The Salt Lake Tribune has published an excellent series, “Sickened Service” by Matthew D. LaPlante, telling the stories of veterans whose illnesses or deaths seem likely to be related to exposures during their military service:

  • What doesn’t kill you: Veterans can only get care and compensation from the Department of Veterans Affairs if they can prove their conditions are “service connected” – but it can take decades for the VA to put a health condition on that list.
  • The latest hazard?: Waste-disposal “burn pits” at bases in Iraq and Afghanistan belch foul smoke into the air, and many previously healthy soldiers who served on those bases have now developed debilitating respiratory problems and, in the worst cases, fatal cancers.
  • The Proving Ground: During the Cold War, the military tested chemical and biological weapons on its own servicemembers. They denied the tests for decades – and even after they acknowledged what had happened, their efforts to find and compensate affected soldiers were lackluster.

Epidemiological studies are complex and time-consuming. With a few notable exceptions (like mesothelioma and asbestos exposure), it’s extremely hard to determine whether a particular case of a disease is likely to have been caused by a particular exposure. But if a veteran develops a disease that might be related to his or her military service, shouldn’t we err on the side of generosity and give them compensation – at the very least, VA healthcare?

Our country asks and receives a great deal from the members of our military, and it’s shameful that so many veterans are struggling to afford the care they need and feeling betrayed by the institution they once served.