3 Exposure-Related Illnesses Faced by Veterans

 3 Exposure-Related Illnesses Faced by Veterans

The U.S. asks a lot of service members. But it also asks veterans to deal with a lot after their service ends. One health problem that arises again and again is toxic exposure.

For most of the past century, service members have been exposed to toxic chemicals while serving, then had to deal with the long-term effects of that exposure after they retire. In World War I, soldiers and marines were exposed to chemical weapons. Since then, most exposures have been to materials that were not used as weapons, but were still highly toxic.

Here are three illnesses faced by veterans that are related to toxic exposures.


Mesothelioma is a cancer of the mesothelium caused by asbestos exposure. The mesothelium is the tissue that surrounds the lungs.

Many jobs within the military can expose service members to asbestos including:

  • Motor pool personnel: Brake pads and clutches were often coated with asbestos because it is fire-resistant. Machining brake drums and rotors, changing brake pads, and resurfacing clutches often created asbestos dust that could be inhaled by anyone near the motor pool, including those who did not even work as a machinist or repair technician.
  • Boiler room workers: Asbestos was used as insulation around boilers. Sailors who worked in boiler rooms may have inhaled asbestos fibers.
  • Aircraft technicians: Aircraft used asbestos insulation. Anyone who refurbished or repaired aircraft risked exposure to asbestos.

Since mesothelioma is almost always caused by asbestos exposure, asbestos manufacturers created funds to pay for mesothelioma settlements.

Gulf War Syndrome

Doctors have not found a single cause of Gulf War syndrome. But the leading theories all relate to toxic exposures. Some substances that may have caused Gulf War syndrome include:

  • Nerve gas from chemical munitions that were destroyed in the theater.
  • Toxic chemicals from plastics burned in garbage burn pits.
  • Chemicals released in oil well fires.
  • Depleted uranium is used in armor-penetrating munitions.

Gulf War syndrome causes widespread systemic problems such as fibromyalgia, chronic pain, and digestive problems. The VA compensates veterans with Gulf War syndrome if they can show there is no medical explanation for their symptoms. This allows the VA to presume the symptoms were caused by toxic exposure in Kuwait, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, or Afghanistan.

Agent Orange Exposure

Agent Orange was a herbicide used during the Vietnam War. This defoliant was dropped in the jungles to deprive the enemy soldiers of hiding places.

However, Agent Orange exposure causes many illnesses including:

  • Hodgkins and non-Hodgkins lymphoma.
  • Soft tissue sarcoma.
  • Leukemia.
  • Multiple myeloma.
  • Respiratory cancers, including lung cancer.
  • Diabetes.
  • Parkinson’s disease.
  • Peripheral neuropathy.

Veterans who developed illnesses due to Agent Orange exposure can receive compensation from the VA.

Unfortunately, toxic exposure is very common in the military. If you developed illnesses after retirement that have no medical explanation, you should consider talking to your doctor about whether your illness is service-related. If you can trace your illness back to exposure to dangerous materials while serving in the military, you may be entitled to compensation.


Paul Petersen

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