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The effects of mustard gas, ionizing radiation, herbicides, trauma, and oil smoke on US military personnel: the results of veteran studies.

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  • 1Department of Veterans Affairs, Environmental Epidemiology Service, Washington, DC 20036-3406.


Late effects of exposure to certain environmental hazards as a consequence of their active military service have become an issue of particular concern to veterans and the public at large. Approximately one out of four Americans is a veteran or a family member of a veteran. The US military develops and uses increasingly complex and sophisticated weaponry. As the military technology changes, so do the kinds of health issues to be addressed. The changing composition of military personnel, most notably the increasing number of women veterans and their expanding role into combat-related activities, will affect both the health issues to be addressed and the kind of health care to be provided. The emerging role of the military as peace-keepers in hostile but nonwar zones and as disaster-relief workers, endemic to the area and to psychological stressors unrelated to combat. The formation of a registry of military personnel exposed to potentially serious long-term health hazards would be highly advisable, whenever feasible. Such an exposure registry could serve as the basis for future medical surveillance and response to affected veterans and help avoid the kind of difficulty experienced in addressing health concerns of WWII veterans exposed to mustard gas and Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange. Close cooperation between the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense is essential in the identification of potential hazards and follow-up of affected individuals. Growing public awareness of potential occupational and environmental hazards, publicity surrounding such suspected health risks, and the limited scientific knowledge about low-level exposure to toxic substances may all lead to misunderstanding, unwarranted fear, and suspicion of government coverup. Establishment of an exposure registry of veterans may be seen as a government commitment to address the future effects of potential hazards.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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