From the 1930s through the 1980s, the U.S. Navy was a substantial consumer of asbestos-containing products. It made asbestos exposure of many service members constant and unavoidable, increasing their chances of developing asbestos-related diseases.
Due to its well-known adverse health effects, using asbestos is restricted by state and federal regulations today. Still, the devastating effects of being unknowingly exposed to asbestos during military service continue to manifest.
Once inhaled or ingested, asbestos fibers can lodge in the lung tissue causing irreversible damage in the form of irritation, inflammation, and scarring. The microscopic asbestos fibers can lie dormant in the lungs for up to 50 years before creating a diagnosable disease. Exposure to asbestos fibers over a long period is linked to the development of various lung conditions:
- pulmonary fibrosis
- lung nodules and spots
- chronic bronchitis
- lung cancer
The main characteristic of asbestos-related lung diseases is that they can reduce the normal expansion of the lungs, causing shortness of breath. Reduced lung capacity prevents oxygen absorption from the air and results in reduced oxygen levels in the bloodstream, which leads to the sensation of running short of oxygen. Difficulty in breathing is one of the relevant signs of the lungs failing to function as they used to, along with other particular symptoms like:
- chest pain or tightness
- pain with inspiration
- heart palpitation
Hypoxemia - An Abnormally Low Level of Oxygen in the Blood
The lung scarring and inflammation caused by long-term asbestos exposure make taking full, deep breaths almost impossible. The stiffening of the lungs that occurs when the lung tissue becomes damaged by the inhaled tiny fibers generates coughing, discomfort, and crackling sounds when breathing. It signals permanent lung damage and results in lower-than-normal blood oxygen levels - hypoxemia.
The body needs a certain amount of oxygen to function correctly, and low blood oxygen levels can lead to severe complications like damaged organs, especially the brain, and heart. Signs that the blood oxygen has fallen below a certain level:
- worsening cough
- trouble breathing
- racing pulse rate
- memory loss
- occasional confusion
- persisting tiredness
- swelling of feet and legs
- restlessness and discomfort
- inability to walk or exercise
- a bluish shade of the face, lips, or nails
Oxygen levels are monitored at home with the pulse oximeter or pulse ox. The device is usually placed on a fingertip and uses beams of light to indirectly measure the oxygen level in the blood without drawing a blood sample. The indications of low blood oxygen levels also signal that veterans should be on oxygen supplementation.
Oxygen as Medicine for Veterans' Breathing Issues
The VHA's policy dictates that home oxygen services must be provided to all eligible veterans who meet medical indications for home oxygen and have a valid prescription. Although it has no known drug interactions, oxygen is a prescription drug due to its specific biochemical and physiologic actions. It's an effective treatment in well-defined doses and has adverse effects at high doses.
Veterans qualify for home oxygen therapy if they have either: an arterial blood gas (PaO2) at or below 55 mm Hg or an oxygen saturation at or below 88%, taken at rest (awake). Upon these values, the VA healthcare provider can order respiratory therapy equipment for the veteran's care at home. Common ways of delivering oxygen for home oxygen therapy:
- Compressed Gas - oxygen is stored under pressure in a cylinder equipped with a regulator that controls the flow rate. The device releases oxygen only when you inhale and cuts it off when you exhale. The cylinder can be small to be carried with you or a large tank that is only suitable for stationary use because it's heavy.
- Liquid Oxygen - oxygen is stored as a freezing liquid in a container, identical to a thermos. The liquid converts to a gas upon release, and you breathe it as cylinder gas. This storing method frees up more space than the compressed gas cylinder and allows you to transfer the liquid into a portable container at home. The container vents when not in use, and an oxygen-conserving device may be built into it.
- Oxygen Concentrator - this electrically powered device separates the oxygen from the air, concentrates it, and stores it. The system does not need to be resupplied and is not as costly as liquid oxygen. Extra tubing allows for moving around with minimal difficulty. You should have a backup cylinder of oxygen in case of a power failure and advise your electric power company to get priority service when there is a power failure.
- Portable Oxygen Concentrators - are quiet, light, and small devices that allow you to receive supplemental oxygen while out of the home. Similarly to home concentrators, they extricate oxygen from the air and convert it into condensed oxygen for breathing.
Veterans under home oxygen therapy should never change the flow rate without their healthcare provider's approval. Breathing in higher oxygen concentrations can cause oxygen toxicity that affects all organs but most often damages the lungs, eyes, and brain. Be sure to reach out to your healthcare provider when experiencing the symptoms of oxygen toxicity:
- chest pain
- strain breathing
- blurred vision
- mild throat irritation
- muscle twitching in the face and hands
- unexplained swelling of feet and legs
We Offer Assistance to Veterans Suffering from Asbestos-Related Diseases
All personnel serving in the U.S. Navy from the 1930s to the early 1980s faced a high risk of asbestos exposure. Because the symptoms of asbestos-related pulmonary diseases are similar to the ones of common pulmonary illnesses, conditions developed from asbestos exposure are often misdiagnosed. It's advisable to tell your doctor about your employment history to ensure you are diagnosed correctly and get a second and even third doctor's opinion outside the VA when diagnosed with the following non-cancerous diseases stemming from asbestos exposure:
- interstitial pulmonary fibrosis
- pleural effusion
- pleural plaques
- rounded atelectasis
Even if a non-cancerous diagnosis alone doesn't make you eligible for compensation, with the high risk of these illnesses turning into cancer, an asbestos-related cancer diagnosis will qualify you to file a claim.
Veterans of the Navy, Coast Guard, Merchant Marine, U.S. Army Transport Service, and Air Force become eligible for disability compensation if diagnosed with any of the following asbestos-related cancers:
- bronchial cancer
- lung cancer
- laryngeal cancer
- gastrointestinal cancer
- pharyngeal cancer
- colorectal cancer
- esophageal cancer
- urogenital cancer
As every case is individual, receiving precise advice on your rights and options conforming to your specific circumstances is essential. We can help you connect with experienced attorneys for comprehensive information on how to benefit from the compensation you qualify for.