Veterans Day is on November 11 each year. It’s an important day because it gives an opportunity to honor the men and women who have served in the Armed Forces. These are the people who have dedicated themselves not just to protecting our country, as we are often reminded, but also to engage in rescue operations, engineering projects, humanitarian efforts, and peacekeeping missions, among other things.
When we think about veterans who have put themselves in harm’s way, a lot of people immediately think about the harsh and deadly conditions of combat. While such is certainly the case for many veterans, there are also many ways in which veterans have been exposed to harmful conditions outside of combat as well. We wanted to make note of some of those ways on this day of honoring and remembering our veterans.
Asbestos & Toxic Substances
Military personnel are often required to work with substances that are more dangerous than the average person ever comes into contact with. This includes any number of toxic materials, from deadly chemicals and solvents to petroleum-based fuels to even radioactive materials.
One of the most deadly materials used by military personnel is asbestos. Found in shipyards of both the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Coast Guard, asbestos is often used as a way to prevent fire from spreading aboard ships. However, as the only known cause of mesothelioma, asbestos exposure has led to a rash of deaths in veterans who once worked in these shipyards.
All in all, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lists more than 860 military-related locations that are considered Superfund sites. These include facilities controlled by the five military branches, the Department of Defense, the National Guard and the Veterans Administration. Such a high number of Superfund sites shows how dangerous military work is even outside of combat.
While it seems that over the last couple decades military accidents have been decreasing as a greater emphasis has been put on safety, there is no doubt that such accidents are still incredibly common. According to a 2010 medical study, injuries are the leading cause of medical incidents among military personnel. Common injuries included everything from sprains and fractures to falls and vehicle “mishaps,” the study found.
Even when such accidents and injuries don’t lead to death, they can affect the quality of life for veterans for the rest of their lives. Accidents during training, exercises, or other job-related functions can cause medical problems well down the road, leaving veterans with issues such as limited mobility, organ failures, and possibly even permanent disability.
Sadly, one of the biggest issues many veterans and their families face today is finding the appropriate level of care for their medical problems. In recent years, the VA Hospital system has been plagued with political scandal, increased bureaucratization, and reduced levels of care, while the veterans that the hospitals meant to serve wait as long as 90 days or more to receive necessary treatments.
In fact, the problem is so bad that in September this year, the Veterans Health Administration issued a report indicating that 307,000 veterans may have died while waiting for the administration to process their paperwork. Not only is it bad enough that veterans are exposed to dangers while on the job, but many are basically ignored while waiting to receive treatment for conditions caused by those very dangers.
The issue of veterans’ health is one that has been taken up by some of the presidential candidates. Hopefully, regardless of party, politicians will soon recognize that taking care of the veterans who have been put in harm’s way throughout their military is one of the most important things we can do as a country.
Remembering Veterans Today
While each of us might not be able to change the conditions that military personnel face on a daily basis, or improve the bureaucratic problems of the Veterans Health Administration, there are some things you can do to help:
Talk to the veterans you know or meet and tell them you appreciate what they’ve done.
- Visit a VA Hospital or clinic and get to know some of the veterans who are being treated there.
- Spread the word about the dangers that military personnel and veterans face due to hazards like asbestos, toxic substances, and injuries.
- Express your concerns to your congressional representatives.
Taking part in activities like these will help us make sure that we always remember the veterans who have given so much of themselves for others.