The purpose of this blog is to create recognition of a disease called Soft Tissue Sarcoma. Soft tissue sarcoma is a type of cancer that could be related to a Veteran’s military service. That’s because soft tissue sarcoma is one of the illnesses on the list of “Presumptive Diseases”. Click here for a list of other presumptive diseases and eligibility requirements. The VA assumes that certain diseases can be related to a Veteran’s qualifying active military service. The gradual developing nature of soft tissue sarcoma may lead someone to prematurely dismiss the negligible symptoms of an otherwise serious health problem. Additionally, we will discuss possible steps to take to ensure you get the information and care you need should your symptoms be associated with soft tissue sarcoma. In most cases, it’s not clear what causes soft tissue sarcoma but the VA presumes some soft tissue sarcomas in Veterans are related to their exposure to Agent Orange or other herbicides during military service.
Soft tissue sarcoma is a type of cancer that begins in the soft tissues of your body. Soft tissues connect, support and surround other body structures. The soft tissues include muscle, fat, blood vessels, nerves, tendons and the lining of your joints. Soft tissue sarcoma can occur anywhere in your body, but the most common types occur in the abdomen and in the arms and legs. A soft tissue sarcoma may not cause any signs and symptoms may be minor in its early stages. As the tumor grows, it may cause:
- A noticeable lump or swelling
- Pain, if it presses on nerves or muscles
- A blockage in the stomach or intestines or gastrointestinal bleeding if the tumor is located in the abdomen or digestive tract
Make an appointment with your doctor if you have any persistent signs and symptoms that worry you. Tell your doctor if you served in Vietnam, the Korean demilitarized zone or any other area where Agent Orange was sprayed. If you don’t have medical benefits or the resources to see a doctor on your own, you may be eligible for a free Agent Orange registry health exam. This comprehensive health exam includes an exposure history, medical history, physical exam, and any tests if needed. A VA health professional will discuss the results with you. Keep in mind that in order to qualify for the Agent Orange Registry health exam, you must have;
- Served in Vietnam between 1962 and 1975, regardless of the length of time.
- Served in a unit in or near the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) anytime between April 1, 1968, and August 31, 1971.
- Served on Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF) bases near U-Tapao, Ubon, Nakhon Phanom, Udorn, Takhli, Korat, and Don Muang, near the air base perimeter anytime between February 28, 1961, and May 7, 1975.
Agent Orange (AO) and other herbicides used in Vietnam were tested or stored elsewhere before being sprayed in Vietnam including some military bases in the United States. If you suspect that you were exposed to AO or some other type of herbicide regardless of where that exposure occurred, contact your local VA health facility about getting an Agent Orange Registry health exam. If you don’t have a facility nearby, you can call the general helpline at 1-800-749- 8387 or the Agent Orange Registry Health Exam information line at 1-877-222-8387 and ask to speak to an Environmental Health Coordinator.
In general, cancer occurs when cells develop errors (mutations) in their DNA. The errors make cells grow and divide out of control. The accumulating abnormal cells form a tumor that can grow to invade nearby structures and spread to other parts of the body. The type of cell that develops the genetic mutation determines what type of soft tissue sarcoma you have. This distinction is made because not all soft tissues sarcomas are on the presumptive diseases list. The soft tissue sarcomas not presumed by VA to be caused by Agent Orange exposure are osteosarcoma, chondrosarcoma, Kaposi’s sarcoma or mesothelioma.
Living with advanced soft tissue sarcoma can be challenging. Treatment may cause stress in nearly every area of your life. You may feel shocked, scared, angry, frustrated, and sad. It is normal to feel any or all of these emotions. Know that if you are faced with these challenges help is available to you and your family. If learning that you, in fact, are afflicted with this or any other disease associated with your military service, and can’t manage with the stress of dealing with the VA while filing a disability compensation claim to service connect your disease, you can seek help from a Veteran Service Officer (VSO) at your local VA regional office, or organizations such as The American Legion, AMVETS, Disabled American Veterans (DAV), National Veterans Organization of America (NVOA), Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and the Wounded Warrior Project to only name a few. Veteran’s Disability Law is an extremely complex area of law and may require legal representation to help clarify the issues and help ensure that the claim is properly supported by evidence so that the claim can be appealed, if necessary. Thank you for taking the time to read this blog and more importantly for your service.