The Navy used more products based on asbestos than any other Armed Forces branch before 1980, taking advantage of asbestos's affordability, heat resistance, tensile strength, and chemical damage resistance - properties that no other material could match. The same qualities made the toxic mineral an ideal insulator, fireproofing, and building material for naval vessels.
As a result, former Navy personnel, including postal clerks, were routinely exposed to asbestos while fulfilling duty onboard or while ships had undergone repair or overhauls in shipyards and faced the highest risk of developing asbestos-related diseases decades after service.
Asbestos fibers enter the body primarily with inhalation, directly affecting the lungs. Unlike other toxicological agents that can be metabolized and excreted, these tiny fibers attach themselves to major organ tissues, producing irritation and chronic inflammation, leading to cell mutation and tumors over time. The process often leads to the development of asbestos-related cancers such as:
- laryngeal cancer
- esophageal cancer
- pharyngeal cancer
- lung cancer
- colorectal cancer
- urogenital cancer
- bronchial cancer
- gastrointestinal cancer
Veterans diagnosed with these diseases qualify for compensation and may file claims with the asbestos trust funds and the VA if they have medical documents about the malignant condition.
Risking Asbestos Exposure While Ensuring the Efficient Running of Military Postal Operations
Being exposed to high concentrations of airborne asbestos over long periods increases the chances of inhaling or ingesting it. Long work hours in enclosed spaces below deck further enhanced the already high risks, and poor ventilation made avoiding asbestos exposure impossible for all personnel onboard.
Postal clerks (PC) were in danger of exposure to asbestos while ensuring timely delivery of correspondence and military materials. The PC rating was established in the 1960s on the recommendation of the Chief of Naval Personnel, as the Military depended and still depends today on the efficiency and accuracy of postal services to achieve its mission. PCs, or postal administrative specialists, performed all duties necessary for the well-organized running of military postal operations:
- postal finance
- mail handling
- locator service
- mail distribution
Postal clerks worked in office settings aboard ships and had similar duties to their civilian counterparts in the U.S. Postal Service:
- collect postage-due mail
- prepare customs declarations
- collect outgoing mail
- sell and cancel stamps
- apply postage and mail out parcels
Mail handling duties included, but were not limited to, receiving, sorting, and dispatching all types of mail. PCs were the ones who issued and cashed money orders, operated postage meter equipment, and prepared and maintained standard operating procedures for ships' postal operations and mail safeguarding. They were among the most known people of any command, as postal support to servicemembers was just as essential during WWII as it is today. PCs also performed record-keeping and reporting duties, which included:
- fleet audits
- postal inspections
- capital equipment receipt
- cargo and mail-on-hand reports
- financial reports
- mail transportation forms
- directory on all undeliverable mail
- mail routing instructions
- post office security reports
Lasting Health Issues After Service on Navy Ships
Although science discovered the adverse health effects of prolonged asbestos exposure towards the end of the 1930s, illnesses stemming from it became known only later, and asbestos was still used for years. Therefore, enlisted personnel serving on Navy ships built before the 1980s faced a high risk of asbestos exposure and of developing non-cancerous asbestos diseases such as:
- rounded atelectasis
- pleural effusion
- pleural plaques
- pleural thickening
- pulmonary fibrosis
- lung nodules and spots
- chronic bronchitis
- recurrent pneumonia
Even if benign illnesses listed above don't qualify a veteran for compensation, regularly checking them is essential, as non-cancerous asbestos diseases can potentially evolve into cancer. When periodically done, chest X-rays and pulmonary function tests can help determine if these diseases have turned cancerous, and a cancer diagnosis will make veterans eligible for claims.
Asbestos-related diseases are complex and may be misdiagnosed because the symptoms are similar to ordinary, less dangerous respiratory illnesses. Doctors can misinterpret the signs and prescribe ineffective treatments, inadvertently wasting precious time and having to treat patients for worsening symptoms later. To avoid emotionally and physically draining situations like this, Navy veterans should contact their doctor and schedule a checkup when experiencing:
- pain in the chest or shoulder
- persistent dry cough
- shortness of breath
- night sweats
- general weakness
- unintentional weight loss
- respiratory system complications
Taking action promptly by going to the doctor when the first signs appear is essential to prevent illnesses from progressing further, and asking for a second or a third doctor's opinion outside the VA is vital for an exact diagnosis and the best treatment available. You can help your doctor evaluate your health correctly by being open about the military service and the chances of asbestos exposure on the ships.
Assisting Veterans in Claiming the Compensation They Deserve
Former Navy service members fulfilling duty on the ships built before the 1980s are at a high risk of developing incapacitating diseases due to asbestos exposure during service. Many may have yet to be informed about the dangers of asbestos-containing products on naval vessels and that they were routinely exposed.
Veterans diagnosed with cancer due to toxic exposure may qualify to file claims and receive financial compensation if proof of service connection exists. We can assist by connecting you with attorneys who can help you successfully claim the indemnification you deserve.