Military Service Hazardous to Your Health

Retired Colonel and PhD E.C. Hurley recently warned of issues that have been known to impact veterans after leaving service. While not new, what is new (at least to me) is that the military has known of these conditions for over a century. My recruiter sure didn’t mention that by just serving during a war would increase my chances numerous times over for certain ailments beyond average civilians.

Since at least the civil war, medical professionals have diagnosed conditions impacting veterans much later in life following military combat. Since we all knew going into the military that it was a dangerous proposition, none of us are surprised of the external injuries we received. Bombs blow up. Rifles go off. People get hurt and some die. But many of us are unaware of the long-term nature of these silent injuries.

Symptoms range in symptomology in the form numerous disorders like chronic fatigue, sleep problems, skin rashes and blackouts. Internally, the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) classifies these as medically unexplained physical symptoms (MUPS). Many of the MUPS have no formal treatment, leading the DVA to be helpless to treat veterans with these symptoms.

Hurley points out that the reason for many of these have everything to do with exposure to exceptionally life-threatening situations. These experiences are storied in the brain and potentially lead the body to emit pain responses.

For example, the stomach contains the second largest nerve center behind the brain. When threatened, a nature human response is to tighten the stomach. Pause and repeat. Pause and repeat. After 4 tours in the Middle East or years in Vietnam, it should be no surprise that prolonged combat experienced tend to result in chronic conditions due to repeated stressors.

While the DVA is unable to provide direct treatments for many of these MUPS, alternative medical treatments have begun to experience some successes. Hurley supports Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). I have personally used Thought Field Therapy (TFT) with success for similar issues. My LSAT score for law school increased substantially, because my testing anxiety decreased. These kinds of alternative treatments are not alone; there are literally hundreds of alternatives.

While I will not endorse any method over another, I certainly encourage veterans to investigate alternatives to Western Medicine when nothing else works. Just be sure to consult with your physician before trying anything outside of your wheelhouse.

Ultimately, veterans suffering from conditions, pains and other ailments, should not feel isolated or alone when the DVA is unable to provide treatments or solutions. Long-term health problems have been a long time problem for veterans since at least the Civil War. While getting treatment for the conditions may be elusive, at least knowing that there is a long history of mysterious illnesses that come with military serve can lend insight into a particular condition.

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  1. Kirk:

    My only experience with being on a sub was when I toured the German sub that is on display at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry. I couldn’t fathom living in such cramped quarters for months at a time. The guide told us that the sailors who served aboard the World War 2 German U-boats had to be less than a certain height, that they had to know every valve and control on the boat by touch in case of an emergency, and a whole bunch of other things. If your experience on a Cold War Submarine was anything like what I saw there then by all means you, sir, should be considered a hero with a capital “H”!

  2. My story, although along the same lines, has a bit of a twist to it. I served 12 years in the Cold War submarine force, ending in a very unwanted medical discharge, and was assigned to a rather special nuclear powered fast attack submarine (East coast). For us in the submarine force during those last years, the Cold War was very hot indeed.

    We were out at sea an average of 300 days out of each year and our operations, even today, are still classified. Service in the submarine force played hell on a man’s health both physically and mentally for reasons I simply cannot explain. I hate to resort to the old cliche but, you just had to be there to understand.

    I’ve recently been assigned 100% disability due to unemployability, this due to the injuries/physical damage that occurred during my years in the submarine force (actual rating is 90%). I’ll look anyone in the face and state that the men of the Cold War submarine force should be considered combat veterans. That realization came home to me when I was told (both in and out of the service) by several Vietnam veterans who saw tours “in-country”, that many of them turned to the Cold War submarine force after the Vietnam War was over. I could never understand why until one took the time to explain fully. In short it was this.

    He said it wasn’t getting shot or injured or captured (etc) that changes a guy. It’s everything that leads up to that moment. The (Cold War) submarine force gave them that exact same environment. We had several Vietnam vets on board my boat way back then and years later I believe I finally understood what they were trying to tell me. They were also the ones who finally convinced me to enroll in the VA which I did in 2000 (was medically discharged in 1988).

    It took two years to get 100% disability and I went through the process myself, no lawyers, no DAV or American Legion. The VA Disability and Compensation department rep explained to me that the two year delay was due to an increase of over 800,000 additional claims per year from veterans coming back from Iraq, Afghanistan and the new claims from Vietnam vets affected by Agent Orange after the US government passed new laws acknowledging Agent Orange as causing service related medical problems (way too late for many but at least it’s there for those who remain–finally). It seemed like a reasonable explanation and almost exactly two years to date of my original claim for increase, I was granted my 100%.

    No real point in this comment at all, just relating what happened to me. These old Cold War submarine veterans really should be considered combat vets though. This I truly believe.

  3. I am presently awaiting a va increase of disability decesion,has been over two years(cleveland ohio regional vet affairs).So much for VA’S Recent hiring of more people to make compensation decisions.Of course they have no medical training what so ever.I’m presently using Binder and Binder(attorneys at law).After fighting Social Security for over two years on my own,Binder and Binder sucessfully won my total disability after just ten months.I am presently fighting for increase in bilateral ,service conected knee condition,My knees put me out of my life long career of nursing(army medic).VA treating me for depression since loss of my career.VA said no conection between service conected knees and depression!I am @40%,and it has taken me 30 years to get that.Good luck everyone.Remember the line from Clint eastwood movie,Endever to perserveer.Also if your senator’s vetafairs staff will flag your claim it can speed up process.

  4. Nikki In boot camp I was the victim of so much hazing that I honestly came to fear my own “shipmates” more than any enemy!:( As soon as my day to be discharged came I walked out of the service and vowed I’d never look back!

  5. Even in peace time a soldier can loose so much sleep that it causes a chronic disorder. I was sexually assaulted in my room in my barracks. My roomates did not lock the door while I slept and I had to fight to keep from being raped.
    Harassment was an ongoing problem till I finally had enough and decided that
    8 more years for retirment was not worth it. I made the right choice.
    To this day I sleep with a knife under my pillow. Nothing like fearing your own
    more than the enemy.

  6. Well, Now I know the rest of the story as Paul Harvey used to say! Now I can see why I’ve been so fatigued and have so many physical and mental problems I never had before entering the service and this was between 1966 and 1970, darn near a half century ago! (I’ve even gone to churches where preachers tried to tell me I was demon-possessed!)

  7. I have always wondered why I feel so tired, it is possible that I could have chronic fatigue! Something to investigate!

  8. I have been fighting with VA for an upgrade in rating. I served over 13 years in the military served in Desert Shield/Storm and 11 years overseas. Since the Gulf war, I have suffered from RSD, Fatque, Strokes, Seizures, Major back injury and strain, Arthritius, 5 tumors removed, All female organs removed, fiburmoalgia, earing loss etc. These are just a few things listed. I tried working for 10 years after being told I was no longer fit for active duty and put in the civilan world to fight for help on my own. The conditions in the past 10 years have gotten so bad that I am unable to work unable to drive because after the stroke and seisure I was left with virtigo. You would think that the VA would have approved my appeal just based on that but I am still waiting after 2 years for a decision. I am a single parent and because of my condition have lost home , job and faith in government to supp;ort the situration. I am in no way a slacker or looking for a hand out. I am an Honorable combat disabled veteran with an education in Accounting, Food Nutition, Certified Nursing, Child Educator. The problem I face is who would hire someone who wakes up everyday not knowing what part of her body will be functioning today. But thru the grace of the Lord I continue to pray on and believe that God didn’t send me this far for my government to turn their back on me now. So I stand Patient and I wait.

  9. Love the story. I am one of the Ft. McClellan, AL vets with long lasting medical issues. Anniston, AL and the surrounding now closed military base is one of the most toxic places on the planet. For the last 6 decades the State and Federal government (EPA’s) covered the issues up for decades. The people of Anniston sued the area chemical company they have changed their name many times of the last century now known as Monsanto. They dumped millions of gallons of toxic chemicals into the ground water, streams and lakes, into the air, and uncapped landfills. The DVA considered suing also to have the funds to pay benefits and cover long term medical cost for Veterans. The DVA did not sue for unknown reasons but take the stand to this day that nothing happened and we were not harmed by the mess but the civilians were. I guess that we are superhuman after all. We drank from the same water supply, went into town and ate the food, and breath the same air but thank god that we were in the Army and the couple of miles between the base and town protected us from harm. The current House Bill 6238 The Fort McClellan Health Registry Act. has been roaming around Congress for the last decade and has never made it out of committee. So many of us were effected I think it will never see the light of day. Just wait for enough of us to die off then say were sorry for your loss to our love ones. If this happened in say the Middle East our government and citizens would be outraged. I guess we do not deserve the same respect as human beings.

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