The United States Navy is looking pretty good for its age. The naval branch of the armed forces will be 242-years-old this October 13th, celebrating its formation by the Continental Congress in 1775. In those days, the Navy’s goal was to challenge British naval forces and interrupt trade. The Continental Congress bought a number of ships to use for that purpose, and had them sail alone or in pairs.
Over the past several decades, the Navy has seen a number of important innovations in naval combat and equipment. These include the first successful submarine in 1898, the purchase of the first naval aircraft in 1911 and the first aircraft carrier in 1927. But the Navy doesn’t only deal in matters of national defense. This branch of our armed forces also provides critical humanitarian aid and disaster relief, such as supporting FEMA in the aftermath of hurricanes, helping to treat patients and engaging in search and rescue operations.
Dangers Don’t End With Combat
While many Americans understand the important role our military personnel play in wartime, peacekeeping and natural disaster relief, most do not realize the hidden health risks many military personnel encounter during their career. One such risk is possible exposure to asbestos, which can result in mesothelioma, a lethal form of cancer.
Mesothelioma is caused by inhaling asbestos fibers, which become lodged in the pleural lining of the lungs. This disease is particularly deadly, there is no cure and it often does not appear until decades after asbestos exposure, which means Navy veterans may not be diagnosed until 40 or 50 years after their service.
Asbestos has very good fireproofing properties, which is why it was widely used as a building and insulation material before the mid-1970s. After that time, its hazardous nature became more widely publicized. By the time the dangers of asbestos were public knowledge, thousands of military personnel had already been exposed to the deadly mineral for decades.
The Quiet Epidemic
Around 3,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with mesothelioma every year. While the cancer may take decades to show symptoms, it spreads quickly once they become apparent. Mesothelioma victims may only live for a few months following their diagnosis, since the disease is generally found in its late stages.
Members of the Navy face a higher chance of exposure than most, because asbestos was widely used in shipbuilding for insulation, fireproofing, sound and vibration dampening throughout the vessel. As a result, Navy members who have participated in ship repairs and who worked in shipyards are particularly vulnerable to developing mesothelioma. While veterans represent eight percent of the entire United States population, they account for an alarming 30 percent of all deaths from mesothelioma.
Honoring Their Service, Protecting Their Health
On the Navy’s 242nd birthday, it is important that we recognize those who have served, not only for their hard work, but for the unseen hazards they have faced in the line of duty. We must all become a voice for our veterans and call for the dangers of asbestos to be recognized – especially during a time when many would still like to ignore or deny those hazards.
Just as our Navy veterans worked to protect our safety and wellbeing, we owe them a debt to advocate for theirs. Start small, by personally thanking a veteran or an armed service member for their hard work and sacrifice, or look to see if there are any volunteer opportunities in your community; each year more than 75,000 volunteers dedicate over 11 million hours to our nation’s veterans.
Above all, let your voice be heard. We celebrate the Navy and our veterans every year, and still they face incredible turmoil, whether it be through the VA system, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or rare diseases such as mesothelioma. Get involved by sharing and liking this post and by using your words and actions to advocate for the members of our armed services.