Marine Veterans

Members of the U.S. Marine Corps were unknowingly exposed to asbestos. Veterans exposed during their service are at risk for developing mesothelioma or other asbestos-related diseases. Our Veterans Department provides free guidance for these veterans, as well as free assistance with claiming benefits from the VA.

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This page features: 11 cited research articles

U.S. Marine Corps veterans, like all veterans of the U.S. military, are at risk for developing mesothelioma and other asbestos-related conditions from exposure to asbestos during their military service.

Throughout the 20th century, asbestos was highly regarded for its resistance to heat and chemical damage. It is also flexible, strong and affordable, which made it a desirable material for all U.S. military branches.

The ships, airplanes and armored vehicles that Marines used exposed them to toxic asbestos fibers and put them at risk of developing mesothelioma. Additionally, the Marine Corps worked closely with the Navy, the military branch that used the most asbestos products. The Marine Corps relationship with the Navy drastically increased the risk of asbestos exposure for Marines. They may have been regarded as the most highly trained fighters in the world, well aware of the dangers that an enemy presents, but they didn’t know about the dangers from within.

Pleural Mesothelioma in Veterans

More and more veterans are learning now, long after leaving their service, about pleural mesothelioma, a rare cancer that affects the lining of the lungs and is caused almost exclusively by the inhalation of asbestos. Between 2,000 and 3,000 cases are diagnosed each year in the U.S. About one-third of mesothelioma lawsuits are filed by veterans.

Long-term Health Hazards

The long-term health hazards of asbestos were known a long time ago, but they were largely overlooked by the military because of the overwhelming demand for its coveted qualities. It wasn’t until the 1970s that governmental regulations of asbestos made a difference in the use of the toxic mineral in the U.S. Mesothelioma Guide

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Marines Exposed to Asbestos on Ships

The amphibious nature of the Marines, often part of and supported by the Navy, left the Marines vulnerable to a different kind of attack. A Marine serving on a ship could not prevent the dangers of asbestos.

Marines and Mesothelioma

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, there are more than 25 million veterans in America today. It is unknown how many Marine Corps veterans developed mesothelioma, but any veteran who spent a significant amount of time at sea is at risk.

Marines on Navy Ships

From World War II through the Vietnam War, Marines were transported on Navy ships, where the use of asbestos was widespread. Poor ventilation aboard military ships and the abundance of asbestos often exposed both sailors and Marines on a daily basis.

Asbestos Products

Asbestos products also were used in the dining and sleeping quarters on the ships, the engine and boiler rooms and around pipes as insulation. Asbestos was so prevalent that it was found in the cables, gaskets and valves throughout the ships.

  • Dining and sleeping quarters
  • Engine and boiler rooms
  • Pipes as insulation
  • Cables, gaskets and valves

Risk in Shipyards

Shipyards also posed a risk for asbestos exposure for Marines and sailors. Shipyards had an alarming number of materials containing asbestos to build the ships and ensure each vessel was as fire-retardant as possible.

Marines Exposed on Land

On land, asbestos was a part of everyday life for Marines. Virtually every military installation had countless construction products that contained asbestos: Flooring tiles, ceiling and roofing materials, insulation and other materials used to resist heat.

Quick Fact

Members of the U.S. armed forces who were part of the removal of asbestos products may also have been exposed.

For example, the Yuma Marine Corps Air Station in Arizona was contaminated with asbestos. The station became a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Superfund site in 1990. Use of asbestos around the base led to soil contamination. In 2001, all the asbestos-contaminated soil was removed. Cleanup at the Yuma station continues with a focus on groundwater contamination.

Asbestos contamination was also found in the following California Marine Corps bases: El Toro Marine Corps Air Station, Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base and Barstow Marine Corps Logistics Base. In North Carolina, asbestos was found at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune.

  1. Sleeping Quarters

    Asbestos was found in bedding and piping insulation around sleeping quarters. Small disturbances could have released asbestos fibers into the air, creating a risk for mesothelioma.

  2. Military Vehicles

    Military vehicles were also made with products containing asbestos, including brakes, gaskets and engine parts. When these parts became worn or damaged from use, asbestos fibers may have become airborne.

  3. Construction Bans

    The dangers of asbestos became indisputable by the mid-70s, and the military banned its use in new construction, but many of the ships and support vehicles remained in service for many more years.

Exposed to Asbestos in the Military?

Our Veterans Department is available to answer your questions and help you secure your VA benefits.

Marines at Risk of Mesothelioma

Marine Corps veterans have developed mesothelioma, and other asbestos-related diseases, as a result of their exposure during service.

For example, David Cutts served in the Marine Corps, spending time in Vietnam in the 1960s. He was diagnosed with mesothelioma and opted for aggressive treatment in 2005 that included surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. The treatment plan worked and his mesothelioma has remained in control for years beyond the average survival rate.

John Johnson served in the Marine Corps in the 1960s. Johnson served in Vietnam, and 40 years later he was diagnosed with mesothelioma. Johnson was initially misdiagnosed and by the time he received care from a mesothelioma specialist, it was too late for the therapies to work effectively. He died of mesothelioma in 2012.

Actor Steve McQueen believed his asbestos exposure began during his time in the Marine Corps. McQueen died of a heart attack in 1980 shortly after surgery for mesothelioma, which he sought in Mexico after U.S. doctors told him there was nothing more they could do for him.

Free Resources for Marine Corps Veterans

20 to 50 Years Image

Because mesothelioma typically develops 20 to 50 years after asbestos exposure occurs, Marine Corps veterans may now be experiencing symptoms like shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing and persistent chest pain.

All Marine Corps veterans should receive routine checkups with a qualified physician to look for any signs of past asbestos exposure that could lead to a mesothelioma diagnosis.

The Mesothelioma Center’s Veterans Department is dedicated to helping all Marine Corps veterans who may have been exposed to asbestos and can help find a mesothelioma specialist to oversee their care.

Our experienced representatives can also help veterans claim financial assistance from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and help navigate this complex process. Whether it is a question that needs to be answered or assistance with filing a VA claim, help from our Veterans Department is always free.

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Former U.S. Army Capt. Aaron Munz is the director of the Veterans Department at The Mesothelioma Center, and he is a VA-accredited Claims Agent. He received the Bronze Star in 2004 during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Munz has intimate knowledge of how veterans were exposed to asbestos because he served under similar conditions. Read More

Last Modified February 16, 2018
  1. Bartrip, Peter. (2006). Beyond the Factory Gates: Asbestos and Health in Twentieth Century America. New York: Continuum.
  2. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2013, August). Exposure to asbestos. Retrieved from Retrieved from:
  3. (2011, January 5). Many Vets at Risk for Mesothelioma. Retrieved from Retrieved from:
  4. U.S. EPA. (n.d.). Yuma Marine Corps Air Station. Retrieved from Retrieved from:
  5. Salem News. (2012, April 17). MCAS El Toro: Modern day ghost town. Retrieved from Retrieved from:
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