Mesothelioma & Veterans

Mesothelioma & Frigates

The word "frigate" is a general term for fast, lightly-armed combat vessels that are usually involved in coastal defenses. During World War II, naval forces of the British Commonwealth applied the term "corvette" to this type of vessel. The HMCS Snowberry of the Canadian Navy was one example, as were the Royal Navy's Flower and Australia's Bathurst-class vessels.

During the war, a United States Navy "frigate" might have been anything from a PT Boat to a vessel approaching the size of a battleship. The first modern vessels officially designated as "frigates" were built after World War II. Initially, these were classified as "destroyer escorts," though they were only slightly smaller than the Fletcher, Sumner and Gearing-class destroyers that made up the majority of the Navy's combat vessels. Between the early 1950s and the present, there have been five classes of frigates:

  • Dealy
  • Bronstein
  • Garcia
  • Brooke
  • Perry

The Perry-class frigates, also classified as FFG-7-class ocean escorts, were first designed in the mid 1970s as the Navy's general-purpose escort vessel. The vessels also replaced the large number of aging World War II-era destroyers that were then being sold and scrapped. At the time, the use of asbestos in vessel construction was still common. It was not until 1977 that the truth about asbestos toxicity was finally exposed in the case of a law suit filed on behalf of a civilian mesothelioma victim. The Navy only then began to phase out the use of this substance. Of the 51 Perry-class frigates built in U.S. shipyards for use by the U.S. Navy (three were built for Australia), more than half were built prior to 1982, and were likely to contain substantial amounts of asbestos in insulation and pipe-lagging.

Asbestos Locations

In any marine vessel, the heaviest use of asbestos is most likely to be deep within the hull in the engine room as well as the turbines and fuel tanks. Electrical systems were also likely to contain the mineral and any part of the vessel where explosives were stored commonly contained asbestos. As a rule of thumb, the greater the danger of fire existing, the heavier asbestos-contaminated products were utilized.

Legal Rights

Federal law states that any veteran who has incurred an injury or contracted a disease in the line of duty has the right to no-cost treatment through the Veterans Health Administration, provided it can be proven that the injury or illness resulted from those duties.

Herein lays the problem for veterans with mesothelioma. This particular form of cancer normally has a very lengthy latency period and it can be anywhere from 20 to 50 years between initial exposure to asbestos and the development of symptoms. To complicate matters, there are dozens upon dozens of occupations in which asbestos poisoning was a risk factor. Veterans who worked at any of these occupations may find it difficult to prove to the VHA that their cancer was in fact a result of their service aboard a particular vessel.

In addition, the VHA triage system does not recognize mesothelioma as a service-related illness. Most established service-related conditions are given a priority number designation; for example, those suffering from the affect of Agent Orange as a result of tours of duty in Vietnam are assigned number 6 on this 8-point scale (patients with a rating of "1" receive top priority). However, mesothelioma has no such designation.

Contacting a Lawyer

There are people both in the legislature and working with veteran's advocacy groups that are fighting for the rights of mesothelioma patients to receive treatment. These organizations can assist a veteran with filing a claim with the VHA. However, time is of the essence when it comes to this aggressive form of cancer, and this process can be time consuming.

Legally, the manufacturer of the asbestos products is the one that ultimately bears liability. In order to file suit against such a manufacturer however, it is necessary to determine what company manufactured the materials used on a specific vessel - or its successors. Lawyers who specialize in asbestos litigation have done a great deal of research and can usually make this determination. If you are still fighting for your right to treatment through the VHA, it is a good idea to contact an asbestos litigator as well to explore the possibility of obtaining some kind of compensation.

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