If you’ve served on active duty in the military, you should be aware of certain illnesses and other problems that could result from your exposure to various environmental hazards. And if you’re currently in the military or considering joining, you should take these hazards into account and try to avoid them if possible. Keep in mind that military service is inherently risky — even deadly — but knowing the dangers and taking sensible precautions can help mitigate the risk.
Gulf War Illness. The Gulf War era spans from approximately August 1990 to the present. Any military personnel who have served in this theater could exhibit a number of symptoms that are largely unexplained, yet a major concern. The symptoms include fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome.
Radiation exposure. From the WWII era to the present, military personnel have been coming into contact with many sources of dangerous radiation. Radiation is emitted not only from nuclear production, testing, and warfare but also from depleted uranium and other dense radioactive metals that are used in some modern ammunition and armor plating. The illnesses resulting from radiation exposure include a range of cancers, as well as thyroid dysfunction and tumors in the central nervous system and brain.
Toxic embedded fragments. Shrapnel and other metals can penetrate the skin and remain lodged in the body of soldiers in combat. Some of these metals are contaminated with toxic chemicals, and if they remain in the body, can lead to a number of health complications.
Health problems due to extreme climates. Whether too cold or too hot, the results of extreme climates can cause a number of health problems. Frostbite can lead to skin cancer, as can sunburn and excessive solar exposure. Other consequences of extreme temperature exposure include permanent nerve damage and brain damage.
Side effects of vaccines and other medications. Despite some social media rumors about the VA covering disabilities related to the anthrax vaccine, they say the side effects of vaccines are “generally mild and temporary.” Still, the VA continues to investigate and compensate for a number of side effects resulting from vaccines and medications administered by the military. These include Pyridostigmine bromide (PB), Mefloquine (Lariam) and Smallpox vaccine.
Agent Orange. The military used a defoliant called Agent Orange during the Vietnam war, which has been shown to cause a number of serious illnesses, including various cancers like non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, chronic B-cell leukemia and prostate cancer. In addition, type 2 diabetes has been linked to Agent Orange exposure. The dangers are still present on the ground in Vietnam. In fact, the U.S. just announced a $390 million cleanup project at the Bien Hoa Air Base, which follows a $110 million program that cleaned up contaminated soil at Danang International Airport. To help remediate the severe consequences of the use and storage of this herbicide, the U.S. passed the Agent Orange Act of 1991.
The VA offers treatment for the illnesses that result from exposure to these hazards that are connected to service. In addition, disability compensation and other benefits are available for eligible veterans.