Mesothelioma Treatment for Coast Guard Veterans

Coast Guard veterans with asbestos-related cancer can apply to receive low-cost treatment through the Department of Veterans Affairs health system. The VA treatment centers in Boston, Los Angeles, Miami or Houston are served by top mesothelioma specialists.

If a veteran’s cancer was caused by asbestos exposure that occurred during their Coast Guard service, they are entitled to free VA cancer treatment as well as other special VA benefits.

Military asbestos exposure has come back to haunt many U.S. veterans after their retirement, including Coast Guard veterans.

Asbestos products are resistant to heat and corrosion, which made them useful for building ships and naval bases. Asbestos dust is highly toxic, however — a fact the U.S. government failed to acknowledge for many years.

Veterans exposed to asbestos many years ago are at risk of developing diseases such as asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma.

Filing a VA Claim & Compensation for Coast Guard Veterans

A service-connected cancer diagnosis grants Coast Guard veterans the maximum amount of monthly disability compensation for their family size. Surviving spouses of veterans who die from a service-connected disability can receive dependency and indemnity compensation.

However, because it can take anywhere from 20 to 50 years for asbestos exposure to cause cancer, filing for VA benefits based on asbestos exposure is a complex process. The claimant must provide enough documentation to prove their military asbestos exposure.

An accredited VA claims agent from our Veterans Department can help military families prepare a written asbestos exposure summary and gather the necessary records for their VA claim.

Military families should also consider filing a legal claim to recover lost income, caregiving expenses and other costs not covered by veterans benefits.

An experienced mesothelioma lawyer can advise you about filing a claim against the private companies that supplied asbestos products to the Coast Guard.

veteran supported by wife and shaking hands with attorney
Exposed to Asbestos in the Military?
Learn how to access benefits available to veterans affected by an asbestos-related illness.

Which Coast Guard Veterans Are Most at Risk?

As for veterans of the other military branches, Coast Guard service members who served during World War II faced the highest risks of asbestos exposure. Many Coast Guard members worked in shipyards where the mineral was used to insulate and fireproof ships and boats.

Veterans who served at the Curtis Bay Coast Guard Yard were at risk during shipbuilding and repair activities. Asbestos was also found in the barracks at the shipyard, known as Fleet Hall. Each of the building’s wings had a roof made from asbestos-containing shingles.

Onboard ships, mixing asbestos cement in poorly ventilated areas such as boiler rooms and engine rooms also created high levels of toxic dust. The Coast Guard used asbestos in vessels until the 1970s, when the federal government began regulating its use.

Coast Guard Jobs with Highest Risk of Asbestos Exposure

  • Shipyard insulation work
  • Boiler and engine room maintenance
  • Cargo ship inspection

In the 1970s, the Coast Guard and the National Cancer Institute collaborated on a study evaluating the mortality rate of marine inspectors between 1942 and 1970. A 2009 follow-up study published in Military Medicine extended the cohort by 14 years.

The studies found Coast Guard marine inspectors have a much higher mortality rate than other officers in the branch.

Marine inspectors were exposed to many toxic substances during inspections of merchant vessels in the U.S. and abroad. They inspected cargo tanks and pump rooms, which are areas known for containing asbestos products.

Many of these exposures occurred inside Liberty Ships, the primary vessels used to transport war materials to places of conflict during WWII and the Cold War. Liberty Ships were loaded with asbestos materials in pipes, ducts, insulation and heating systems.

decorative uses of corrugated transite

In August 2020, a study published in the International Journal of Radiation Biology looked at the cause of death for military personnel, including members of the Coast Guard, who participated in nuclear weapons tests from 1945 to 1962. A high risk of mesothelioma was documented among those who served on U.S. naval vessels.

Coast Guard veterans also faced the risk of asbestos exposure on bases. While some military bases have been cleaned up, many continue to present exposure risks. In May 2020, the U.S. Defense Department’s Inspector General released a report on 38,000 military housing units containing hazardous substances including asbestos or lead.

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Coast Guard Vessels That Contained Asbestos

Cutters, which are the largest ships in the Coast Guard, have large engine rooms that used to contain a variety of asbestos insulation and fireproofing materials. Coast Guard veterans assigned to these larger vessels may have been continuously exposed to asbestos.

Other large Coast Guard ships used asbestos in pipes, deck-coating materials and electrical wiring. Polar-class icebreaker ships are a prime example.

List of Coast Guard Boats That Contained Asbestos Products

  • Cutters
  • Icebreakers
  • Long-range interceptors
  • Transportable port security boats
  • Tug boats
  • USCG seagoing buoy tenders
  • Utility boats
Two Coast Guard vessels tied up at the Portsmouth, NH Shipyard.
Two Coast Guard vessels tied up at the Portsmouth, NH Shipyard.

Curtis Bay Coast Guard Yard

The Curtis Bay Coast Guard Yard is located southeast of Baltimore, Maryland. It was established in 1899 as a training academy and boat repair facility, and it began to operate as a shipbuilding and repair site by 1910.

For much of the 20th century, military personnel and civilians were exposed to asbestos at the Coast Guard Yard.

Coast Guard Yard Asbestos Exposure

When the U.S. entered WWII, the Curtis Bay Coast Guard Yard was responsible for a high volume of vessel repair, overhaul and manufacturing activities. By the 1970s, the facility was heavily contaminated with toxic substances such as asbestos, PCBs, pesticides and dioxin.

In 2002, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency designated the yard as a Superfund site.

The EPA signed an agreement with the Coast Guard in 2008 to clean the yard. In exchange, the Coast Guard had to identify environmental impacts associated with its past activities and then take the necessary actions to protect the community and the environment.

The Curtis Bay Coast Guard Yard now provides industrial support for the Coast Guard. This includes the design, construction, overhaul, repair and modification of ships.

Civilian Asbestos Exposure at Curtis Bay

In 2007, an Occupational & Environmental Medicine study analyzed 4,702 civilian workers who were employed at Curtis Bay between 1950 and 1964. Researchers found the workers had a higher mesothelioma mortality rate compared to the average population.

Workers employed at the shipyard for more than 10 years were roughly 33 percent more likely to die from mesothelioma than those employed less than 10 years.

“Employment in this Coast Guard shipyard revealed a small but significant excess mortality from all causes, lung cancer and mesothelioma, most of which is probably related to asbestos exposure,” the study concluded.

There is at least one known mesothelioma-related lawsuit involving the Curtis Bay Coast Guard Yard. In 2003, the estate of Harry Hunter sued Owens-Illinois Glass for providing Kaylo insulation, an asbestos product used at Curtis Bay.

Hunter, who died from mesothelioma in 2001, had worked as an electrician at Curtis Bay for 33 days during the summer of 1956 while he was in college.

The jury awarded Hunter’s estate $4.2 million for his wrongful death. The amount was later reduced because Maryland state law mandated a liability limit of $600,000.