Toxic exposure and the U.S. military | Allen and Allen

Toxic exposure and the U.S. military

Military veterans make sacrifices for us all, and yet many have unknowingly been exposed to life-altering toxins during their service to our country.

Military family with a man kissing wife's hand

Sadly, as in the cases of Agent Orange in Vietnam and contaminated water at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, not only do these exposures sicken service members themselves, but also have lasting impacts on their families and loved ones.

With the recent passing of the PACT Act, some additional conditions caused by these exposures are now listed as presumptive by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), meaning that more affected veterans can qualify for health care and benefits.

The most widely known military-based toxic exposures include:

Agent Orange in Vietnam

During the Vietnam War, the United States military used various powerful defoliants in order to clear out large areas of trees and crops. Agent Orange, one of the defoliants used, contained large amounts of a toxic form of dioxin. U.S. forces would commonly operate in the immediate vicinity of areas where Agent Orange had been used. This led to thousands of U.S. military personnel being exposed to this toxin.

Vietnam veterans wall

Agent Orange exposure can have serious long-lasting and life-altering effects on one’s health, including:

  • Prostate cancer
  • Respiratory cancers
  • Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Peripheral neuropathy

What makes Agent Orange exposure even more devastating, is the birth defects often associated with the children of exposed veterans. Dioxin exposure can have serious effects on developing fetuses leading to:

  • Increased miscarriage rates
  • Spina Bifida
  • Brain disorders
  • Nervous system disorders

Fortunately, Agent Orange-related diseases are considered presumptive by the VA, which means veterans who have suffered from exposure can receive benefits and treatment if eligible. With the passing of the PACT Act, new conditions have been added to the list of Agent Orange presumptive conditions.

Additionally, the presumptive locations for Agent Orange exposure have been expanded, allowing more veterans to receive the treatment and benefits they deserve. 

burnt out car and buildings from war

Gulf War Veterans and brain cancer

Gulf War veterans have shown higher rates of brain cancer and brain cancer mortality compared to civilians. For years they have fought with the VA for presumptive coverage, struggling to prove that their cancer was caused by military service, despite medical research connecting the two.

Some Gulf War veterans were downwind from nerve agents released from weapon demolitions in Kamilyah, Iraq. Those veterans have been found to have double the mortality rate from brain cancer compared to others who served in the war.  Additional clinical studies suggest that low-level nerve agent exposure cannot be ruled out.

Fortunately, with the new PACT Act, brain cancer is now a presumptive condition for Gulf War veterans who suffered from toxic exposure during their service. 

Burn pit exposure in the Middle East

Throughout the various conflicts in the Middle East, ranging from the Gulf War to present day, burn pits were a common tactic employed by the U.S. military to dispose of and destroy anything not needed during operations.

Burn pits contained chemicals and other toxic materials.  Burning chemicals and toxic materials is an unsafe disposal method because it produces hazardous gases, which people can and did inhale.

Veterans exposed to burn pits have suffered from various conditions such as:

  • Respiratory conditions
  • Brain cancer
  • Kidney cancer
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Reproductive cancers
  • Melanoma
  • Digestive issues
  • Neurological issues

A full understanding of the long-term effects due to burn pit exposure is still unfolding.  As more time passes, scientists continue to uncover potential symptoms and conditions.

Luckily, the PACT Act added over 20 burn pit presumptive conditions to the VA list. Additionally, locations where veterans could have suffered from burn pit exposure have been expanded for both pre and post-9/11 deployments.

military member amid toxic exposure

Asbestos exposure in Iraq and other areas

Exposure to asbestos occurs through a variety of military assignments. Veterans involved in the following areas of work during their military service may have been exposed to asbestos at some point:

  • Mining
  • Milling
  • Shipyard work
  • Insulation
  • Demolitions
  • Carpentry
  • Construction
  • Flooring
  • Roofing

Additionally, veterans who served in Iraq and other countries in the Middle East may have been exposed to asbestos, due to older buildings in those areas being damaged and releasing the particles into the air.

Asbestos exposure can lead to multiple respiratory issues such as:

  • Asbestosis
  • Pleural plaques
  • Lung cancer
  • Mesothelioma

Veterans with health problems related to asbestos exposure during their military service can file a disability claim with the VA.

military victim getting medicanl treatment

Operation Tomodachi and Radiation Exposure

On March 11, 2011, three Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactors released radiation into the environment following the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in Japan. In an effort to help the Japanese, the United States armed forces launched Operation Tomodachi, a disaster relief operation involving 24,000 U.S. service members.

Currently, Fukushima is not among the locations that the VA uses to determine presumptive conditions for radiation exposure. Despite this, some U.S. military personnel have since reported cases of radiation-related conditions arising from their work in Fukushima, including:

  • Leukemia
  • Thyroid cancer
  • Spinal tumors
  • Brain tumors
  • Bone and joint issues

Experts indicate that certain conditions associated with radiation exposure can take a long time to manifest. In some cases, this can be up to 20 or 30 years. It is possible that more Operation Tomodachi service members may become sick in the coming years.

A study published in the International Society for Environmental Epidemiology states that individuals 18 and under during the time of the Fukushima disaster were 20-50 times more likely to be diagnosed with thyroid cancer in the time between March 2011 and the end of 2014. This kind of data suggests it is possible that a higher percentage of veterans involved in operations near Fukushima will also develop serious cancers.

Why choose Allen & Allen?

The attorneys at Allen & Allen have over 700 years of combined experience with personal injury cases. Throughout our firm’s history, we’ve handled many complex and devastating cases ranging from motor vehicle accidents to toxic exposure.

If you have suffered from any form of toxic exposure during your military service, such as the incidents listed above or from Camp Lejune’s contaminated water, you can contact our experienced toxic exposure attorneys at Allen & Allen to discuss your situation. Call 866-388-1307 for a free consultation today.