Throughout the last century, the U.S. military put considerable resources into adequately equipping its branches to ensure they succeeded in combat. Asbestos was abundant on the market, and its fireproof qualities and low cost allowed the production of military equipment quickly and in large amounts for World War II.
Building ships for the Navy fleet demanded the advantages of using asbestos. Hence, the Navy mandated this toxic mineral to ensure proper insulation on naval vessels and a safe environment for the onboard personnel. Nobody thought of the danger airborne asbestos fibers represented, and the manufacturers withheld crucial information on asbestos's toxicity to preserve their flourishing businesses. As a result, thousands of Navy veterans, including explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) technicians and officers, worked and lived in a highly contaminated environment, unaware of their routine exposure to the fibrous mineral.
Asbestos exposure is the culprit of life-altering diseases that develop after decades of latency. The inhaled or ingested microscopic asbestos fibers primarily affect the lungs, but they can reach other major organs by traveling with the blood. The thread-like tiny asbestos particles have sharp ends that tear at the lining of organs after they get caught in it and will irritate the tissue, causing chronic inflammation and permanent scarring. Eventually, the process leads to cell mutation and tumors that may turn into asbestos-related cancer, such as:
- lung cancer
- bronchial cancer
- laryngeal cancer
- esophageal cancer
- pharyngeal cancer
- urogenital cancer
- gastrointestinal cancer
- colorectal cancer
Former Navy personnel diagnosed with the cancers mentioned above immediately qualify for compensation and expedited claims if they have proof of asbestos exposure and medical records about one of these malignant diseases.
Adding Asbestos Exposure to the List of Risks EOD Teams Faced
While serving on aircraft carriers and ammunition ships built before the 1980s to support offshore air operations, EOD technicians and officers risked exposure to asbestos alongside the ship's personnel. The vessels' maintenance and repair were ongoing tasks, disturbing asbestos regularly and potentially releasing its fibers into the air. Asbestos dust would linger in the air for hours as the spaces below deck often lacked proper ventilation, increasing everyone's chances of inhaling or ingesting the minuscule particles, EOD teams included.
Deployed EOD technicians on board ships at sea were part of small teams, usually composed of one officer and two enlisted men. They fully integrated with the Combatant Commanders, Special Operations Forces, and warfare units within the Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Army. In 1942, the U.S. Navy and U.S. Army developed their own EOD training system to form technicians capable of performing duties such as:
- detonating and demolishing hazardous munitions, pyrotechnics, and outdated explosives
- neutralizing varied ordnance: sea mines, torpedoes, or depth charges
- turning off unsafe ordnance remotely
- performing parachute or helicopter operations
- clearing waterways of mines in support of ships and submarines
- conducting underwater searches in ports to ensure safe arrival for the fleet
EOD technicians could handle and dispose of all types of explosives, whether professionally constructed or homemade. They performed on land and underwater to locate, identify, recover, or dispose of foreign and domestic ordnance. Additionally, EOD units participated in inland intelligence operations and interacted with ground-based units during their assigned missions and operations. The Navy EOD community from today stems from the Navy's first Mine Disposal class, which graduated in 1941. They were the World War II Mine and Bomb Disposal personnel, the force that unblocked Wonsan Harbor from sea mines during the Korean War and disposed of land and sea mines during the Vietnam War. WWII EOD technicians were among the first to land on European and Pacific beaches to clear the channels and harbors, providing critical access to Allied landing forces.
Longtime Asbestos Exposure Behind Veterans' Deteriorating Health
Besides the service-related risks of being in the Navy, veterans also faced inhaling hazardous levels of asbestos fibers on the ships built before the 1980s. Renovation, maintenance, repair, or removal work was usually done without proper protective gear, increasing the chances of inhaling the toxic fibers. Therefore, veterans should seek professional help without delay and inform the doctor about their military service when experiencing:
- shortness of breath
- pain in the chest or shoulder
- persistent dry cough
- general weakness
- night sweats
- unintentional weight loss
- respiratory system complications
The complexity of asbestos-related diseases complicates the diagnostic process, and doctors can misinterpret the symptoms and misdiagnose regular, less dangerous respiratory conditions like COPD or asthma. To prevent such a time-wasting error, you should tell your doctor about the possibility of asbestos exposure while serving. It's a piece of essential information needed for an exact diagnosis and timely treatment of non-cancerous diseases due to asbestos exposure, such as:
- recurrent pneumonia
- rounded atelectasis
- chronic bronchitis
- pleural effusion
- pleural thickening
- pulmonary fibrosis
- lung nodules and spots
- pleural plaques
Because asbestos illnesses manifest symptoms only after 10 to 50 years, it is advisable to schedule periodic checkups and an appointment with a pulmonologist experienced in lung diseases caused by asbestos exposure. Requesting a second doctor's opinion outside the VA is strongly advisable to ensure you were thoroughly assessed and correctly diagnosed.
Even though benign asbestos conditions don't qualify veterans to file claims and receive compensation, they should be checked regularly, as they tend to turn into cancer. Chest X-rays and pulmonary function tests help in monitoring their evolution, and if they become malignant, veterans may be eligible for asbestos claims if diagnosed with cancer.
Supporting Veterans to Receive Their Rightful Compensation
With asbestos contaminating the ships built before the 1980s, Navy veterans have to fight for their health now and face asbestos illnesses that impact their health and finances significantly. Filing for compensation from the asbestos trust funds and VA benefits can be daunting, especially if the health issues consume most of veterans' time and energy.
Many former service members never apply, even if the monetary reward could help with financial issues. The help of an attorney experienced in asbestos claims spares you from the paperwork, expedites the collection of required service-related documents, and can prove a connection between military service and asbestos exposure. We offer assistance by connecting you with legal experts ready to help with your case.