This article explores a range of combat-related injuries and exposures, and some chronic health problems, that can arise years after military service. The authors assert that although there have been important advances in the ability to care for veterans in the United States, challenges remain.
To accompany this article there is an audio interview with first author, Dr Linda McCauley, discussing the historical and current concerns related to the health of US veterans.
Members of the U.S. military are at risk for a range of combat-related injuries and hazardous exposures. Although each theater of operations poses its own risks, over the past 50 years, knowledge of measures for reducing the risks associated with military service and of veterans’ health care needs has steadily increased. After the Vietnam War, there were decades of debate on the long-term effects of exposure to the herbicide Agent Orange and its major contaminant, dioxin. During this conflict, large-scale aircraft-spraying operations conducted to remove the jungle canopy concealing opposition forces exposed potentially thousands of service personnel to Agent Orange. A national outcry eventually resulted in a 1991 law directing the U.S. secretary of veterans affairs (VA) to request that the National Academy of Sciences conduct a comprehensive review of potential health effects of herbicide exposures in Vietnam veterans.
McCauley, L., Ramos, K. S., 2020. Shaping the Future of Veterans’ Health Care. The New England Journal of Medicine, 383, pp. 1801-1804.