Before asbestos regulation, all five military branches relied heavily on asbestos-containing products. The mineral abounded the market, was cheap, and had fire- and heat-resistant properties ideal for insolating the increasing number of ships that wartime demanded. It is why asbestos was found in more than 300 products applied on the vessels of the Navy Fleet.
Navy personnel working with or near these products risked inhaling or ingesting airborne asbestos fibers that could be released due to wear and tear or mishandling of asbestos materials present onboard. The routine repair and maintenance necessary on the ships disturbed the toxic material regularly, putting everyone aboard in harm's way, including minemen or ordnance specialists.
Because the tiny asbestos particles could linger in the air for hours and most ships had poor air circulation, avoiding exposure was impossible. When inhaled, the microscopic asbestos fibers get caught in the lining of the lungs and lodge in it, tearing at the tissues with every breath, causing irritation and acute inflammation. The process will lead to permanent scarring over time and cause cell modifications that can progress into tumors and further develop into asbestos-related cancers such as:
- bronchial cancer
- laryngeal cancer
- esophageal cancer
- pharyngeal cancer
- lung cancer
- colorectal cancer
- urogenital cancer
- gastrointestinal cancer
Former service members diagnosed with these cancers are eligible for expedited claims and immediately qualify for compensation if they have proof of exposure to asbestos and their medical documents show one of these malignant diseases.
Risking Asbestos Exposure in the Bellow-Deck Compartments
Many companies used asbestos in manufacturing the products applied on the Navy ships built before the 1980s, so the toxic material was present in most parts of the vessels, from the engine and boiler rooms to navigation rooms, mess halls, and sleeping quarters.
Minemen (MN) performed their duties in a mechanical shop setting aboard minesweepers, assisting in detecting and neutralizing underwater mines. Ashore, MNs worked as technicians and checked, assembled, and maintained the underwater explosive devices by testing the various electronic components to ensure that the mine worked adequately. They were also responsible for safely handling, storing, and loading mines for transporting.
The mineman rating was established in 1943, disestablished four years later, and re-established in 1948. MNs are Navy enlisted personnel who protect the fleet and commercial vessels by detecting and neutralizing underwater minefields. They are tactical and operational Mine Warfare experts who conduct mining and mine countermeasures operations. MNs' duties varied, as the minesweepers operated with fewer people than large ships. Even so, those serving on minesweepers had to handle all the requirements of a U.S. Naval vessel. MNs primarily served on Avenger-class mine countermeasure ships ( MCMs) or Littoral Combat ships ( LCSs), and their regular tasks included:
- routine maintenance of mines, guns, and gun mounts
- handling surface equipment, surface sonar equipment, and small arms
- basic seamanship tasks
- testing and inspecting gun ammunition
- interpreting radar presentations
- evaluating tactical situations
- making CIC displays of strategic and tactical information
- solving complex electronic problems of system failures
MNs trained, directed, and supervised personnel in daily ship maintenance activities, such as painting, upkeep of the ship's external structure, and directed rigging maneuvers. They were also required to operate:
- mine-handling equipment such as forklifts and cranes
- various tools and equipment such as sandblasters, grinders, or pneumatic torque tools
- electrical meters and electronic test equipment
Minemen provided technical information and advice on operational capabilities, limitations, reliability, and readiness.
Permanent Health Damages Due to Routine Asbestos Exposure
Asbestos was the "miracle material" mandated by the Navy, and it was widely utilized in every aspect of the shipbuilding process during the effort of building the vessels for WW2. While it ensured the fireproofing of naval ships, nobody thought of its negative impact on personnel's health. Nowadays, many veterans are suffering from the consequences of prolonged asbestos exposure during their service and may develop non-cancerous diseases stemming from it:
- recurrent pneumonia
- rounded atelectasis
- chronic bronchitis
- pleural effusion
- pleural plaques
- pleural thickening
- pulmonary fibrosis
- lung nodules and spots
Even though these illnesses don't qualify veterans to receive compensation, they should be checked periodically, as non-cancerous asbestos diseases may potentially turn into cancer. Regular chest X-rays and pulmonary function tests can help in monitoring them. Veterans will become eligible for claims if these non-cancerous illnesses evolve into malignant diseases.
Asbestos-related diseases are complex and, therefore, often misdiagnosed. Moreover, the symptoms resemble other common respiratory diseases, making it more difficult to recognize them. Doctors may misinterpret the signs and mistreat these conditions, losing precious time when accessing the proper treatment as soon as possible is crucial. To prevent such situations, Navy veterans should make an appointment with the doctor immediately and schedule a screening when the following symptoms occur:
- pain in the chest or shoulder
- persistent dry cough
- shortness of breath
- night sweats
- general weakness
- unintentional weight loss
- respiratory system complications
It's vital to go to the doctor right after the first signs appear and to request a second or even a third doctor's opinion outside the VA. Consulting with pulmonary specialists ensures you'll receive an exact diagnosis and access the best suitable treatment. To help your diagnostic process, tell your doctor about the military service and the possibility of asbestos exposure on the ships.
Navy Veterans Diagnosed With Asbestos Cancer May Qualify to File a Claim
Due to asbestos's excessive use on Navy ships until the 1980s, illnesses stemming from inhaling or ingesting the toxic fibers increased among veterans who served on contaminated vessels. Those diagnosed with cancer due to service-related asbestos exposure may access VA benefits. The severity of veterans' condition will determine the number of benefits they can receive, and there's a statute of limitations of up to five years from the date of diagnosis they must abide by.
Should you decide to take legal action, we can help you contact the best attorney for your case, who will assist you in filing claims to receive the deserved compensation from the asbestos trust funds and the VA.