Naval Aircrewmen and Asbestos Exposure

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During the 20th century, asbestos was considered an ideal material for military properties due to its inexpensive, lightweight, fireproof, and corrosion-proof qualities. Although every branch of the armed forces used the mineral, the Navy considered it so important that it mandated its use in shipbuilding to meet the demands of a growing Navy fleet in preparation for the challenges of the Second World War.

However, the same properties that made using asbestos advantageous for shipbuilding also made it extremely dangerous to health. Manufacturers of asbestos products had scientific and medical information about asbestos causing damage to the human body. Still, they hid this knowledge from the public to maximize profits at the expense of thousands of U.S. Navy veterans' health, including naval aircrewmen (AW).

Asbestos is a health risk when it becomes brittle over time, and products containing its fibers are disturbed, releasing microscopic threads into the air. These tiny asbestos particles can be easily inhaled or ingested and stay lodged in the body, as our organism isn't equipped to eliminate them. The embedded asbestos fibers cause tissue irritation, chronic inflammation, and irreversible scarring in major organs. Over many years, this process potentially leads to asbestos-related cancer, such as:

Navy veterans diagnosed with the cancers mentioned above may qualify for compensation if their medical documents state a malignancy and they have proof of asbestos exposure.

Risking Asbestos Exposure Onboard the Aircraft Carriers

Being around asbestos while performing daily tasks onboard Navy carriers built before the 1980s endangered the health of personnel without their awareness.

Because tiny asbestos particles could float in the air for long hours and most ships had poor air circulation, avoiding asbestos exposure was impossible. Among those routinely exposed were AWs, enlisted sailors fulfilling duty on the flight deck. They risked asbestos exposure whenever serving on a naval carrier as aircraft systems operators or inflight system maintenance technicians aboard fixed- and rotary-winged aircraft.

The rating was initially established in 1968 as the Aviation Antisubmarine Warfare Operator rank and was changed to Aviation Warfare Systems Operator in 1993 without changing the abbreviation. Generally, AWs were responsible for operating radar and sonar or other submarine detection systems installed in the Navy's submarine-hunting aircraft of those times. After 1993, AWs were flying in newer multi-mission aircraft, performing in addition to their traditional antisubmarine warfare functions tasks such as:

  • anti-surface warfare
  • combat search and rescue
  • special warfare support missions

Sailors in aircraft maintenance rating had been flying aboard the Navy's various fixed and rotary-winged utility as crew members for:

  • cargo and logistics
  • special missions
  • airborne mine countermeasures
  • communications relay
  • airborne repair or maintenance of critical systems

They also fulfilled duties as flight engineers, loadmasters, or other specialized functions. Before they were known as aircrew, AWs were called observers, often flying in the open rear cockpit of a biplane. As naval aviation grew, so did the role of enlisted aircrew. By the start of WW II, AWs were recognized as an indispensable part of maritime aviation, flying as:

  • gunners
  • corpsmen
  • mechanics
  • radiomen

AWs won their wings during WWII; in 1943, the Navy authorized the wearing of Air Crew Insignia by individuals who had served for three months as regularly assigned members of the aircrew of a combatant aircraft.

Veterans Deployed on Navy Ships Built Before 1980 Risked Asbestos Exposure Unknowingly

Mandating the insulation of WW2 ships with asbestos served the Navy's intention to ensure a fireproof medium for its service members. However, much like others who purchased hazardous asbestos products, the Navy lacked information about the safety of this toxic mineral thanks to the companies that made and sold these goods.

Consequently, personnel on naval vessels inhaled hazardous levels of asbestos fibers whenever maintenance, renovation, repair, or removal work disturbed the material. Moreover, sailors would handle the material without protective gear, increasing the risk of inhaling the toxic fibers. It's why Navy veterans should pay a visit to the doctor and tell the medical professional about their military service when experiencing:

  • pain in the chest or shoulder
  • persistent dry cough
  • shortness of breath
  • night sweats
  • fatigue
  • general weakness
  • unintentional weight loss
  • respiratory system complications

Due to the complexity of asbestos-related conditions, doctors can easily misread the symptoms and conclude misdiagnoses of less dangerous, regular respiratory conditions like COPD or asthma. Mentioning your doctor the risk of past asbestos exposure is essential for receiving a proper diagnosis and treatment.

Diseases stemming from asbestos exposure manifest symptoms only after many years, so veterans should schedule periodic lung checkups and consult a pulmonologist with experience in assessing patients with lung diseases caused by asbestos exposure. Request a second doctor's opinion outside the VA to ensure you were adequately evaluated and correctly diagnosed.

Helping Veterans to Claim Their Rightful Compensation

Former Navy service members diagnosed with cancer due to asbestos exposure are eligible to file claims and receive compensation. Given that medical care and treatments impact the family budget with high costs, facing a malignant disease can be not only emotionally but also financially draining. Furthermore, it's never easy going through the paperwork, especially when there's the hazard of claims filed past the statute of limitations.

To spare the added distress, you should get in touch with an attorney immediately after receiving a cancer diagnosis. We offer assistance by connecting you with legal experts specialized in asbestos cases who have vast experience in getting lawful compensation for veterans.

If you have a cancer diagnosis please contact us

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