Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Risks of Mental and Physical Illness Among Military Personnel

Everyone is aware of the risks U.S. military personnel face in battle, but veterans also face other dangers while serving their country. Several wars have involved the widespread use of toxic substances that affected the health of hundreds of thousands of veterans, and even outside of battle, military personnel risk contact with adverse conditions that can negatively affect their physical and mental health. Here's a look at some of the most common health problems faced by men and women who serve in the military.

Disease Risks
Military personnel spend much of their time in close quarters with other troops, raising their risk of contagious disease. In enclosed areas with large numbers of often-exhausted personnel, bacteria and viruses have time to build up serious concentrations that have little trouble infecting new hosts. Adding to this problem is the fact that troops are routinely sent to locations distant from their origins, where they have no immunity to the local pathogens. Although the local populations may be immune to the bacteria or parasites in the local water supply, newly arrived troops haven't had a chance to develop a tolerance.

Toxic Exposure
Many of the places military personnel are sent to are contaminated with all types of toxic waste. Radioactive substances, various carcinogens and other toxic chemicals are all common in these areas. As a result, many troopers finish their service but later develop problems including cancer and Lou Gehrig's disease. During the recent conflict in the Middle East, many military personnel were exposed to explosive fragments, burning garbage fumes and chromium, all-powerful contributors to disease.

In some cases, military personnel have been exposed to toxic substances outside of war zones. For example, Navy ships contained asbestos until the 1980s, and many personnel were exposed to the asbestos, which can cause asbestosis and mesothelioma (What is mesothelioma?) long after the initial contact. By the time the Navy realized what was going on and took steps to eliminate the exposure, many troops had already begun developing severe health problems.

Emotional Stress
After exposure to chronic threats of loss of life in battle, many military personnel develop a wide range of mental health problems. Severe depression and post-traumatic stress syndrome, or PTSD, are especially common. As a result, suicide rates are high in troops returning from war, and many continue to suffer from chronic psychiatric disorders and substance abuse issues. Immune suppression due to chronic stress also puts this population at risk for all types of health problems, including heart disease and various cancers.

While the government can take steps to reduce some of the disease risks common among military personnel, serving in the armed forces may always carry an element of danger to their health and life. Unfortunately, the causes of disease are constantly changing due to a chemical landscape that is constantly evolving. As new health problems continue to emerge, affected military personnel will hopefully receive the care they need for quality of life and longevity after developing health problems related to their time in the armed forces.

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