Mesothelioma & Veterans

Mesothelioma & Submarines

A submarine is a vessel that is capable of operating underneath the surface of the water independently and under its own power (whether mechanized or by human efforts) as opposed to a "submersible," which must remain tethered to a surface vessel for power and life support.

The concept of a submarine actually dates back to the 1600s, although the first military application was attempted (unsuccessfully) during the early days of the American War for Independence in 1775. The first successful naval submarines were used by the U.S. and Confederate navies during the American Civil War. These vessels were man-powered, not motorized.

Although inventors experimented with different types of mechanical propulsion for submarines, it wasn't until 1896 that a workable combustion engine was finally developed for submarine propulsion - and combustion meant the use of asbestos.

Every type of naval vessel contained asbestos, primarily in and around the engine, boiler room and electrical systems as well as the fuel tanks and ordnance (explosives and weapons) storage facilities.

Asbestos is a known cause of several types of illness, including asbestosis, pleural thickening and calcification, and mesothelioma, a cancer that affects the lung and of the lubricative lining of the chest and abdomen.

The problem of asbestos exposure was exacerbated aboard submarines because these vessels are not only water-tight, but air-tight as well. While surface vessels were generally steam-driven, submarines were exclusively diesel-powered. Breathing these fumes in the enclosed environment of a submarine in combination with asbestos fibers meant that crewmen aboard these vessels were far more susceptible to asbestos exposure.

One of the most famous victims of lung cancer due to his service aboard a submarine was Commander Georg Von Trapp, whose children and second wife Maria went on to become the famous "Von Trapp Family Singers." Commander Von Trapp led Austrian U-boats in the Adriatic and Mediterranean Seas during World War I.

Why Use Asbestos?

Asbestos was called "the cornerstone of the Industrial Revolution" by Seattle journalist Andrew Schneider, who broke the story of the asbestos miners in Libby Montana in 1999. It was used aboard naval vessels since steam and diesel engines began to replace wind and sail in the late 19th century. However, the heaviest use of asbestos came in the wake of a maritime tragedy in September of 1934, when the passenger liner S.S. Morro Castle caught fire off the coast of New Jersey, killing nearly 160 people aboard.

The tragedy was followed by numerous investigations and inquiries. Ultimately, the U.S. congress passed regulations requiring the use of asbestos in almost every part of sea-going vessels, both civilian and naval.

Doctors in Italy and the United Kingdom became aware of the health hazards of asbestos exposure early in the 20th century; American doctors began making similar connections in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Early in 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt received a report on the toxicity of asbestos, which was heavily used in all phases of naval ship construction at the time. Although hesitant at first to disseminate this information for fear that workers might walk off the job, Roosevelt ultimately did see that an advisory was issued to shipyards, recommending that face masks and ventilation fans be used on the job. Unfortunately, these warnings were not taken seriously.

Medical Care for Veterans

Any veteran of the Armed Services who contracts an illness as a result of his/her service is entitled to receive treatment at no cost through the Veterans Health Administration. Sadly, most victims of service-related mesothelioma do not receive this free care.

There are several reasons for this: mesothelioma has a very long latency period and symptoms may not be apparent until decades after the exposure. If the patient in question has worked in any other occupations in which asbestos exposure is an issue, it can be very difficult to prove that such exposure did in fact result from service aboard a submarine.

Another reason is that due to the continuing occupation of Iraq and combat operations in Afghanistan, demand for VHA services are extraordinarily high - and ironically, veteran's issues and health services have been a very low priority for the government.

Veterans who are victims of asbestos do have powerful allies, however. One of these is Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), author of the Ban Asbestos in America Act. Senator Murray also sits on the Veteran's Affairs Committee. Lieutenant Commander Allen Dutton (USN, Ret.) is another strong advocate for the right of veterans to receive treatment for asbestos cancer through the VHA. Such veterans' advocacy groups exist in part to assist veterans through the complex and often time-consuming process of filing a claim with the VHA.

In the meantime, those veterans that have reason to suspect they are suffering from an asbestos-related cancer should contact a qualified lawyer who specializes in asbestos litigation. These lawyers have been dealing with the asbestos industry for years and have the information that can pinpoint those who are liable - the manufacturers of asbestos products used aboard submarines and other sea-going vessels. offers a complimentary packet to patients with mesothelioma and their loved ones. This comprehensive packet contains important information about mesothelioma treatment options and top doctors found through the country. To receive your packet in the mail, please fill out the form on this page.

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