Serving in the military presents personal challenges. Many end up serving in active military zones where life threatening challenges exist. That is the most obvious health risk in the military. That has been true since the first military engagements thousands of years ago. However, there are other health risks facing our military personnel, past and present. These risks are usually the silent ones that few people consider. However, they can pose long term health problems that can lead to suffer and even death as a result.
Here are a few military health risks to consider:
Stress is a major health risk in the military. That has held true for thousands of years. Stress does not pose a great health risk in the short term. In fact, it can give a person heightened senses in high-stress situations. That can be life-saving. The problems arise in long-term chronic stress. Chronic stress is very hard on the human body and mind. Being in a long-term high stress situation can trigger many physical and mental reactions. The immune system can bottom out. The mind can experience long-term damage. Suicide rates escalate in this type of situation. Cancer is more prevalent in people who go through long term stress situations.
Exposure to toxic agents remains a hazard to military health. An infamous toxic agent was Agent Orange. During the Vietnam War, the military sprayed a blend of herbicides across the Vietnam vegetation to flush out the enemy. Unfortunately, they exposed their own men to the toxic mixture also. It caused a wide range of medical conditions like AL amyloidosis, ischemic heart disease, porphyria cutanea tarda, and soft tissue sarcoma, among a dozen others. Today, those same environmental exposures also offer challenges for military personnel. Veterans serving in Iraq and Afghanistan suffered exposure to open burning pits, toxic fragments, and chromium, among other hazards.
Military personnel who served before the 1990s may have had extensive exposure to a wide range of toxic substances. An obvious example of this asbestos is Navy and Coast Guard ships. Asbestos was a very common element on ships built in the first 80 years of the 20th century. Breathing or ingesting asbestos can cause mesothelioma, asbestosis, and other rare medical conditions with no other known cause. It was not until the early 1980s that the military began taking measures to limit exposure to asbestos. However, with so much of that material hanging around, it was very difficult.
Infectious disease is another problem that military personnel face. In addition, another one has been true for thousands of years. When you have large groups of humans in a small area, disease can spread quickly. Moreover, when you send people into areas with diseases to which they have no immunity, the problem can become worse. Some of the diseases found in Iraq and Afghanistan that service members see include malaria, West Nile virus, Shigella, Q fever, and Brucellosis, among others.
This is just a small sampling of the potential health hazards that armies past and present face during deployments. Today’s soldiers face a specific set. However, it is important for military leaders to recognize the changing needs of military personnel and their health care. What may be prevalent today may only be a footnote in other years as new threats emerge.