they may have been exposed, as well as to determine who may have been the negligent parties responsible.