In the 20th century, asbestos was widespread in most industry branches, including shipbuilding. Versatility, low pricing, and outstanding insulation properties made the mineral a "miracle material" ideal for preventing the ship's boilers, pumps, valves, gaskets, and turbines from overheating. Thus, applying asbestos became mandatory in building ships for the US Navy.
The toxic material was present in virtually every part of the ships built before the 80s, making exposure to its fibers impossible for all service members onboard, including sailors. It is why many US Navy veterans enlisted as sailors discovered after several years of serving the country that they suffer from asbestos-related diseases.
Wear and tear causes asbestos to become brittle, and when disturbed, the toxic mineral releases microscopic fibers into the air that, if inhaled or ingested, get caught in the lining of major organs. Asbestos fibers have barb-like edges that keep them lodged in the lining, and the body cannot eliminate them. They will bury in further and cause irritation, inflammation, scarring, and in some cases, cell mutation, which then leads to asbestos-related cancers like:
- bronchial cancer
- lung cancer
- laryngeal cancer
- gastrointestinal cancer
- pharyngeal cancer
- colorectal cancer
- esophageal cancer
- urogenital cancer
Veterans diagnosed with asbestos-related cancers meet the requirements for expedited claims and immediately qualify for compensation if their medical history shows the diseases mentioned above.
Specific Navy Jobs Increasingly Exposed Veterans to Asbestos
Being around asbestos during the daily activities onboard the ships built before the 80s endangered the health of Navy veterans without their knowing. Among those routinely exposed were the sailors, or enlisted persons, as they were called in the Navy. Also named "deckhands," they were constantly risking asbestos exposure when performing tasks in every part of the ship, unaware that many of its components were made of the toxic mineral.
Maintaining a Navy ship operational at all times poised the need for a workforce capable of doing various tasks around the clock - sailors kept the ship functioning and afloat by completing those tasks. Every sailor had a specific job or billet onboard. They made up the deck crew and played an essential role in the success of the ship's mission by performing the billet to which they were assigned:
- operating and maintaining deck equipment
- keeping all parts of a ship in working order
- guard duties
- cleaning duties
Sailor's responsibilities aboard ship, however, stressed constant physical labor likely to disturb asbestos: preparation work and assigned duties like fatigues and reparation were in full swing whether a ship was in the docks, undergoing an overhaul, or on a mission. A sailor's job was an ongoing process, best described by the saying, "Sailors who are not at sea are getting ready to go to sea." A veteran who served as a sailor on the USS North Carolina remembers: "If there was no assigned duty, there was always some task waiting to be done." Generally, sailors were responsible for the following:
- washing plates, cups, and silverware
- washing pots and cooking utensils
- sweeping and swabbing decks
- waxing the tiled floors in interior decks
- cleaning deck drains
- polishing brass fittings
Veterans Suffered Permanent Health Damages Due to Asbestos Exposure
Even though researchers discovered in the late 30s that prolonged exposure to asbestos causes severe illnesses, the decision to ban its use was taken only long after. Consequently, on the Navy ships built before 1980, all personnel faced a high risk of asbestos exposure and of developing incapacitating diseases stemming from it:
- rounded atelectasis
- pleural plaques
- pleural effusion
- pleural thickening
- pulmonary fibrosis
- lung nodules and spots
- chronic bronchitis
While these illnesses don't qualify a veteran to receive compensation, periodically checking them is vital, as non-cancerous asbestos diseases have the potential to turn into cancer. Regular chest X-rays and pulmonary function tests could help discover if they turned into cancer, and a cancer diagnosis will make a veteran eligible for claims.
Because asbestos-related health conditions are complex, they're often misdiagnosed due to their symptoms resembling typical respiratory diseases. Many doctors misinterpret the signs and prescribe inadequate treatments, only to face the same cases later in a worsened condition. It is why Navy veterans should call the doctor and schedule a screening when experiencing:
- pain in the chest or shoulder
- unintentional weight loss
- pain in the chest or shoulder
- persistent dry cough
- shortness of breath
- respiratory system complications
- night sweats
- general weakness
Taking action on the first signs is essential, and asking for a second or even a third doctor's opinion outside the VA is crucial for a correct assessment and the best suitable treatment. To help receive an exact diagnosis, tell your doctor about the military service.
Assisting Veterans to Receive the Deserved Compensation
Asbestos-related cancers are life-threatening conditions that usually require immediate treatment and constant monitoring, generating costs that can significantly burden the family's finances. Veterans who developed cancer due to military service may qualify to file claims if they can prove the service connection.
Former Navy service members diagnosed with asbestos-related cancers may be eligible for disability benefits to cover their costs. We can help by connecting you with experienced attorneys ready to assist with your case.