Imagine surviving two deployments in Iraq, constantly dodging bombs and enemy gunfire, only to realize that the air you were once thankful to be able to breathe was making you sick. This is what happened to Sergeant Major Rob Bowman, who passed away from cholangiocarcinoma, a rare form of bile duct cancer, at the age of 44.
Unfortunately, as many military families know all too well, Sergeant Major Bowman’s situation is not unique. “Of the 30 men in Rob’s platoon who returned home, nearly one-third of them developed uncommon cancers and medical conditions,” said Coleen Bowman, Rob’s surviving spouse, “and the first doctor we saw confirmed immediately that the cause of Rob’s cancer was environmental, not genetic.”
The environmental exposure Bowman referenced — known as toxic exposures in the military — is of increased interest to lawmakers, advocates, and medical professionals as a result of the frequency with which it is occurring in post-9/11 veterans. However, given the notoriously slow pace of legislative oversight and government-funded medical studies, advocacy groups are now playing an important role in finding answers for military families.