Before asbestos regulation in the mid-1970s, all five military branches relied heavily on asbestos-containing products. Because the toxic material was mandated, all Navy ships used the hazardous mineral for decades in insulation and other components that needed to be fireproof.
Navy personnel worked with or near these products during service without knowing the danger lurking - among them aviation ordnancemen. It is why, nowadays, Navy veterans are developing severe diseases from prior proximity to military property containing asbestos, like aircraft, engine rooms, sleeping barracks, and mess halls.
Asbestos represents a health risk when, due to wear and tear, its microscopic fibers are released and linger in the air for hours. On board Navy ships built before the '80s, all personnel fulfilling duty risked inhaling the tiny asbestos fibers, as most ships had poor air circulation.
Upon inhalation, asbestos fibers get caught in the lining of the lungs, lodging in and tearing it as the lungs try to clear them out. The process causes permanent and irreversible scarring that may slowly progress since some asbestos fibers remain in the lung even if the exposure stops. Over time, cell modifications occur that, in most cases, will lead to the development of asbestos-related cancers such as:
- laryngeal cancer
- esophageal cancer
- pharyngeal cancer
- lung cancer
- colorectal cancer
- urogenital cancer
- bronchial cancer
- gastrointestinal cancer
Veterans diagnosed with cancers mentioned above meet the requirements for expedited claims and immediately qualify for compensation if their medical documentation affirms one of these malignant diseases.
Specific Occupations Increasingly Exposed Veterans to Asbestos
Being around asbestos when performing daily tasks onboard the ships built before the '80s endangered the health of Navy veterans without their awareness. Among those routinely exposed were the aviation ordnancemen (AO), weapons specialists charged with managing all types of Navy aircraft ammunition.
They were facing asbestos exposure while fulfilling duty at sea on flight decks of aircraft carriers or in magazines below deck. AOs were the fire behind the firepower, packing everything from guns and ammo to missiles and bombs onto helicopters and fighter jets. The rating's responsibilities included operating and handling aviation ordnance equipment, being in charge of:
- moving, lifting, storing, and tracking weapons
- transferring weapons to neighboring ships
- stowing, issuing, and loading munitions and small arms
- maintenance of guns, torpedoes, bombs, rockets, and missiles
AOs made an inventory of the weapons on the flight deck, whether they were loaded on aircraft or stored on the ship. They performed preventive maintenance of ammo and weaponry and tested bomb racks, missiles, and rocket launchers. AOs also handled and loaded the equipment, issued aircraft guns for squadrons, and performed any repairs needed to mechanical and electrical weapons and ordnance systems on aircraft, including complete overhaul.
All Personnel Serving on Navy Ships Built Before 1980 Risked Asbestos Exposure Unknowingly
By mandating the insulation of WW2 ships with asbestos, the Navy ensured a fireproof medium for its service members but missed information on how the material would negatively affect their health. The manufacturers who sold asbestos products took advantage of asbestos being a cheap and sought-after material on the market and neglected its health risks.
Consequently, Navy members inhaled dangerous levels of asbestos fibers whenever the material was disturbed by the ongoing ship maintenance, repair, renovation, or removal work. Moreover, Navy personnel would handle the material without protective gear, increasing the chances of inhaling the dangerous fibers. It's why it is vital for veterans to seek professional help and tell the doctor about their military service when experiencing:
- chest pain
- chest tightness
- unintentional weight loss
- persistent dry cough
- pain with inspiration
- shortness of breath
Due to the complexity of asbestos-related diseases, doctors can easily misread the symptoms and misdiagnose them for less dangerous, regular respiratory conditions like COPD or asthma. Telling your doctor about the chances of past asbestos exposure is essential for receiving a proper diagnosis and treatment.
Given that asbestos diseases manifest symptoms only after many years, it is best to schedule periodic lung checkups and to make an appointment with a pulmonologist experienced in caring for patients with lung diseases caused by prolonged asbestos exposure. Ask for a second doctor's opinion outside the VA to ensure you were adequately assessed and correctly diagnosed.
Assisting Veterans in Claiming the Rightful Compensation
Veterans diagnosed with cancer stemming from asbestos exposure qualify to file claims and receive compensation. Given that medical care and treatments can be a burden and may impact the family budget with high costs, facing these challenges can be financially and emotionally draining. On top of that, going through the paperwork can be daunting, and it's an added distress to avoid filing for claims past the statute of limitations.
Since filing a claim is complex, you should contact an attorney immediately after receiving a cancer diagnosis. We can help by connecting you with lawyers specialized in asbestos cases, skilled and experienced in getting veterans lawful compensation.