Demolition Divers and Asbestos Exposure


In 1939, a Navy Surgeon General's annual report outlined the dangers of asbestos exposure. Still, despite the evidence of long-term health problems caused by exposure to the fibrous mineral, all concerns were overshadowed by the start of World War II.

Even though health concerns associated with asbestos exposure once again came to the forefront after the war, it wasn't until the early 1970s that the Navy stopped using asbestos-containing materials on new ships. Until protective measures were taken, decades of construction, demolition, repair, or renovation of ships or naval buildings on land exposed thousands of sailors, marines, and soldiers to the harmful effects of asbestos. Inhaling or ingesting asbestos dust leads to tissue irritation of major organs, permanent scarring, and cell mutation progressing into tumors over time, and their potential development into asbestos-related cancers such as:

Former armed forces personnel diagnosed with the cancers listed above can file expedited claims and are immediately eligible for compensation if they have proof of asbestos exposure and their medical files show one of these malignancies.

Potential Risk of Inhaling or Ingesting Asbestos Fibers While on a Navy Ship

Demolition divers, also known as frogmen of Underwater Demolition Teams (UDTs), paved the way for today's Navy SEAL Teams. During the early years of World War II, the need for a dedicated beach-clearing and reconnaissance unit for the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps arose.

After the Pentagon ordered the establishment of several underwater special operations units, volunteers from across the fleet were gathered for the new specialty. They began training that weaponized swimming and turned the lifesaving activity into a warfighting skill designed to overcome beach defenses and ensure success in numerous amphibious invasions worldwide. Approximately 1,000 young swim scouts became special operations unit members after the rigorous course and received training in:

  • demolition and underwater reconnaissance
  • using explosives to create boat channels
  • stealth swim techniques
  • surveying enemy beaches
  • working in buddy pairs
  • small-boat operations
  • hydrographic charting

UDTs swam long distances to shore, often under fire, using only primitive swim fins and masks to carry out missions such as:

  • swimming in stealth to beaches before landings
  • charting the depths
  • defusing mines
  • blowing up obstacles by hand to clear the way

They worked with simple tools for recording depths and satchels with explosives for destroying obstacles. The frogman's only weapon was a fixed-blade knife, the only thing a diver could carry. It became a symbol of the UDTs, and it's a tradition that every new SEAL is given the same fixed-blade Navy knife that the frogmen carried as a reminder of the frogman's heritage. The Navy deployed large numbers of demolition swimmers for the first time in Europe. The Naval Combat Demolition Teams, later organized into larger Underwater Demolition Teams, made history in Italy, Normandy, and southern France. Moreover, UDT swimmers participated in almost every major amphibious assault in the Pacific Theater.

Members of UDTs risked asbestos exposure while deployed aboard naval vessels built before the 1980s. Service on these ships involved being around and working with more than 300 asbestos-containing products, posing a high risk of exposure for everyone aboard.

Precise Diagnosis Is of the Essence in an Asbestos Disease

Given that conditions stemming from asbestos exposure can have a latency period of up to 50 years, discovering and correctly diagnosing them becomes a difficult task for most medical specialists. Due to this long developing period, former service members are often diagnosed when their disease is in advanced stages, considerably reducing the chances of veterans receiving adequate help and timely care. It's the reason why former Navy personnel should undergo regular check-ups and chest X-rays or CT scans along with pulmonary function tests without delay when experiencing the following symptoms:

  • shortness of breath
  • chest pain
  • chest tightness
  • wheezing
  • dizziness
  • fatigue
  • unintentional weight loss
  • persistent dry cough
  • pain with inspiration

Because asbestos-related diseases are complex, frequent misdiagnosis happens because most doctors are likely to misinterpret the signs. Requesting advice from a pulmonary specialist qualified to treat lung diseases caused by longtime asbestos exposure is highly recommended for an accurate health evaluation and a precise diagnosis. Seeking a second or a third doctor's opinion outside the VA increases the chances of a correct assessment, as asbestos illnesses often have symptoms similar to common health conditions. Letting your doctor know about the military service and possible asbestos exposure on the ships significantly helps the diagnostic process. An exhaustive evaluation can reveal non-cancerous diseases linked to asbestos exposure, such as:

Although these illnesses don't qualify a veteran for compensation, they should be kept under observation as they tend to become cancerous. Regular medical consultations can uncover malignant diseases in incipient phases, and a cancer diagnosis will make veterans eligible for claims.

Assisting Veterans Diagnosed With Asbestos Cancer to Seek Financial Compensation

Navy, U.S. Army Transport Service, Coast Guard, Air Force, and Merchant Marine veterans diagnosed with asbestos-related cancer may apply for compensation to cover their expenditures, among them medical treatments and lost income. Filing claims has a statute of limitations, so being up-to-date spares you the experience of filing for claims after the deadline has expired.

To avoid instances where you cannot pursue compensation, you should contact an attorney as soon as possible following the diagnosis to ensure your claims get filed on time. We can assist you in contacting experienced asbestos attorneys who are ready to help you receive the deserved financial aid.

If you have a cancer diagnosis please contact us

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