Part Two: Ionizing Radiation
Since the discovery of atomic energy, it has become common knowledge that ionizing radiation is harmful to humans. While this sort of radiation does not cause giant mutant ants or other monstrosities depicted in low-budget science fiction films in the 1960’s and 1950’s, ionizing radiation is mutagenic and exposure to it can be disastrous to the body.
The VA and Ionizing Radiation
The VA lists several different methods a serviceman may have been exposed to ionizing radiation. This includes service members in Japan during the Fukushima incident in Japan in 2011, “Atomic Veterans” who participated in the testing and implementations of nuclear weapons, Coastguardsmen who were stationed at LORAN (Long Range Aids to Navigation) stations from 1942 to 2010, and veterans who have been exposed to radiation-based medical treatments.
Occupationally, the VA recognizes that servicemen who served on nuclear vessels, or worked on these ships in shipyards were also exposed to radiation. Others who worked as X-ray or dental technicians, or worked to clean up nuclear waste, were also likely exposed.
The VA recognizes many presumptive disease with regards to exposure to ionizing radiation. These include: Cancers of the bile ducts, bone, brain, breast, colon, esophagus, gall bladder, lung (including bronchiolo-alveolar cancer), pancreas, pharynx, ovary, salivary gland, small intestine, stomach, thyroid, urinary tract (kidney/renal, pelvis, urinary bladder, and urethra, leukemia (except chronic lymphocytic leukemia), lymphomas (except Hodgkin’s disease), and multiple myeloma.
Other illnesses that the VA admits MAY be related to ionizing radiation, but does not automatically presume these diseases are service-related: all other cancers, non-malignant thyroid nodular disease, parathyroid adenoma, posterior subcapsular cataracts, and tumors of the brain and central nervous system.
Other health risks associated with ionizing radiation
While the VA has not formally recognized the connections, there are many other health effects seen in those exposed to radiation, including reproductive problems and infertility, uterine myoma, chronic liver disease and cirrhosis, thyroid disease, cardiovascular disease, myocardial infarction, cataracts, kidney disease, and even hypertension. Often, these problems do not surface for years after the original exposure, and as such, the VA may fight against service-connection. Some scientists estimate that just as many radiation-exposed people die from non-cancer related illnesses caused by ionizing radiation than those who die from cancers.
No matter the route of exposure, it is clear that veterans exposed to ionizing radiation suffer from a slew of dangerous health effects.