Keeping Healthy While Serving in the Military
In the past decade, the expectations from veterans, family members and the nation demanded that the military provide more than a trained fighting force and battlefield casualty care. The Department of Defense now addresses the potential long-term effects of military duty including combat, low-level environmental exposures, psychological stress and occupational risks. It must also monitor the health of military members and assess the adverse effects of vaccines and drugs plus develop more effective treatment of chronic health problems. They have developed methods to track environmental and occupational exposures and have become a leader for communicating health risks and management information.
Military service exposes servicemen to all sorts of health risks depending on where they are stationed. Good travel medicine includes immunizations against diseases endemic to the country and good population health management. Individual and unit preventative measures are encouraged by the unit leader. Environmental health programs monitor local drinking water, disease prevention and control, hazardous waste and air quality. Other sources of health risk to military personnel include infectious diseases, equipment and workplace hazards, chemical and biological warfare agents, training and motor vehicle accidents, heat and cold injuries and psychological stress.
In the past, the danger of asbestos was unknown, and it was widely used by the military as a fire retardant building material in military ships and facilities from the 1940s to 1970s. Navy personnel are at an increased risk for exposure to asbestos since they work in a more enclosed environment and had a longer risk of exposure time from the 1930s to 1970s. Veterans account for thirty percent of all mesothelioma patients. The disease is caused by repeated heavy exposure, and the asbestos fibers build up in the body triggering biological changes that could lead to mesothelioma. VA benefits are available for veterans diagnosed with mesothelioma.
The military's goal is to reduce short and long term health risks. Preventative medical labs are accredited, and all new equipment and materials have a health hazard assessment. New chemicals need to meet a toxicity clearance. Labs have developed improved materials to counter chemical and biological warfare agents. Personal protective equipment for the military limits radiation and other exposure to health risks. Netting and special chemically treated clothes help to prevent malaria. Insect repellent and doxycycline is also used to control the disease. Each servicemen has regular physical check ups. Long-term studies are done to monitor the health of military personnel before and after exposure to potentially hazardous materials.
Post traumatic stress, suicide prevention, stress management, alcohol and substance abuse are all addressed by the military. A warrior care blog for veterans and family members is available here. Force Health Protection needs the support of veterans group, military service associations and elected officials to develop regulations, laws and policies for the health care of servicemen and veterans plus provide health education for them. Congress recently enacted legislation for the extension of healthcare to combat veterans for two years following their release from active service.
Mahalo, Emily, for preparing this post for Veterans Day. Contact Emily at this link. In honor of Veterans Day, I encourage readers to wear the Poppy - make one, buy one, share one to salute those who serve.