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The Partial Observer by Cristina Johnson

Asbestos a Hidden Danger to Navy Vets

Asbestos exposure is an ongoing concern for Navy veterans who served on ships built from the 1930s to the early 1980s. A once highly valued building material, asbestos played a critical role in shipbuilding during the 20th century because of its exceptional heat resistance and insulating properties.

The mineral was a lurking danger on the Navy ships, and no one considered the threat arising when its microscopic fibers became airborne and were inhaled.

Degrading Health Following Exposure

Every branch of the U.S. military used products containing asbestos for decades, but Navy vets were at an exceptionally high risk of asbestos exposure. They fulfilled their duty surrounded by items made with asbestos during their years in the military, often unaware of the hidden danger. All personnel onboard risked exposure to its microscopic fibers with the toxic mineral in every part of the naval vessels.

The consequences of asbestos exposure are grave. Inhaled or ingested asbestos fibers cause incapacitating diseases in the long haul after lodging in the body’s tissues, primarily in the lungs. The fact that asbestos-related illnesses usually take decades to develop means that Navy vets exposed to asbestos during their service may only now be suffering from the harmful effects.

Handling Challenges

Discovering the connection between their health condition and military service can be overwhelming for veterans. Besides the physical challenge, there’s an emotional effect often overlooked and underestimated.

Many veterans may feel isolated and unsupported, and the emotional toll can worsen their health issues. Circumstances like these demand reflexes deeply ingrained during their years in the Navy, and veterans need to take proactive steps to keep their health safe.

Periodic health exams: Undergoing regular medical exams and being vocal about military service and possible asbestos exposure on ships is important. Early detection enhances positive treatment outcomes and prolongs life expectancy. Therefore, veterans should solicit periodic chest X-rays, as they show damages caused by the inhaled asbestos fibers and are an accessible diagnostic tool for malignant and benign asbestos-related diseases.

Lungs are primarily damaged by inhaled toxic fibers, and a relevant test for their health is the pulmonary function test (also known as the breathing test). It is a diagnostic procedure that measures lung expansion capacity and oxygen intake volume. These values are the basis for establishing treatment of asthma, emphysema and other chronic lung issues caused by asbestos exposure.

Asbestos diseases are complex and thus often misdiagnosed because they manifest symptoms similar to everyday respiratory illnesses, so asking for a second doctor’s opinion is advisable. Sometimes, a third medical point of view may be required to reach a precise diagnosis. Veterans with Medicare or Medicaid should also go outside the VA and ask for a pulmonary specialist’s evaluation. Private insurance may allow for extra options for veterans so they may have coverage for varied specialty consultations. There are cases of asbestos-related conditions in advanced stages where Navy vets received a precise diagnosis after an extra consultation with a pulmonologist.

Know your rights: Veterans who may have been exposed to asbestos during their service should be informed about their legal rights and options. Legal procedures and compensation programs are in place to assist those injured 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 a significant source of remuneration for those harmed by occupational exposure, including former Navy service members. These funds were secured by liable companies that entered bankruptcy protection and have approximately $37 billion currently available for claimants. Navy vets injured by asbestos exposure during duty can file a claim for compensation with both asbestos trust funds and Veterans Affairs.

It’s necessary to know that the sum received from asbestos trust funds will not affect your VA disability claim, as financial-wise, the VA’s only concern is to prevent veterans from claiming compensation many times for the same disease. For that reason, veterans can be sure that the payment received from asbestos trust funds will not affect the VA’s decision about their disability claim. Although trusts accord the most money for mesothelioma ($300,000.00-$400,000.00), other asbestos conditions can still be accepted for substantial pay.

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

Share information: Veterans can play a crucial role in educating their communities and fellow service members about the risks of asbestos exposure. By talking about their experiences, they can share knowledge and give valuable information to others who fought for our country.

As we honor the loyalty and commitment of our Navy veterans, let us also acknowledge our responsibility to safeguard their health and well-being. Awareness of asbestos exposure is a vital part of this responsibility. By spotlighting this hidden danger, we can ensure that those who fulfilled duty on the Navy ships receive the care and support they earned.

Cristina Johnson is a Navy veteran advocate for Asbestos Ships Organization, a nonprofit whose primary mission is to increase 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, visit


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