Those who serve in the military face many personal challenges, including some, which may be life threatening. While serving in a war zone presents obvious risks, there are others where the effects may not be seen for decades and can cause suffering. Some of the health problems associated with military service are outlined below.
Mental and Physical Stress
Throughout history, stress has played a major role in the military. In the short-term, it can actually be helpful to a soldier by amplifying the senses during perilous situations. Health problems occur when stress is encountered over a long period of time, and it wreaks havoc on the mind and body. The body's immune system functions less efficiently, making a soldier more vulnerable to illness. The mind can also become permanently damaged from long-term stress and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is prevalent in those who serve on the front lines.
As mind and body are tied together, receiving therapy for stress-related disorders, such as talking with a psychiatrist, can often alleviate physical symptoms as well.
Exposure to Toxins
Soldiers are often exposed to toxic substances as a part of their duties. One of the most famous of these was Agent Orange, an herbicide that was used liberally in Vietnam as a way to drive the enemy out into the open. As a consequence, many American soldiers were exposed to Agent Orange and were later diagnosed with soft tissue sarcomas, ischemic heart disease, porphyria cutanea tarda, and AL amyloidosis as well as many other peculiar ailments. Military personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan were exposed to chromium and burning pits that contained toxic substances. The health toll from the Gulf war zone is still being tallied.
Prior to the 1990s, asbestos was widely used in all branches of the military, especially in Coast Guard and Navy ships. The fibers from asbestos are inhaled and lodge in the lung tissue, where they may cause diseases such as mesothelioma cancer and asbestosis decades later. While the military finally took note of the health risks surrounding exposure to asbestos and put measures into place to limit its use, there was too much of it in too many places to do much good.
A very big risk faced by soldiers is being exposed to diseases to which there is no prior immunity, such as West Nile virus, malaria, Brucellosis, Shigella and Q fever. Since the military often congregates in large groups, these illnesses spread quickly among personnel, weakening its presence. While controlling mosquito populations can be helpful in cases of malaria and West Nile virus, there is no vaccine for any of the illnesses. Shigella can be prevented by hand washing and thorough cooking of food. Brucellosis and Q fever have permanent effects that can only be treated symptomatically.
These health risks are a small sample of what soldiers face each day of service, and new threats are expected to emerge in the future. Military leaders need to take note and take action.
For more information, be sure to check out the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance Blog, which contains a wealth of knowledge regarding cancer in general.