During the last century, asbestos was abundantly present on Navy ships and submarines in wall insulation, machinery, and equipment. Asbestos was cheap and had multiple functional properties that no other material could match. Tensile strength, heat resistance, and chemical damage resistance contributed to its extensive use in the shipbuilding process or during the ship's repairs.
Many veterans who served on the ships built before 1980 found out after 15-50 years that they suffer from asbestos-related diseases due to inhaling or ingesting the asbestos fibers. Asbestos exposure was impossible to avoid, as the ships were insulated from bow to stern with the "miracle material."
The Navy established the Interior Communications Electricians (IC) rating in 1948, derived from the Electrician's Mate rating. Often called "IC-men" by their shipmates, ICs' responsibilities include installing, maintaining, and repairing interior communications systems on ships and at shore facilities. Because internal communications are highly vital to shipboard activity, ICs work everywhere on a ship to keep all systems working at all times:
- indicating and navigation
- speed and steering control
- power generation and distribution
- aviation monitoring and landing
- alarm and warning
Given that these systems are installed and operated below deck, ICs risked asbestos exposure daily in the poorly ventilated rooms of Navy ships built before the 80s. Working many hours mainly indoors aggravated the already dangerous circumstances and prolonged their asbestos exposure. IC's duties included being on switchboard watches in the boiler rooms, as a veteran who served on the USS Albany as an IC-man remembers. He was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia many years after his service.
All personnel fulfilling duty on the ships constructed before the 80s faced a high risk of asbestos exposure. Being around the toxic material over an extended period is associated with various types of asbestos-related cancerous conditions:
- bronchial cancer
- lung cancer
- laryngeal cancer
- gastrointestinal cancer
- pharyngeal cancer
- colorectal cancer
- esophageal cancer
- urogenital cancer
When inhaled or ingested, the microscopic asbestos fibers attach to the heart, lungs, and abdomen lining, scarring it over time. Prolonged cell irritation by the tiny fibers eventually results in creating cancerous tumors. But the small asbestos parts can be at the root of benign asbestos illnesses like:
- interstitial pulmonary fibrosis
- pleural effusion
- pleural plaques
- rounded atelectasis
Diagnosed with diseases like the ones above doesn't make you eligible for compensation. Still, as these conditions tend to develop into cancer, keeping them under observation is advisable. You may qualify to file claims in case of a precise asbestos-related cancer diagnosis.
Navy Veterans Should Be Outspoken About Asbestos Exposure
The Navy's widespread use of asbestos-containing products made it more likely that Navy members would inhale dangerous levels of asbestos fibers whenever the material was disturbed during maintenance, repair, renovation, or removal. The enclosed rooms on ships with limited ventilation further increased the chances of inhaling asbestos fibers. Some of the Navy jobs with a high risk of asbestos exposure were:
- damage controlman
- gunners' mate
- machinist's mate
- hull technician
Navy personnel usually were not equipped with protective gear, so they were highly susceptible to inhaling the dangerous fibers. Many veterans are unaware of how airborne asbestos fibers could cause diseases connected to their past service. It is essential to seek professional help and tell the doctor about your military service when experiencing relevant signs of disturbed lung function:
- chest pain
- chest tightness
- persistent dry cough
- pain with inspiration
- shortness of breath
- unintentional weight loss
Talking about past asbestos exposure is very important, as asbestos-related illnesses are often misdiagnosed for other respiratory conditions like COPD or asthma. Given the complexity of asbestos-related diseases, doctors can easily misread the symptoms, so asking for a second or even a third doctor's opinion outside the VA is crucial for an exact diagnosis and the best-personalized treatment.
Offering Assistance to Veterans Exposed to Asbestos on US Navy Ships
The VA provides health monitoring and treatment options for veterans exposed to asbestos during their enlistment. To be eligible for the benefits administered by the VA, the veteran must first prove that asbestos exposure occurred while under active duty and show a record of any medical treatments received for a subsequent malignant asbestos-related condition.
If you or someone you know was exposed to asbestos during active duty and suffered from cancer, we can put you in touch with some of the best attorneys if you want to file a claim to get financial compensation for your suffering.