Asbestos exposure is a pressing concern for Navy vets who served on ships built from the 1930s to the early 1980s. A once-praised building material, asbestos played a crucial role in shipbuilding during the 20th century thanks to its exceptional heat resistance and insulating properties. The mineral was a lurking danger on the Navy ships, and no one considered the threat emerging when its microscopic fibers were released into the air and inhaled.

Progressively degrading health after longtime asbestos exposure

Each branch of the U.S. Military relied for decades on products containing asbestos, but former Navy service members were at an exceedingly high risk of asbestos exposure. They worked and lived close to items made with asbestos during the years of duty, mostly unaware of the hidden danger. With the toxic material in every compartment of the naval vessels, all personnel onboard risked exposure to asbestos.

The repercussions of asbestos exposure are grave. The inhaled or ingested asbestos fibers cause draining illnesses in the long haul after embedding in the body’s tissues, primarily in the lungs. The fact that asbestos-related diseases usually take many years to develop means that Navy veterans exposed to asbestos during their service may only now be experiencing the harmful effects.

Facing challenges by acting promptly, just like in the Navy

Discovering the link between their health condition and military service can be overwhelming for veterans. Aside from the physical affection, there’s an emotional toll often underestimated and overlooked. Many veterans may feel isolated and unsupported, an additional emotional toll that can worsen their health issues.

Circumstances like these call for reflexes deeply ingrained during their service in the Navy, and veterans need to take proactive steps to safeguard their health:

  • Regular health exams: Making regular medical exams and being open about military service and potential asbestos exposure on the ships is crucial. Early detection improves treatment outcomes and adds years to life. Therefore, veterans should request periodic chest X-rays, as they reveal changes caused by the inhaled asbestos fibers and are an accessible diagnostic procedure for malignant and benign asbestos-related illnesses.

Lungs are first damaged by inhaled asbestos fibers, and a relevant test for their health is the pulmonary function test  (also known as the breathing test). It is a diagnostic tool that shows results for lung expansion capacity and oxygen intake volume – values necessary to treat asthma, emphysema, and other chronic lung problems caused by asbestos exposure.

Asbestos diseases are complex and thus often misdiagnosed because they produce symptoms similar to common respiratory illnesses, so seeking a second doctor’s opinion is advisable. Veterans with Medicare or Medicaid should also go outside the VA and ask for a pulmonary specialist’s assessment. Private insurance may provide extra options for vets so that former Navy personnel may have coverage for various specialty consultations. There are cases of asbestos-related diseases in advanced stages where Navy vets received an exact diagnosis after a separate consultation with a pulmonologist.

  • Know your rights: Veterans who think they may have been exposed to asbestos during their service should know their legal rights and options. Legal avenues and compensation programs are available to assist those harmed by asbestos exposure.

As a veteran, you have the legal right to seek monetary compensation from asbestos trust funds and apply for VA disability benefits. Asbestos trust funds are an essential source of remuneration for individuals injured by occupational exposure, including former Navy personnel. These funds were established by liable companies that entered bankruptcy protection and have approximately $37 billion currently available for claimants. Navy veterans harmed by asbestos exposure during service can file a claim for compensation with both asbestos trust funds and Veterans Affairs.

It’s essential to know that the amount received from asbestos trust funds will not affect your VA disability claim, as financial-wise, the VA’s only interest is to prevent veterans from claiming compensation repeatedly for the same illness. For that reason, veterans can be sure that the money received from asbestos trust funds will not affect the VA’s decision about their disability claim. Although trusts grant the most amount for mesothelioma ($300,000-$400,000), other asbestos illnesses can still receive substantial pay.

In addition, Navy vets who file claims with asbestos trust funds first and get approved will have comprehensively evaluated documentation at their hands, which will considerably speed up their VA claim approval process. The same trust funds recompense those exposed secondhand, like veterans’ family members. They may file for compensation if they have health issues stemming from indirect exposure to the toxic asbestos fibers.

  • Spread information: Veterans can play a pivotal role in educating their communities and fellow service members about the risks of asbestos exposure. By sharing their experiences and knowledge, they can give valuable information to others who served the country.

As we honor the devotedness and commitment of our Navy veterans, let us also admit our responsibility to protect their health and well-being. Awareness of asbestos exposure is an integral part of this responsibility. By drawing attention to this covert danger, we can ensure that those who served on the Navy ships receive the deserved care and support.

About the author:

Cristina Johnson is a Navy veteran advocate for Asbestos Ships Organization, a nonprofit whose primary mission is to raise awareness and educate veterans about the dangers of asbestos exposure on Navy ships and assist them in navigating the VA claims process. For more information, please visit our page.