Mesothelioma & Veterans

Mesothelioma & Battleships

For more than 150 years, battleships were the largest, most heavily armed combat vessels in the world. They were also the most symbolic. In the years leading up to World War I, Great Britain and Germany competed to build the largest battleships. During World War II, ships such as the HMS King George V, the DM Bismarck and Tirpitz and the IJN Yamato were the backbone of those nations' naval strength and strategies.

Due to lessons learned during the Battle of Midway, the U.S. Navy began to realize that future dominance of the seas depended on the ability to move quickly over vast distances of water. Therefore, the battleship was gradually phased out in favor of fast aircraft carriers and destroyers.

Nonetheless, there were several aging battleships in the fleet when the U.S. was pulled into World War II in December 1941. In addition, four cutting-edge Iowa-class vessels were under construction, all of which served throughout the war. All four of these ships have been preserved as museum relics. Three of them (The Iowa, Missouri and New Jersey) served through Vietnam while the Wisconsin was reactivated and served during the Persian Gulf conflict of 1991 (the last time a battleship was used in action).

Like all sea-going vessels, the interiors of these big "battlewagons" were covered in asbestos, a toxic mineral which can lead to the development of mesothelioma, a rare, aggressive cancer. The U.S. Navy has failed to maintain reliable records and statistics when it comes to asbestos disease among its veterans, but estimates suggest that more than 25 percent of all mesothelioma patients are former members of the Navy, Coast Guard, Marine or Merchant Marine.

Use of Asbestos

In September 1934, the S.S. Morro Castle passenger liner was returning to New York from an excursion to Cuba when a fire broke out in the middle of the night, ultimately killing more than 25 percent of those aboard. In response, the U.S. Congress and the Navy Department began to issue stronger safety regulations that called for - among other things - the increasing use of asbestos insulation wherever fire might pose a hazard. This was because asbestos was strongly resistant to fire and high temperatures.

Like other types of vessels, the greatest concentrations of asbestos aboard battleships were to be found in the engine and boiler rooms. Fuel and ordnance storage facilities, where fire dangers were likely, were also areas of these vessels in which asbestos was likely to be used in large amounts.

However, the use of asbestos was not limited to these areas. Steam pipes and electrical conduits were often lagged with asbestos insulation. The mineral was also found in fire doors and even between decks, particularly around crew quarters.

Veteran's Rights

All veterans are entitled to free medical care when it comes to service-related injuries and illnesses. However, when it comes to mesothelioma, this can be difficult to prove - particularly if the veteran worked in a high risk industrial occupation at any time in their life. Mesothelioma patients are not even given a rating under the Veterans Health Administration's triage system.

Today, veterans and their advocates in Congress are taking action to insure that those who served in uniform and contracted mesothelioma and other asbestos diseases receive the treatment to which they are entitled. Leading the charge is Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), who sits on the Veteran's Affairs committee in Congress and Lieutenant Commander Allen Dutton (USN, Ret.), a liaison who coordinates the efforts of veterans' advocacy organizations (who can help veterans in filing claims with the VHA) with members of the legal and medical community.

In the meantime, naval veterans who served aboard battleships or any other type of vessel and have been diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease should contact a qualified mesothelioma lawyer. These legal professionals specialize in asbestos litigation and can get compensation from the manufacturer of asbestos products that were used on the specific vessel(s) on which such veterans served.

For more information about mesothelioma, treatment and legal options, please fill out the request form on this page to receive a free packet.

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