Top Health Issues Effecting Veterans
When it comes to workplace hazards, our men and women who serve in the Armed Forces are no strangers to danger. Along with those who risk their life in combat deployments, countless Soldiers work in high-pressure, dangerous environments. Deployments on aircraft carriers, submarines, air force bases, and even training facilities are filled with risks such as heavy equipment and fast-moving machinery.
These hazards are just a few of the many dangers that our Soldiers in uniform endure during their time in the Armed Forces. It should be little surprise that once Armed Service Members become Veterans, physical and mental health problems can linger.
Here are some of the many health issues plaguing our current Veteran population:
Musculoskeletal injuries like pain in the neck, shoulders, back, and knees. Live Science reported that nearly half of all Veterans health issues deal with pain in one of these areas.
An August 2010 study in the Journal of Pain found that 100,000 Gulf War I Veterans still report chronic muscle pain. Much of this pain could be caused by carrying heavy gear across difficult terrain.
Exposure to toxins and chemicals.
Several studies of Veterans from the late 2000s show that soldiers can be exposed to a wide-variety of chemicals. According to an article about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and Veteran health, a sample study found that soldiers encountered chemicals like diesel fuel, malaria, depleted uranium, and even trace amounts of anthrax.
High rates of infectious disease.
According to the VA, military personal suffer from a higher rate of infections and rare infectious diseases than most of the civilian population.
Live Science and the VA named several common infections including brucellosis (a bacterial infection), campylobacter jejuni (side effects include diarrhea and abdominal pain), and a nasty sounding thing called Leishmaniasis (a parasitic disease that causes everything from weight loss, fevers, and headaches; can be fatal if it goes untreated). Deployments to developing parts of the globe and exposure to new environments could negatively affect the health Veterans once they retire from active duty service.
Noise and vibration exposure.
Hearing loss and hearing impairment is common for many veterans. Extended use and long periods of exposure to gunfire, heavy weapons fire from artillery and aircraft, and loud engines all contribute to high rates of hearing loss for Veterans. A 2009 story in the New Yorker stated that nearly half of all Veterans suffered from Tinnitus, “the false perception of sound,” or that seemingly loud, high-pitch tone we often hear.
Traumatic brain injury (TBI).
TBIs are a relatively new, underdiagnosed injury affecting thousands of Veterans, according to a 2008 study by the Institute of Medicine. The study found that TBI, caused by the force of an explosion (and not a direct injury to the head), can be a warning sign for dementia, memory loss, depression, and symptoms that mirror Parkinson’s disease. The study calls Traumatic Brain Injuries “the signature wound of the [Iraq and Afghanistan] war.” A more recent study conducted by the VA in 2010 has called TBI’s a “silent injury.”
Is Anything Preventable?
In the past, we’ve looked the many healthcare problems that Veterans encounter. Some of these ailments can be relieved during active duty service. But many of the injuries can affect Veterans years and even decades later. How do we prevent these injuries from happening in the first place?
Preventing life-threatening and long-term injuries to Veterans is something that may never be possible. Countless nonprofit groups, volunteers, and members of our government dedicate their existence to improving the lives of Veterans who struggle with the effects of deployment and active duty. While nothing is 100% preventable when it comes to injuries, small changes—like improvements to physical therapy and proper conditioning—could alleviate these injuries while keeping Veterans active.