Five Common Health Problems Facing Military Veterans
Combat wounds are often much deeper than what the eye can see. From lingering pain and physical illness to mental and social health issues, military veterans face numerous health challenges related to their service. A team approach is the best way to address the unique health needs of veterans. An effective team includes professional healthcare providers, family members and the military community as a whole.
Many of the physical complaints that returning soldiers report cannot be classified as a single health issue or medical disorder. Fatigue, pain and mental confusion are common examples. Medical experts believe a combination of these symptoms reflect the intensity of combat situations. Here are five common health problems that confront military veterans today.
Joint and Muscle Pain More than half of all post-deployment medical visits by American veterans address the lingering pain that soldiers feel in their backs, shoulders, knees and necks. Many veterans report chronic muscle pain as well as joint pain. According to the "Journal of Pain," regular exercise can reduce pain symptoms and prevent disability in later years.
Hearing Impairment Hearing problems, including tinnitus ringing in the ears or head, are common effects of combat noise exposure. Heavy artillery fire, gunfire, loud engine rooms and military aircraft can permanently damage hearing. They also expose soldiers to harmful vibrations that can later cause pain and numbness in the back and hands. Hearing devices, medications and physical therapy are common treatments.
Toxic Exposures Chemicals and other military exposures can cause permanent damage to veterans returning from war. Nerve agents, for example, can cause long-term damage to the heart and nervous system. Environmental toxins are also common in combat regions. Asbestos, a toxic material found in war-damaged older buildings, can pose serious health risks like lung cancer andmesothelioma. Veterans may be eligible for disability compensation if their health conditions are related to military exposures during service.
Traumatic Brain Injury Traumatic brain injury (TBI) usually results from a blast or blow to the head. This signature combat wound from Afghanistan and Iraq disrupts brain functioning. It often leads to cognitive issues such as language or concentration problems. Veterans with TBI also suffer from headaches, memory loss, depression, irritability and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Mental Health Issues PTSD is the most publicized mental health issue facing military veterans. It is far from the only one, however. Many war veterans develop serious mental problems including major depression, violent behavior and substance abuse. Along with mental disabilities, PTSD and other mental problems are linked to certain physical illnesses and sleep disorders. Veterans with PTSD also have an increased risk for dementia.
The unique health conditions that veterans face affect their work, family relationships and social interactions. Their health needs should be addressed sooner rather than later, since some conditions lead to the development of others over time. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) provides healthcare benefits, disability compensation, health education and other services to veterans and their families. For more information, visit the VA website here.
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