Navy Divers and Asbestos Exposure

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Many American manufacturers relied on asbestos for most of the 20th century, and those producing military equipment were no exception. They took full advantage of the mineral's durability, which preserved various machinery parts and insulated vehicles, planes, ships, buildings, and more.

It was only in the 1970s that science revealed how dangerous this mineral was, and by that time, thousands of veterans were exposed to asbestos unbeknownst to them. The Navy mandated using asbestos to fireproof its ships, and shipbuilding companies applied large amounts of products containing this hazardous material. It put everyone serving onboard vessels built before the 1980s at an exceptionally high risk of asbestos exposure, including Navy divers.

Asbestos consists of tiny microscopic fibers that can splinter and break apart when disturbed. The weightless particles can float in the air for hours, making asbestos dust a significant health hazard. Moreover, the tiny asbestos threads are nearly invisible and can be inhaled or swallowed easily. Once inside the body, they can lodge into cells lining the lungs, abdomen, and heart. Some can travel with the blood and injure other major organs, often causing asbestos cancers, such as:

Former service members diagnosed with these cancers are eligible for expedited claims and are immediately entitled to compensation if they have proof of asbestos exposure and medical papers stating one of these malignant diseases.

Risking Asbestos Exposure While Serving on Naval Vessels

Since the middle of the 19th century, the Navy has employed divers for ship salvage and repair tasks, construction work, and military operations. Those assigned to naval vessels built before the 1980s risked asbestos exposure and developing diseases stemming from it.

The first diving rating was the gunner's mate; they were assigned as ship's divers as a collateral duty. With the introduction of torpedoes in naval warfare, the mission of the Navy diver grew along with the training and recognition. The outstanding contributions of Navy divers during World War II led to an attempt to establish the diver rating in 1948. Called Underwater Mechanic, this rating was never actually activated.

In response to World War II needs, the diver rating was initially part of the Exclusive Emergency Service ranking. Still, it was later planned as a general rating and placed under the Engineering/Hull rank. The Navy never implemented the rating before 1964, when it was disestablished. The long process ended in 2006 when the Navy Diving (ND) rating was officially established under the Naval Special Warfare/Naval Special Operations ranking.

During the Second World War, Navy divers were drawn from various rates, and sailors received specialized training in diving and salvage operations - it was an added specialty to their rate. They were part of small units assigned to tenders, salvage vessels, and assorted auxiliaries for jobs that included :

  • performing underwater welding
  • searching for harbor obstacles
  • retrieving sunken ship wreckage

However, Navy diving was not limited to combat and salvage operations - divers also inspected and repaired naval vessels to decrease downtime and dry-docking needs. Their responsibilities included:

  • torpedo research
  • electronic array installation and repair
  • downed aircraft recovery
  • underwater construction and demolition assistance
  • search and rescue missions

With the development of submarines at the beginning of the 20th century, the U.S. submarine force grew, which increased accidents, collisions, and sinking. Navy diver's tasks expanded accordingly, including deep submergence for ship and submarine maintenance, inspection, and repair.

Longtime Asbestos Exposure Causes Ongoing Health Issues

Although the Navy intended to ensure a fireproof space on the ships built for the WWII war effort by mandating the use of asbestos on its vessels, the decision elevated health risks for all naval personnel.

Veterans inhaled hazardous levels of asbestos fibers when the material was disturbed by maintenance, repair, renovation, or removal work. It aggravated the already dangerous situation that sailors often handled asbestos without protective gear, increasing the danger of breathing in toxic fibers. It's why veterans should seek professional help without delay and tell the doctor 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

Diseases related to asbestos exposure are complex, and doctors often misinterpret the symptoms and misdiagnose regular respiratory conditions like COPD or asthma. You can prevent wasting precious time on misdiagnosis by informing your doctor about the chances of asbestos exposure while serving. It is essential information for establishing a proper diagnosis and treatment of cancerous or non-cancerous asbestos diseases, such as:

Knowing that asbestos illnesses manifest symptoms only after decades, it is best to schedule regular checkups and appointments with a pulmonologist experienced in caring for patients with lung diseases caused by asbestos exposure. Ask for a second doctor's opinion outside the VA to ensure you were assessed and diagnosed correctly.

Even though non-cancerous asbestos conditions don't qualify veterans for compensation, they should be checked regularly, as they tend to turn into cancer. Chest X-rays and pulmonary function tests done periodically help monitor their evolution, and veterans diagnosed with cancer become eligible for asbestos claims.

Helping Navy Veterans to Receive their Rightful Compensation

As a consequence of ships being built with asbestos before the 1980s, many Navy veterans now face asbestos-related conditions that significantly impact their health and finances. Filing compensation claims with the asbestos trust funds and VA benefits can be daunting, even if the payment could help with financial issues.

Many veterans never apply and miss the chance to receive the deserved monetary award. A lawyer specializing in asbestos claims can help relieve the paperwork burden, collect veterans' service-related documents faster, and establish the connection between exposure and the job. We can help by connecting you with the best legal specialists who are ready for your case.

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