Many, many diseases and disorders can be caused by acute or chronic exposure to chemicals while in the Armed Forces. We’ve covered oil fires, jet fuel, burn pits, and many other common routes of exposure. However, often times, we are exposed to chemicals at work, and don’t even realize it. Here are some questions to ask yourself when trying to figure out how you may have been exposed to chemicals while in service:
- What exactly were my job duties?
When you look back at your time in service, try and remember ALL of the jobs you performed. You may have been a ship’s cook for the majority of your time in service, but maybe you spent a year painting boats in a shipyard, or working below decks as a snipe. Maybe your storekeeping, shipping and requisitions job was mostly paperwork, but you also needed to frequently take inventory of chemicals. In the military, most people wear many hats, and it may not be that job you remember that exposed you to the chemicals that caused your illness.
- Where was I stationed?
Sometimes, it’s the environment around us that is making us sick. If you were stationed in Camp Lejeune, you know you’ve been exposed to trichloroethylene and many other chemicals from contaminated drinking water. In Vietnam, you know that you’ve likely been exposed to Agent Orange. But there are other environments that are also dangerous. For example, simply being stationed in Houston, Texas, near the shipping channel could raise your odds of developing cancers like leukemia or lymphoma by 32%! Many military bases are EPA sites, and have extremely high environmental levels of lead and other dangerous chemicals.
- What medication or drugs did I take for service-connected disabilities?
Sometimes, secondary disabilities can arise from the treatment of already service-connected disabilities. For example, anxiety medications often prescribed for PTSD and anxiety disorders have been shown to greatly raise your odds of developing alzheimer’s by 50%! Many drugs, especially taken over many years, can cause many other problems, from liver and kidney dysfunction, to sleep apnea. If you have a history of alcohol or drug abuse, was this simply a coping mechanism or a symptom of your service-connected mental illness? In this case, the VA may recognize that diseases such as cirrhosis or hepatitis are secondary disabilities to your mental disorder.
- What years did I serve?
Technology and science is advancing rapidly. If you served many years ago, science may not have realized how dangerous certain chemicals were, or regulations and safety practices may have changed. For example, leaded gasoline was used up until the 1970’s, and therefore if you served before this time, you likely were exposed to much larger amounts of lead than those who served after.
- Am I sure my diagnosis is correct?
Sometimes, doctors have a very difficult time figuring out exactly what disease is causing your symptoms. Sometimes, it is much easier to diagnose a disease as something else, rather than performing many other tests. Sometimes, depression is really a thyroid problem, or fibromyalgia is Lupus. You may want to get a second opinion, especially if your original diagnosis was made at an overworked and understaffed hospital.