Helmsmen and Asbestos Exposure


For decades the shipbuilding industry utilized asbestos-containing materials for all insulation on Navy ships built before 1980. Consequently, asbestos was present throughout the vessels, increasing the risk of exposure to everyone onboard.

Asbestos insulation was wrapped around the pipes all over the ships, even ones that ran just inches above the beds in the sleeping quarters. The mineral was also used for fireproofing the doors and soundproofing the spaces between decks. Additionally, Naval vessels applied more than 300 asbestos-containing materials, so avoiding asbestos exposure was difficult.

Asbestos-containing materials deteriorate over time, and if disturbed, they can release tiny toxic fibers into the air, generally described as white dust by former Navy service members. Breathing in asbestos dust is at the root of incapacitating respiratory diseases that develop many years after the veteran's service ended. The microscopic particles lodge within the lung tissue causing gradual damage, often leading to cell mutations and eventually to cancer.

Navy veterans diagnosed with asbestos-related cancer qualify for claims and may be eligible for compensation if their medical documentation includes:

Because asbestos dust can remain in the air for hours, personnel working in the enclosed and often cramped spaces below deck were at a high risk of inhaling or ingesting the toxic fibers. Poor ventilation only added to the already potential danger of having asbestos-related health issues due to service in the Navy. But with asbestos present virtually everywhere on the ship, everyone onboard faced the risk of exposure.

Helmsmen were ship crew members responsible for steering the vessel. Being part of the operation and upkeep crew of deck department areas, they risked asbestos exposure while manning the helm. They maintained a steady course, reported the ship's heading and steering to the officer on the bridge, and fulfilled duties like:

  • navigation - plotting the ship's course and monitoring its position
  • communication - transmitting information between the bridge and other parts of the ship
  • safety - watching the ship's surroundings and alerting the bridge to other vessels or obstacles in the water
  • maintenance - performing routine maintenance tasks
  • watchkeeping

The helmsman's role was critical in ensuring the safe and effective operation of the ship while underway, using a variety of tools and techniques to determine the ship's position:

  • radar and other electronic equipment
  • traditional compasses and charts
  • traditional navigation techniques like the position of the stars

To carry out the duty of safe and efficient operation of the ship, helmsmen had to be aware of a variety of hazards that could jeopardize the safety of the vessel:

  • other ships in the area
  • obstacles like rocks or shoals in the water
  • changing weather conditions
  • condition of the sea
  • mechanical failures of the steering system
  • human error

Health Signs That Shouldn't Be Ignored

Health conditions caused by asbestos exposure can take decades to develop. Thus, they often go undetected until they reach advanced stages, considerably narrowing one's chances of receiving adequate help and care. It is why Navy veterans should have regular medical examinations scheduled and take chest X-rays and pulmonary function tests if they experience:

  • pain in the chest or shoulder
  • loss of appetite
  • fatigue
  • muscle aches
  • unintentional weight loss
  • clubbing of the fingers
  • persistent dry cough
  • shortness of breath

Most doctors may easily misdiagnose asbestos-related health conditions due to their complexity. Moreover, illnesses stemming from asbestos exposure often generate symptoms resembling common health conditions. This is why an appointment with a pulmonary specialist qualified to treat lung diseases linked to prolonged asbestos exposure is vital, as it can ensure an accurate evaluation and a correct diagnosis.

Another essential step to avoid misdiagnosis is asking for a second or a third doctor's opinion outside the VA. Tell your doctor about the military service to maximize your chances and help the diagnostic process. Mentioning the potential asbestos exposure during service could reveal non-cancerous diseases like:

Even if these diseases don't qualify a veteran to receive compensation, they should be checked regularly, given that non-cancerous conditions linked to asbestos exposure tend to develop into cancer. Periodic examinations and thorough evaluations are necessary for diagnosing cancers that will make veterans eligible for claims.

Offering Help for Veterans to Apply for Claims and Receive Compensation

Veterans diagnosed with asbestos-related cancers are entitled to indemnification from asbestos trust funds and VA claims. If you served on a ship before the mid-70s and experienced any symptoms described before, you should go to the doctor and get diagnosed. We highly recommend you ask the doctor to document all of their findings. The written diagnosis will provide you with the medical documentation needed for claims.

We offer help by associating you with experienced attorneys with critical knowledge and guidance for your asbestos-related claim.

If you have a cancer diagnosis please contact us

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