VA Evaluates Environmental Hazards and Cancer Risk

veterans cancer risk

VA Evaluates Environmental Hazards and Cancer Risk

It’s no secret that hazards exist during military service. The VA continuously evaluates the link between environmental hazard exposure and risk for diseases. They do this by compiling data in six Environmental Health Registries.

Developing a disease like cancer 20 years after service isn’t likely the first hazard that comes to mind when thinking of military service. But did you know that 40,000 new cancer cases occur each year among veterans?

Possible Environmental Hazards Exposure for Service Members

Environmental hazards that military service members may have been exposed to include:

  • Herbicides used during the Vietnam War
  • Radiation from nuclear powered ships or submarines
  • Toxins in water at Camp Lejeune
  • Smoke from open burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan

In a 2017 study of post 9/11 Veterans, 97% reported exposure to environmental hazards during deployment. Considering these environmental hazards, it is crucial for the VA and DoD to improve what is known about the link between environmental hazards and disease risk.

Registries

The VA collects data about exposure to environmental hazards in six different systems. These data collection systems are called registries.

The VA’s Post Deployment Health Services manages six registries. These data pools allow the VA to track trends related to environmental hazard exposure and diseases among Veterans.

Veterans who have served since 1990 may be eligible for the following:

  • The Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry
  • The Gulf War Registry
  • The Depleted Uranium Follow-Up Program
  • The Toxic Embedded Fragment Surveillance Center

Veterans who served before 1990 may be eligible for the following:

  • The Agent Orange Registry
  • The Ionizing Radiation Registry

Joining Registries

Joining a registry is voluntary. Veterans interested in joining should contact an Environmental Health Coordinator.

Joining has several advantages for the Veteran. Veterans can be tracked and monitored over time for health trends related to environmental exposures. Providing contact information allows the VA to reach the Veteran directly when new information is available.

Additionally, the registries provide data for researchers to study the link between environmental exposures and disease. By better understanding the links between environmental exposures and disease, the VA can improve prevention measures and medical management.

Research studies that use registry data do not usually study individuals. Instead, they look for trends in the data to find associations between exposures and a certain disease.

Individual Longitudinal Exposure Record (ILER)

The ILER is an important electronic medical record of environmental hazard exposures. It is currently being pilot tested. If the pilot test is successfully completed, the ILER will integrate the VA’s six registries.

This is a collaborative effort between the VA and DoD. The record captures:

  • Time and location of deployments
  • Events during deployments
  • Environmental hazards known at the time of deployment or identified later
  • Record of monitoring performed in the deployment areas
  • Related medical encounter information and concerns regarding possible exposures

The goals of the program are to improve:

  • Quality of healthcare related to environmental hazard exposure
  • Improve process of claiming healthcare benefits and submitting disability claims
  • Increase transparency between the VA, DoD, Congress, and Veteran beneficiaries

Stay Informed

The Military Exposures and Your Health is a biannual newsletter. The newsletter is designed for Veterans who served from the 1990s to present and meant to provide information about military-related environmental exposures.

Veterans can subscribe to this newsletter to stay informed about new research findings. The newsletter merges the previous Gulf War Newsletter and Post-9/11 Newsletter.

While past exposure to environmental hazards cannot be changed, links between exposure and disease can be better understood. The VA is working to better understand these links by evaluating the data in these six registries.

 

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About the author

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Chelsea Bostelman is a registered nurse who stays busy with freelance writing, exploring Europe, and working on a graduate degree in nursing. She founded the Stuttgart Nurse Journal Club to provide underemployed nurses with free continuing education opportunities. A 10-year military spouse, she and her family spend their free time hiking, biking, and eating in southern Germany.