Health

Mandy Kloppers

Seven common health issues faced by veterans

When our society’s brave men and women don their uniforms, ready to defend their country, they are often subjected to extreme physical and emotional hardships.

Upon returning from their service, veterans frequently encounter several health issues, many directly tied to their time spent in service. Tragically, some of these conditions remain latent, only surfacing long after the veterans have transitioned back into civilian life.

Therefore, understanding these common conditions is a matter of respect and gratitude for their sacrifice and a small part of ensuring that retired soldiers receive appropriate care and support.

Below are some of the most common conditions faced by veterans:

  1. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD):

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a significant concern for veterans, frequently originating from battle experiences. PTSD is a psychological illness that develops after being exposed to stressful events, forcing people to relive the trauma through flashbacks or nightmares.

It frequently coexists with other diseases, such as depression, substance abuse, and physical discomfort.

The symptoms include increased anxiety, emotional anguish, difficulties sleeping, flashbacks, and intrusive thoughts about the traumatic experience. These manifestations can significantly impact an individual’s everyday life, quality of sleep, productivity, and personal relationships.

Treatment frequently includes cognitive-behavioral therapy intended for changing thought patterns connected to the trauma.

Exposure therapy is also useful in which individuals are gradually pushed to deal with and cope with traumatic memories. Medicines such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors can be used in addition to therapy.

  1. Hazardous exposure:

For many troops, particularly those stationed in certain areas or periods, exposure to dangerous chemicals is an ongoing health concern. Agent Orange, a pesticide widely employed for deforestation during the Vietnam War, is a noteworthy example.

Troops exposed to Agent Orange have a higher risk of developing cancer, heart disease, and Parkinson’s disease.

Furthermore, between 1953 and 1987, military personnel and their families at the United States Marine Corps Base, Camp Lejeune, were exposed to polluted drinking water.

The dirty water contains industrial solvents, benzene, and other hazardous chemicals. This exposure has been linked to an increased risk of several diseases, including leukemia, kidney cancer, and liver disease.

 

  1. Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI):

TBI is commonly called the ‘signature wound’ of the battles in Iraq and Afghanistan. Violent impacts cause Traumatic Brain Injuries or blows to the cranium, which disrupt normal brain function.

They can result from explosions, accidents, or debris posing a serious threat to service members. Symptoms of traumatic brain injury can include persistent migraines, memory problems, difficulty concentrating, mood swings, and, in extreme cases, coma.

The severity of a traumatic brain injury determines the treatment tactics, ranging from downtime and over-the-counter painkillers for minor injuries to specialized therapies and even surgery for severe cases.

 

  1. Hearing Loss and Tinnitus:

The two most common conditions among veterans are hearing loss and tinnitus. These conditions result from exposure to loud noises while serving in the military, whether from gunfire, explosions, or airplanes. Constant exposure to such loud noises can permanently damage the hearing system.

Tinnitus is the most frequent affliction among US troops, manifesting as a continual ringing or buzzing in the ears. Individuals suffering from tinnitus have been shown to have trouble concentrating, sleep problems, and increased stress.

On the other hand, hearing loss can impede connections with others and communication, leading to loneliness and depression.

These disorders are treated in a variety of ways. Hearing aids or cochlear implants are commonly used to treat hearing loss. Tinnitus treatment methods include sound therapy, which utilizes external sounds to alter tinnitus perception, and cognitive-behavioral therapy.

  1. The Gulf War Syndrome:

Formerly recognized as “Gulf War Illness,” Gulf War Syndrome is a complicated and multisymptomatic sickness that primarily affected veterans of the Gulf War from 1990 to 1991.

The syndrome has been characterized by a distinct constellation of symptoms, including tiredness, migraines, joint pain, cognitive impairment, indigestion, sleeping disorders, vertigo, respiratory disorders, and memory problems.

The varying degrees of these symptoms and their complex combination in soldiers make diagnosis and treatment challenging.

The root cause of Gulf War Syndrome remains ambiguous, but researchers believe it is likely due to exposure to neurotoxic chemicals, anti-nerve gas pills, pesticides, and vaccines.

As there is no definitive cure, treatment primarily focuses on symptom management, often involving pain management, psychological therapy, and lifestyle modifications to improve overall health.

  1. Mesothelioma:

Mesothelioma is an uncommon, aggressive cancer primarily caused by exposure to asbestos. The mineral asbestos is extensively used in various industries, including military applications, and is especially common among Navy veterans.

The malignancy primarily affects the mesothelium, the thin tissue layer that covers the majority of internal organs.

Due to its latency period, which can often span decades, mesothelioma is frequently diagnosed at an advanced stage, making treatment difficult.

Typical symptoms enclose chest pain, shortness of breath, unexplained weight loss, and severe coughing. As a result, mesothelioma treatment focuses on enhancing the quality of life and managing symptoms, utilizing surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and novel approaches such as immunotherapy.

  1. Depression:

Depression is a frequent mental health problem that requires immediate treatment. It is commonly caused by the emotional toll of battle, the stress of adjusting to civilian life, and the terrible experiences endured during military service.

Symptoms of depression contain persistent sadness, feelings of emptiness/hopelessness, loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities, and even suicidal thoughts. Depression can also contribute to physical health concerns such as insomnia, weight fluctuations, exhaustion, and mental and emotional burden.

Effective treatment for depression often involves a combination of psychotherapy, antidepressant medication, and lifestyle modifications, including regular exercise, a balanced diet, and strong social support.

Conclusion

Veterans face an array of health challenges unique to their service. It is our societal responsibility to recognize and address these issues to provide our veterans with the care and support they need.

Comprehensive healthcare services, research into the causes and cures of these disorders, and improved awareness can all contribute to helping our heroic veterans live better lives. They’ve served us; now it’s our turn to serve them.