Navy Rescue Swimmers and Asbestos Exposure


Despite all evidence pointing to severe health risks, regulations restricting asbestos use have evolved slowly during the last century because the naturally occurring mineral has become valuable for its heat resistance, flexibility, and affordability. All industries, including the military, rushed to benefit from these outstanding qualities. Every military branch applied asbestos products during the WWII effort, but the Navy used the most asbestos in building its ships.

Naval vessels built before the 1980s were insulated from bow to stern with this toxic material to create a safe, fireproof environment. While effective in its purpose, this measure put naval personnel, including rescue swimmers or safety swimmers, at an exceedingly high risk of asbestos exposure and developing devastating diseases stemming from it decades after service.

Because asbestos dust can linger in the air for hours and most ships had poor ventilation, avoiding exposure to the airborne asbestos particles was impossible. Upon inhalation, the microscopic fibers get caught in the lining of the lungs, irritating the tissues by tearing at them with every breath, causing acute inflammation. The process leads over time to permanent scarring and causes cell modifications that may progress into tumors and further develop into asbestos-related cancers such as:

Former military personnel diagnosed with these cancers qualify for expedited claims and become immediately eligible for compensation if they can show proof of asbestos exposure and their medical files state one of these malignant diseases.

Risking Asbestos Exposure When Assigned to a Navy Ship

Rescue swimmers, or Navy Aviation Rescue Swimmers (AIRRs), were assigned to squadrons at Naval Air Stations while on shore duty and deployed aboard aircraft carriers, surface combat ships, and support vessels when assigned to sea. They were ready to go into harm's way to answer the call when lives were on the line and complete their rescue missions in some extreme environments.

The Navy was the first military branch to train aircrews to be deployed into the water to assist survivors in being hoisted into helicopters. The program started in the 70s, years before the U.S. Coast Guard began their rescue swimmer program, and safety swimmers were trained in:

  • survival and resistance techniques
  • evasion and escape maneuvers
  • search and rescue techniques
  • first aid

Rescue swimmers were initially rated for an aviation-related occupation like aviation anti-submarine warfare operator, which required completing the Aircrew Candidate School. They were tasked with entering hazardous conditions to assist with:

  • various rescue missions
  • humanitarian assistance
  • operational support

Depending on the rescue swimmer's role during the mission, their tasks varied accordingly:

  • coordinating with pilots
  • saving the crew of downed aircraft
  • collaborating with the Coast Guard
  • delivering aid and supplies
  • supporting Naval Special Warfare Operations
  • conducting surveillance in anti-submarine warfare

Additionally, safety swimmers assisted in transporting troops and cargo to and from ships and operating various systems such as:

  • radar
  • infrared sensors
  • door guns in anti-surface operations
  • missile systems

As all naval personnel, rescue swimmers risked exposure to asbestos on ships built before the 1980s, as aircraft carriers and other vessels of those times abounded in asbestos products. The flight deck was among the potential places where asbestos exposure could occur due to the high vibration levels, cramped spaces, and heavy air. Along with the ship's personnel, they were around the toxic material in the sleeping quarters and mess halls, further increasing the exposure hazard. The planning for rescue missions, briefing, and debriefing was also in enclosed spaces below the deck, putting rescue swimmers at a high risk of inhaling the microscopic asbestos fibers.

Timely Detection Is Crucial in Asbestos-Related Diseases

Misdiagnosis is frequent when dealing with health conditions stemming from asbestos exposure. Due to the complexity of these illnesses, most doctors can easily misread the symptoms, unintentionally delaying the appropriate treatment when an immediate and precise diagnosis could add years to life.

The diagnostic process of asbestos-related lung conditions is challenging, as these lung affections can be very similar to common chronic lung diseases. Consequently, aside from the formal physical exam of listening for abnormal sounds with the stethoscope, doctors may need other concluding tests like:

Veterans should request a second or even a third doctor's opinion outside the VA to ensure their diagnosis is accurate and they receive suitable treatment as soon as possible. They can significantly help the evaluation by being open about the military service and potential asbestos exposure during their time on the ships. Sharing these vital details could help the discovery of non-cancerous diseases such as:

Even if these conditions don't qualify veterans for compensation, they should be kept under observation, as they tend to develop into cancer. Upon a precise cancer diagnosis, former service members will qualify for compensation.

You May Qualify for Compensation or Financial Aid if You Are Diagnosed With a Malignant Asbestos Disease

Due to the presence of asbestos in nearly every part of Navy ships built between the 1930s and mid-1970s, all personnel serving onboard these vessels were at an increased risk for asbestos-related health concerns. Navy veterans diagnosed with cancer due to service-related asbestos exposure may seek compensation through the asbestos trust funds and the VA if they have proof of their exposure.

Should you decide to take legal action and file claims to receive the financial compensation you deserve, we can assist you in contacting the best legal specialist for your case.

If you have a cancer diagnosis please contact us

Related News & Updates