Environmental Health Coordinators - Helping Veterans like You
Do you know about VA’s health registries and the Environmental Health Coordinators across the country who can help you join? Registries include a free, voluntary medical assessment for Veterans who may have been exposed to certain environmental hazards during military service. VA offers several health registries, found at https://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/benefits/registry-evaluation.asp. An Environmental Health Coordinator can connect you to the registries for which you qualify.
Vietnam Veteran Gary Thistlethwaite served in the Navy from August 1964 through October 1967, and was in Vietnamese waters on board the USS Tucker and the USS Dixie from 1965 through 1967. As a Veteran, he was interested in finding out what services were available to him. Mr. Thistlethwaite contacted his local Veterans Service Organization in Pittsburgh, Pa., and received a variety of names and phone numbers, including contact information at VA.
He learned about the Agent Orange Registry Health Exam, (https://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/agentorange/benefits/registry-exam.asp) a free medical assessment for Veterans with concerns about Agent Orange exposure during military service. “I was informed that Douglas Turner was involved with the Agent Orange Registry. I was curious and gave him a call,” said Thistlethwaite. Turner is an Environmental Health Coordinator at the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System. “We talked a little bit. He asked me if I wanted to participate in the registry. At first said no and then I changed my mind,” Thistlethwaite said.
When he was younger, Thistlethwaite was told not to worry about any health consequences resulting from his service; however he now wonders about the health effects for Veterans who were on Navy ships (https://www.va.gov/disability/eligibility/hazardous-materials-exposure/agent-orange/vietnam-waters/) and potential intergenerational effects from service.
Thistlethwaite completed an Agent Orange registry exam. “I thought it was a good initial first step as someone new to the VA system,” he said.
An Agent Orange registry exam includes an exposure history, medical history, physical exam, and laboratory tests, as needed. A VA health professional discusses the results with the Veteran face-to-face and in a follow-up letter. The registry helps Veterans understand health problems that may be related to Agent Orange exposure during military service.
There are Environmental Health Coordinators affiliated with VA medical centers across the country. An Environmental Health Coordinator can help you schedule an appointment for a registry exam and provide answers to questions about military exposures or connect you to a clinician who can answer your questions.
Environmental Health Coordinator Douglas Turner is also a Veteran, having served in the Army between 1977 and 1980 and as a member of the Reserves for four years afterwards. Many members of his family have also served in the military. Turner received health care at VA and was impressed with his care. He started working at VA in 2017. “I thought this would be a way to serve my fellow Veterans,” he said.
“VA is a really large organization, and navigating through all of the information can be a challenging task. One thing I like to do is provide information,” said Turner. He provides resources depending on the way a conversation goes with a Veteran and the questions they ask. “A lot of information out there is medically focused. There are other products out there like the Million Veteran Program (https://www.research.va.gov/mvp/) that might be of interest to Veterans.”
Of all the registries VA offers, Turner says the Agent Orange Registry is the registry that most Veterans are interested in. “Vietnam-era Veterans are concerned about immediate health issues since it has been so many years.” He has found the Gulf War Registry to be the second most popular registry.
Environmental Health Coordinators can help you with the Agent Orange Registry exam, other VA registry exams, (https://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/benefits/registry-evaluation.asp) and the answers to questions you may have about exposures during military service. Find an Environmental Health Coordinator near you. (https://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/coordinators.asp)