5 medical issues you may get from a life in the military

Jonathan Kaupanger
March 30, 2018 - 1:45 pm

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A life in the military isn’t easy. Normal daily life for those who have chosen to serve their country can include exposure to chemicals, nonstop stress and explosive blasts.  Health issues from a military life can be boiled down into several basic health issues. 

Working with Veterans Affairs is easier with some of these problems than others, so here are a few tips and suggestions on how to manage the VA bureaucracy.

Autoimmune Disorders

Autoimmune disorders include illnesses such as rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, lupus, issues with the thyroid and inflammatory bowel disease.  A few years ago, a VA study found that veterans with PTS are three times more likely to develop an autoimmune disorder. The study didn’t prove that PTS causes autoimmune disorders, but rather there is a connection.  Because of this, you may be able to establish a link between PTS and your autoimmune disorder, then get benefits for both.

If you have service-connected PTS, you may be able to claim autoimmune disorders as secondary to your PTS. A Veteran Service Organization (VSO) rep can help you. They are the experts at dealing with the VA on subjects like this. To prove a claim, you only have to prove a 50 percent probability. 

Hearing Loss

Veterans are very likely to have some form of hearing loss.  It could be from being too close to jet engines, firing weapons or being exposed to blasts. Did you know that jet fuel absorbed through the skin can cause hearing loss?  Chemicals in jet fuel interfere with the parts of the brain that interpret sound. 

Veterans Affairs is the largest employer of audiologists and speech-language pathologists in the country,  VA’s hearing health care services.  VA’s hearing loss ratings system is a little complicated, this will help explain the basics. 

Ratings for hearing loss are based on the hearing ability of both ears.  Your ears aren’t rated separately and only one rating is given for both ears.  A single condition can only be rated once, but if you have another condition that is additional and not caused by the original issue, then it can be rated, too.  This is called pyramiding. 

An interesting thing to point out, the Veteran Affairs Schedule for Ratings Disabilities (VASRD) describes tinnitus (code 6260 btw) as the ringing sound in the ear that often comes after exposure to serious aural trauma like explosions. It can come and go, or always be constant.  The VASRD states that tinnitus cannot be rated if other people can also hear the ringing--very helpful to point that out.

Contact your local VAMC to get help with your hearing.  Here’s a handy fact sheet that explains all the different VA audiology services available to vets.

Lung Problems

Veterans who have inhaled noxious smoke from a burn pit may already be dealing with chest pain, persistent cough, excessive mucus or difficulty breathing. If this is you, don’t hesitate making your appointment with a VA doctor! 

Veterans who develop respiratory cancer and who were exposed to Agent Orange or other herbicides while on active duty do not have to prove a connection between their disease and service in order to get VA health care or disability compensation. You will need a diagnosis of a disease that VA recognizes as being associated with Agent Orange, evidence of service in Vietnam or near the Korean demilitarized zone during specific dates and evidence that the disease began within the VA’s deadline. 

You can find information for veterans exposed to Agent Orange here. Veterans who suffer from COPD can now get help with VA’s Telehealth program and that information can be found here

Traumatic Brain Injuries

Most often we hear of TBI being connected to roadside explosive blasts in warzones. Even from a considerable distance, pressure waves from explosions can cause damage to the brain’s delicate tissues.  The VA has an incredible amount of research on TBI’s. 

Sometimes TBI symptoms only last a few hours or days, other times the symptoms exist for months or even longer. This can affect your ability to think, cause problems with memory, mood and focus too.  Treatment typically includes cognitive, physical, speech and occupational therapies along with medication that helps to control symptoms such as headaches or anxiety. 

TBI is such a problem that starting in 2007, VA implemented mandatory TBI screening for all vets accessing care at the VA, if they served in combat operations after 9/11.  VA has many different ways of getting help to vets who have TBI.  You can find help here

The severity of these injuries range from mild disorientation to an extended loss of consciousness.  No head injury should ever be ignored, but if you had some type of head injury during your service and are experiencing changes in thinking skills, dizziness, fatigue or memory problems, contact your VAMC today!

Mental Health Issues

About half of veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars don’t get the mental health they need.  VA estimates that 10 – 18 percent of these vets have PTS.  If you are one of these veterans, or know of one, VA has many different ways to offer help and support. 

The PTSD Treatment Decision Aid is a free online tool that helps educate veterans and their family about PTSD and encourages them to participate in decisions about the care they will receive.  VA’s National Center for PTSD is a great resource and should be the first place you should go when you have questions.  If you are the type who likes to work on your own, the Self-Help Resources page is for you.  The most important page though is the Get Help Now section.

Suicide prevention is one of VA’s top priorities. Because of this, all medical centers started offering emergency stabilization care for former service members with an OTH administrative discharge.  This includes inpatient, resident or outpatient care for up to 90 days.  They are not eligible to receive long term services like Intensive Community Mental Health Recovery or Compensated Work Therapy.

Vet Centers are a great way to get mental health help without having to go to a VA medical center. These centers provide a broad range of counseling, outreach and referral services.  Family members of combat veterans are eligible for Vet Center readjustment counseling also. You can find the Vet Center closest to you here.