Servicemembers have been exposed to extreme cold in combat and military training missions. The major cold injuries they suffer include frostbite, non-freezing cold injuries, immersion foot (formerly called trench foot), and hypothermia.
The risk of cold injury depends on several environmental conditions including temperature, wind and moisture, in combination with physical activity, the duration of exposure, and amount of protection. The individual’s level of fitness and cold susceptibility also contribute to the risk.
If you are concerned about health problems associated with cold injuries, talk to your health care provider or local VA Environmental Health Coordinator.
How Veterans may have had cold injuries during military service
Veterans may have been exposed to extreme cold without adequate protection during:
- World War II: The Battle of the Bulge, fought in December 1944 through January 1945 under conditions of extreme cold
- Korean War: The Chosin Reservoir Campaign, conducted from October 1950 through December 1950 in temperatures that dropped to 50 degrees F below zero, with a wind chill factor of 100 degrees F below zero.
- Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) in Afghanistan
- Other campaigns or circumstances during military service, including training.
Health problems associated with cold injuries
Cold injuries may result in long-term health problems, including the following signs and symptoms (at the site of exposure):
- Changes in muscle, skin, nails, ligaments, and bones
- Skin cancer in frostbite scars
- Neurologic injury with symptoms such as bouts of pain in the extremities, hot or cold tingling sensations, and numbness
- Vascular injury with Raynaud’s Phenomenon with symptoms such as extremities becoming painful and white or discolored when cold
VA has developed a guide for clinicians on how to diagnose and treat cold injuries. Veterans and others also may be interested.
If you are concerned about health problems associated with cold injuries during military service, talk to your health care provider or local VA Environmental Health Coordinator.
Veterans not enrolled in the VA health care system, find out if you qualify for VA health care.
Veterans may be eligible for VA disability compensation benefits and health care benefits for health problems associated with cold injuries during military service. VA decides these disability compensation claims on a case-by-case basis.
Surviving spouses, dependent children and dependent parents of Veterans who died from health problems related to cold exposure during military service may be eligible for health care, compensation and other survivors’ benefits. Find out more about available benefits for survivors.
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