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Evaluating the Long-term Health Consequences of United States Combat Deployments: Toxicology and the Law

Military and Homeland Security Toxicology Issues

  1. Mark Brown PhD,
  2. Kenneth Hyams

Published Online: 15 DEC 2009

DOI: 10.1002/9780470744307.gat133

General, Applied and Systems Toxicology

General, Applied and Systems Toxicology

How to Cite

Brown, M. and Hyams, K. 2009. Evaluating the Long-term Health Consequences of United States Combat Deployments: Toxicology and the Law. General, Applied and Systems Toxicology.

Author Information

  1. Office of Public Health and Environmental Hazards, Department of Veterans Affairs, Washington, DC, USA

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 15 DEC 2009

Abstract

With each war, the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has been called on by veterans and their families, the US public, government leaders and the media to quickly provide information on the health consequences of combat deployment. VA must rapidly address difficult-to-answer health questions each time troops are deployed. Are veterans experiencing more health problems than expected? Have deployment-related environmental hazards led to health problems among returning veterans? Are troops experiencing greater rates of cancers or mortality? How has deployment affected the veteran's family and reproductive health? Long-term epidemiological studies provide the most accurate information about morbidity and mortality, but since they take years to complete, VA has had to resort to faster approaches to address veterans' health needs, including: voluntary clinical examination registries, specialized combat-related clinical care programmes, and most recently, electronic ‘combat veteran rosters’ based on VA's comprehensive computerized health records. Another limitation of long-term studies is that they generally fail to link specific deployment-related environmental hazards to unique health outcomes because of the lack of useful environmental exposure data and troop location information during chaotic wartime deployments. Developing equitable healthcare and assistance policies for combat veterans related to environmental hazards therefore cannot be totally reliant on good science, and frequently cannot be based on research studies of the exposed veterans themselves. Consequently, VA has often developed governmental healthcare and disability-assistance policies based on thorough reviews of all relevant scientific literature related to groups with well-characterized exposures, whether military or civilian, by an independent scientific group such as the US National Academies of Sciences Institute of Medicine (IOM).

Keywords:

  • toxicology;
  • veterans;
  • combat;
  • war;
  • dioxin;
  • vaccines;
  • pesticides;
  • depleted uranium;
  • military