by Emily Walsh
Military service is one of the greatest opportunities that this country presents to the individual that wishes to aid his fellow man. However, with this opportunity comes risk. Locations where military personnel engage in the fight for freedom pose challenges to both the health of the mind and the health of the body. Many of these risks can be silent, and multiple health conditions do not show any symptoms until after the service is completed. Military personnel face dangers that are not typically encountered by the average citizen simply due to the conditions of their surroundings.
Facing life-threatening danger from a variety of sources on a regular basis is a major cause of stress. Stress in large amounts has been shown to be extremely damaging to the body and the mind. In terms of symptoms, stress is not a health risk that poses an immediate danger. However, the long-term effects are quite describable, and they can be quite debilitating. Over time, the body can react to chronic stress by decreasing the ability of the immune system. The mind also reacts to chronic stress. Often, this reaction comes in the form of depression or suicide. Studies have also shown that cancer rates increase in individuals that undergo chronic stress.
Toxic elements in the environment have been a deadly component of combat for decades. Toxic exposure occurs outside of the occurrence of biological warfare. Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan have suffered due to excessive exposure to chromium, burning pits, and other toxic fragments associated with ammunition. Personnel that have served in the Navy or Coast Guard may have suffered exposure to asbestos. This material was a common component in military ships of the past, and the complete elimination of the material has been a difficult endeavor. Breathing in this substance can lead to diseases such as mesothelioma and asbestosis. Neither of these conditions has any known cure.
Natural, infectious diseases also pose a great risk to military personnel because they must function in such tight quarters. If one person acquires an infection, then it is likely to spread quickly to the other soldiers surrounding them. West Nile virus, Q Fever, and Malaria are among the diseases that have caused some real problems.
The military makes great strides towards preventing the risks associated with military service. As with the rest of the country, initial prevention is our best step towards maintaining health. They have developed training courses that prepare soldiers for recognizing and dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder both during and after combat. The military has also put a new emphasis on the health of soldiers prior to and during deployment. These measures encourage a healthy diet, little to no alcohol consumption, and regular exercise. As a preventative measure, the military also recognizes the need to strengthen our treatment of soldiers at home. Orientation videos that prepare families for the possibility of injuries that are both mental and physical ensures a better support system for injured soldiers that must once again enter society after their service has come to an end.