For years, veterans and their families have told stories of rare cancers, crippling respiratory illnesses, birth defects and more. Their conditions have confounded doctors and experts. How are these young, previously health troops and veterans falling so grievously ill? Why are they dying so quickly?
For years those families have gone without official answers, though they have their theories. Some say they know unequivocally -- it's toxic exposure.
Now veterans have perhaps their first major signal that the Department of Veterans Affairs plans to pursue the matter further. VA researchers recently announced plans to conduct a major study on environmental exposures during military service and the connection to illnesses in those veterans. VA also plans to look at potential intergenerational effects of military exposures, which may or may not include studying children of exposed veterans.
VA Chief of Research Development Rachel Ramoni said VA scientists have spoken with hundreds of veterans about the toxic exposures they say they've experienced during deployments. Because of those conversations, Ramoni said VA is planning "major investment in toxic exposures."
Veterans of multiple eras have been frustrated by the wait times for VA recognition of and payout of benefits for different exposures, including Agent Orange and Gulf War illness.
Veterans "for good reason have been irritated with us as an organization because we have not done a lot of work, especially clinical work, on military exposures," Ramoni said during a conference in Washington, D.C. last week focused on veteran prostate cancer. "I have apologized to them ... I have committed that, in (Fiscal Year 2021), we are going to make major investments in toxic exposures. We are in the planning phases for that now, but in (Fiscal Year 2021), we will start to roll that out. That's something that will cut across all our research."
The scope of the study could also extend to veterans' children, as VA intends to consider intergenerational effects of exposures, Ramoni said.