Asbestos Veteran Counts his Blessings
December 5, 2012
“Many people I worked with on US Navy ships during the war passed away from asbestos related diseases
,” says Julias. “I have been blessed—I thank god that I didn’t get a disease like mesothelioma.”
When Julias was just 17 years old he worked for the US Navy in the shipyards. He is now a spry 84-year-old. “Back in 1947 I worked in the decommissioning process—where ships were stripped down and mothballed, right after WW1,” says Julias. “I even have medical records that state which ship I was assigned to. It was my job to clean the smokestack in the boiler room. I had to use a hoist to go up the smokestack and clean off the residue, which was asbestos. All we had for safety gear was a thin mask; we never thought about any health issues.”
Although Julius didn’t contract mesothelioma, asbestosis or lung disease
, he has suffered from acute sinusitis and other respiratory problems all his life. “I confess that I smoked cigarettes but only for about five years, so I believe that asbestos caused my breathing problems,” he says.
“I guess I’m one of the lucky ones. And I have been blessed with a good mind: ever since I was six years old, I consumed books cover to cover, anything I could find to read on the farm. Lately I’ve been reading a lot about asbestos—how these shipyard owners knew about the dangers of asbestos but didn’t tell us; we had no idea that asbestos was dangerous. Instead they just handed out paper masks.”
Julias was discharged from the Navy in 1948 and signed up for the Air Force until he was discharged in 1960. During that time he was hospitalized countless times for sinus problems. He had a number of different treatments and different medications and constantly needed his sinuses drained.
“Veterans Affairs wasn’t quite so generous back then with veterans as they are today,” says Julius, chuckling. “My respiratory problems were so bad that some days I could hardly catch my breath, but they just told me to ‘Shut up and get a job’--they didn’t want to hear from me. These days the VA asks, ‘What can I do for you?’ when guys are discharged. I didn’t even get a home loan from them.”
But the VA finally listened. In 2003 they finally recognized Julias’ condition and listened to his complaints.
“About six years ago there was a spot on my lung in my top left lobe; it was there for several months but then it went away,” says Julius. He takes some time out to cough, trying to clear his lungs. “My doctor said it was cancer so I had radiation therapy. Since that time I’ve had numerous doctors take so many x-rays. Now I have a constant cough and take codeine. And I have so many sleepless nights from sinus and respiratory problems like bronchitis. I also have problems swallowing—I don’t know if it is related. Maybe it’s just old age…
"I’m a combat veteran and I learned to be happy for what you have. It has been a tough road; we learned to do without and we still get jealous hearing about these guys coming home now from the war in Iraq and Afghanistan and getting so much. Don’t get me wrong--it is great that they are alive and I am happy for them; it isn’t easy putting your life on the line. Too bad I had to wait so long to get help. Too bad asbestos diseases weren’t recognized when we first got the symptoms.
"As I said, I have been blessed. At my age I just take one day at a time.”