Veterans and military personnel have made sacrifices for our country, and they experience different healthcare concerns than civilians. Injuries sustained during their service can be severe. Some of these injuries occur during combat, while others occur due to physical stress. Some of these injuries can be life-threatening or serious enough to disable the victim. There are also conditions that are not as serious but can cause pain and affect daily life.
It can be stressful to be away from your family when in combat. Stress may lead to mental health problems in service members and veterans. The disorders include anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and drug addiction, including suicide risk.
Let’s look at some of these injuries in detail.
Musculoskeletal Pain and Injuries
A 2011 study found that chronic musculoskeletal pain (CMP) is a common complaint among Gulf War veterans, which correlates with Veteran’s Administration statistics that report that nearly 48 percent of veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan have the same complaint. CMP patients often experience a deep ache throughout their bodies, as well as a twitching or burning sensation in their muscles. CMP can also make them feel fatigued and disrupt their sleep. As a result of the current state of warfare, musculoskeletal injuries have dramatically increased, including all types of amputations.
Cancers and Lung Infections
Mesothelioma is diagnosed in 30% of military veterans each year. The US Navy department used the most asbestos out of any service. It was present in ships, shipyards, and military bases, making navy veterans most susceptible to asbestos-related diseases such as lung cancer and mesothelioma.
The highest levels of asbestos exposure were found among veterans who were in charge of repairing and maintaining ship equipment. Sailors who work with asbestos insulation also face a great deal of risk. The Navy even provided sailors working gun turrets with heat-resistant gloves made from asbestos cloth.
Mental Health Conditions
Veterans often experience mental health problems in addition to musculoskeletal injuries. According to a study, an estimated 20% of veterans that returned from Iraq or Afghanistan suffer from PTSD disorder or major depression. Veterans with these mental illnesses commit suicide at a rate almost twice that of the general population; on average, 22 veterans commit suicide a day.
In addition to PTSD, veterans often experience anxiety disorders, addiction, and depression. As many as 31 percent of individuals returning from combat in Iraq suffer from PTSD and depression. These psychological disorders are often associated with high alcohol intake and aggressive behavior.
Toxic chemicals exposure
One of the major health risks these veterans face is exposure to dangerous chemicals. Around 3 million Americans who fought in the Vietnam War came into contact with Agent Orange. It is a mixture of herbicides applied to dense vegetation to eliminate enemy cover. The chemical was linked to cancer, diabetes type II, heart disease, and ischemic stroke. An earlier study from 2010 demonstrated that exposure to chemical warfare agents at low doses could result in long-term heart damage.
Many have no idea about the severity of this exposure. This problem is addressed by the VA by providing an overview of risk factors based on deployment locations and time periods.
Depending on their location, soldiers can contract infectious diseases while on duty. For example, nine infectious diseases have been linked to military service in the Southwest Asia theatre since August 2, 1990.
Among them are:
- West Nile Virus
- Campylobacter jejuni
- Mycobacterium Tuberculosis
- Nontyphoid Salmonella
- Q Fever
- Visceral Leishmaniasis
Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)
Traumatic brain injuries are one of the major threats to mental health. Known as the signature wound of the Iraq War, TBI diagnoses have tripled in the military population in the last decade. However, the numbers don’t even reflect the many veterans who remain undiagnosed. In addition to cognitive impairments, TBI can result in anxiety and depression, and various psychological problems.
Many veterans returning from recent overseas combat operations report chronic pain as one of their symptoms. As per NIH reports, 82% of returning Iraqi veterans reported chronic pain. A recent study published in the medical journal Medicine found that chronic pain is associated with substance abuse, which might explain why veterans experience chronic pain.
Exposure to Noise and Vibration
Noise and vibration, such as that caused by gunfire, bomb explosions, aircraft, and machinery, are also major health complications in veterans. Most veterans suffer from hearing loss and tinnitus. In addition to numbness, paresthesia, and burning in the hands, vibration exposure can also lead to low back pain from operating heavy equipment.
Other Injuries at duty
In addition, some major injuries veterans face on the field include:
- Staph infections
- Gunshot wounds
- Amputated limbs
- Brain or head injuries
- Strains or suspension
- Restricted motion, especially in the joins
- Health problems may also result from exposure to contaminated water, toxins, and burn pits.
A review of research published in the Industrial Psychiatry Journal found that amputations can cause psychological harm to soldiers despite advances in medical science and body protection.
Despite the risks they take to keep us free, veterans often pay a high price for their service. In addition to exposure to infectious diseases and hazardous chemicals while deployed, military service members may also be exposed to gunfire and explosions. Many veterans encounter health issues they didn’t see coming, from chronic pain and musculoskeletal injuries to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injuries (TBI). Fortunately, governments usually have special funds for veterans to get compensation for diseases such as mesothelioma.
Raising awareness of the many health risks veterans face is crucial to helping them obtain the medical care they need.