Aerographer’s Mates and Asbestos Exposure

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With the expansion of the US Navy's fleet in the last century, shipbuilding relied on asbestos because of its durability, thermal properties, and affordability. Asbestos companies recognized this outstanding profit-making opportunity and boosted production while withholding critical information about the devastating health effects of asbestos exposure.

Unbeknownst to the risks of inhaling or ingesting asbestos fibers, the military purchased asbestos in mass quantities, as World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War demanded continuous production of ships, aircraft, and vehicles. The Navy applied more than 300 asbestos products to ensure a fireproof environment on the vessels; it made avoiding asbestos exposure impossible for all personnel aboard, including naval weathermen or aerographers' mates (AG).

Asbestos becomes friable over time and releases microscopic fibers into the air when disturbed. It's the white dust many veterans remember covering various compartments of Navy ships. Asbestos dust poses a high risk of inhaling or ingesting the microscopic fibers that can float in the air for hours. Once inside the body, these tiny asbestos particles with sharp edges embed in the lining of major organs and irritate healthy tissue, causing asbestos-related diseases decades after service. In many cases, veteran's asbestos exposure is at the root of malignant diseases such as:

Former Navy personnel diagnosed with the cancers mentioned above may be eligible for compensation if their medical papers reflect such a diagnosis and they have proof of asbestos exposure.

Exposed to Asbestos While Assigned to a Navy Ship

Maintenance and repair onboard naval vessels were ongoing essential tasks that regularly disturbed asbestos. While asbestos fibers don't represent an immediate health risk when products containing them are intact, they become a danger when these materials degrade with wear and tear.

Keeping ships built before the 1980s in operational shape required asbestos rip-outs and cutting or sawing asbestos lagging to make new insulation. These maneuvers made service on a Navy ship hazardous, especially to those who worked long hours in compartments below the deck. Spaces on a naval vessel were cramped and often lacked proper ventilation, increasing the risk of inhaling or ingesting asbestos particles.

AGs played an essential role in making military operations safe and successful by providing accurate and timely meteorological and oceanographic information. AGs served on aircraft carriers, amphibious ships, and cruisers when deployed, helping ships and planes navigate weather safely during World War II. While on land, they fulfilled duty at naval air stations, weather centers, and other shore-based facilities.

The Navy established the rating of aerographer in 1924. By 1942, men and women were becoming aerographer's mates, contributing to the war effort with weather forecasts and oceanography supporting military operations. Women could become aerographer's mates through the Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Services, WAVES program during WWII. Navy service members in this enlisted rating were responsible for:

  • collecting, recording, and analyzing weather and oceanographic data
  • making visuals of weather and sea conditions through instrument observations
  • interpreting radar imagery and meteorological and oceanographic codes
  • preparing up-to-date weather and oceanographic maps
  • issuing weather forecasts and warnings
  • providing weather/oceanographic briefings
  • performing minor and preventive maintenance on meteorological instruments
  • collaborating with other military personnel and civilian scientists in researching and interpreting meteorological and oceanographic data

By the end of WWII, roughly 5,000 AGs were serving, but their numbers decreased rapidly with the military's downsizing after hostilities ended.

Regular Check-Ups Help Timely Diagnosis of an Asbestos Disease

Conditions stemming from asbestos exposure can have a latency period of up to 50 years, making their prompt discovery and diagnosis difficult. Because of this long developing period, veterans are often diagnosed when their illness has reached advanced stages, considerably reducing veterans' chances of receiving adequate help and timely care. It's the reason why former naval personnel should have regular medical examinations and chest X-rays or CT scans along with pulmonary function tests immediately when experiencing the following symptoms:

  • pain in the chest or shoulder
  • persistent dry cough
  • shortness of breath
  • night sweats
  • fatigue
  • general weakness
  • unintentional weight loss
  • respiratory system complications

The complexity of asbestos-related diseases often causes frequent misdiagnosis cases, as most doctors will likely misinterpret the signs. Consulting a pulmonary specialist qualified to treat lung diseases caused by longtime asbestos exposure is highly recommended, as it ensures an accurate health evaluation and a correct diagnosis. Requesting a second or a third doctor's opinion outside the VA is of great help, as asbestos illnesses often have symptoms resembling common health conditions. By informing your doctor about the military service and possible asbestos exposure on the ships, you can significantly help the diagnostic process. A thorough evaluation can reveal non-cancerous diseases due to asbestos exposure, such as:

Even if these diseases don't qualify a veteran for compensation, they should be monitored because they tend to develop into cancer. Regular check-ups can discover malignancies in incipient phases, and a cancer diagnosis will make a veteran eligible for claims.

Helping Navy Veterans to Receive the Rightful Compensation

On ships built before the 1980s, asbestos potentially endangered the health of every person onboard due to the Navy's mandate to use asbestos in shipbuilding. As a consequence of applying asbestos to those vessels, thousands of Navy veterans have to deal with diseases that drain their health and finances.

Former service members of the Navy, US Army Transport Service, Merchant Marine, or Coast Guard diagnosed with asbestos-related cancer may qualify for payment from asbestos trust funds and the VA if they can show proof of asbestos exposure. We can help by putting you in touch with legal experts specializing in asbestos claims who are ready to take on your case.

If you have a cancer diagnosis please contact us

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