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Toxic Exposure in the Military

Military toxic exposure is a devastating possibility during military service. Our service men and women put their lives on the line to defend our country. Yet, when they return, they can fall ill with various cancers and diseases due to toxic exposure during their service.

These exposures can occur in combat zones overseas or even at a military base in the U.S. The symptoms and long-term health implications can be startling. There may be solutions if you suffer from health concerns due to exposure to toxins or other hazards while in the military.

What Is Military Toxic Exposure?

Signing up to serve in the military comes with increased risks. Most people understand that our military service men and women are at greater risk of injury and death than the civilian public they protect.

However, most enlistees are unaware of the risks they will face from toxic exposures in their daily work environment or living conditions.

During your time in the military, you or your family may have been exposed to toxic substances. Some occupational specialties carry particular risks, including exposure to dangerous toxins in your environment.

These risks can expose you to hazardous or toxic items or environments, like:

  • Chemical weapons agents
  • Asbestos
  • Nuclear radiation
  • Environmental hazards in the water, air, or soil

These exposures may result in illnesses with immediate symptoms, or they could cause long-term symptoms that go unnoticed until significant health concerns arise.

Types of Military Toxic Exposures

Your time in the military may have exposed you to various types of military toxins. Each type is hazardous and could result in severe, long-term health conditions. Some veterans may have been exposed to more than one type of toxic exposure.

The most common types of military toxic exposure include the following:

  • Chemical exposure
  • Radiation exposure
  • Air pollutants
  • Occupational hazards
  • Warfare agents

If the military exposed you to these toxins while on active duty and you developed long-term health concerns, the toxic exposure may be the cause of your medical condition.

Why Is Toxic Exposure an Issue for Veterans?

The Department of Veteran Affairs has recognized that certain illnesses seen in veterans are caused by or linked to military service. There are six health registries in existence for veterans exposed to certain hazards, including the following:

  • Toxic embedded fragments
  • Ionizing radiation
  • Gulf War
  • Depleted uranium follow-up
  • Airborne hazards and open burn pit
  • Agent Orange

These registries can alert you to potential health concerns linked to these exposures.

Where Toxic Exposure Occurs During Military Service

Military personnel can encounter toxic exposure in multiple settings during their service. From combat zones to military bases, toxic exposure is a real risk.

Military Bases

The substances found on military bases can vary and adversely affect your health. Some may result in long-term health consequences. Even veterans based in the U.S. may have been exposed to certain cleaning chemicals or toxic solvents used for cleaning or maintenance.

Examples of military base exposures include the following:

  • Exposure to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War and in many areas outside Vietnam
  • Exposure to toxins during the Gulf War, leading to Gulf War Syndrome
  • Burn pit exposure in Iraq and Afghanistan

Contaminated water exposure at New River/Camp Lejeune in the U.S.

Camp Lejeune

Medical and scientific evidence showed a link between the development of certain diseases and exposure to contaminated water at Marine Corps Base Camp LeJeune in North Carolina between August 1953 and December 1987.

These veterans have a higher likelihood of diagnosis with the following conditions:

  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
  • Multiple myeloma
  • Liver cancer
  • Kidney cancer
  • Bladder cancer
  • Aplastic anemia and other myelodysplastic syndromes
  • Adult leukemia

VA benefits may be available for those who served at Camp Lejeune or New River for at least 30 days between 1953 and 1987 and suffer from at least one of the above presumptive illnesses. As many as one million military staff, civilian staff, and families may have been exposed to these toxins. Recently legislation passed that allows military veterans to sue the U.S. Government for their exposure to contaminated drinking water at Camp Lejeune.

Combat Zones

Military service members may be exposed to toxins when they serve in combat zones. In Iraq, these toxins and hazards included the following:

  • Near-field contact with open-air burn pits, diesel fumes, and oil-well fires
  • Combat-related smoke from air strikes and ground ordnance
  • Contaminated particulate matter from frequent dust storms

When these airborne contaminants were present, prevailing winds could spread them miles from their source.

Connecting Your Condition to Your Service

It can often be challenging to connect a health condition to your service. Simply showing that you suffer from a condition and served in a high-risk location is not always sufficient to qualify you for VA benefits. Often, you must identify a specific incident during your active duty that contributed to your condition.

Depending on the details, your case may be as simple as saying you were based at Camp Lejeune for more than 30 days and developed one of the eight recognized conditions. For other cases, you may need to identify specific burn pits or other details that may be challenging to obtain.

toxic exposure in the military

Mandatory Screening

As of November 2022, Veterans Affairs physicians will screen patients from all departments for service-related toxic exposure. They hope to better understand the severity and scope of injuries caused by battlefield toxins.

Of the 13,000 veterans screened near the end of September 2022, roughly 37% claimed concerns regarding toxic exposures during their service.

New legislation passed by Congress in August 2022 mandated this new screening tool. The new toxic exposure legislation has Veterans Affairs accepting claims for all its listed presumptive illnesses, including cases linked to burn pit smoke.

Toxic Exposure Resources for Veterans

If you were exposed to toxins in the military during active duty or while on a military base, there are resources to support you. These resources can provide you with information about financial resources, medical resources, and legal resources.

The VA’s public health page offers extensive information on military toxic exposure. You can explore toxic exposure by war or operation or by your related health concern. It also has links to extensive publications, reports, and research studies on military exposures.

The Disabled American Veterans (DAV) is a nonprofit charity that offers informational resources related to military toxic exposure.

As a veteran, you can check your eligibility on the VA’s Environmental Health Registry Evaluation page. It is essential to realize that participation does not confirm your exposure or eligibility for disability compensation. This page offers a wealth of information, including registry details and contact information for the VA’s environmental health coordinator.

You can apply for disability benefits if you qualify and manage your benefits and status from the VA’s page. If you are denied benefits, you can launch an appeal and monitor your appeal status here.

The VA offers an environmental health registry evaluation to examine your exposure to environmental hazards during your service. The evaluation could alert you to potential health problems related to toxic exposures during service.

Filing legal paperwork, disability benefits applications, or appeals is difficult. However, our resources can help ease the burden of these tasks. When you work with professionals, you may receive more efficient and beneficial results. It is often better to fill out your paperwork correctly the first time rather than risk a lengthy appeals process. These appeals might put you at a disadvantage if there were errors in your original paperwork. 

If you are currently at the appeals stage for an application, you still have time to work with a professional and benefit from their experience.

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