More Research Needed On Veterans Health Issues

More Research Needed On Veterans Health Issues
By: Doug Karr, USN Veteran
Operations Desert Storm & Desert Shield

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that there are nearly 25 million veterans currently living in the United States. Nearly $60 billion is spent on federal programs for veterans, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. This is in addition to funding from individual states. Despite such efforts, there are still many health issues facing veterans today. A recent report released by the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee shows that many veterans are facing disability and mental health issues. The report states an urgent need for services to deal with such conditions as early as possible.

During wartime, the main health concerns for those in the military include gunshot wounds, shrapnel injuries, head injuries, loss of limbs and other immediate injuries often treated in the field or in the area. The American Chiropractic Association reports that back problems due to muscle strain and tension are common among patients who are veterans. The National Association on Mental Illness is partnering with the VA to determine reasons for the increase in mental issues among returning veterans. The study will focus on veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq. Nearly 200,000 returning veterans have been diagnosed with PTSD since 2007 according to the National Center for Veterans Analysis and Statistics.

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, service members have been at risk for mental health-related problems dating back to the Civil War. Today, the top mental health issue among military veterans is Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. PTSD symptoms do not usually develop right away. PTSD can lead to other problems such as depression and substance abuse. The Army’s vice chief of staff, Gen. Peter Chiarelli, recently noted that many veterans’ health facilities are “overwhelmed” by veterans facing mental health issues. The Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center in Fort Hood, Texas handles more than 10,000 mental health evaluations every month.

According to the Veterans Health Administration, some service members experience health problems related to exposure to environmental hazards such as chemicals, contaminated water and infections. Some cancers, such as mesothelioma, are not detected until many years after initial exposure. Unfortunately, the mesothelioma prognosis is not good since the condition is not detected until later stages. According to a recent Yale study, some forms of cancer are also more prevalent among veterans. There has been an increase in cases of liver cancer and some rare cancers over the past decade among returning military members according to the NCVAS. More research is needed to determine the reasons for such an increase.