Military Exposures & Your Health - 2022 - Issue 8
In this issue:
- Military Exposures & Your Health is now a quarterly publication
- Toxic exposure screening launches at VA Medical Centers
- Update: Improvements to the Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry
- Contaminated water at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam
Military Exposures & Your Health is now a quarterly publication
Military Exposures & Your Health, VA’s online publication on military environmental exposures and Veterans’ health for those who have served since 1990, is now available four times a year instead of twice a year. We are publishing this newsletter more frequently to allow you to receive the latest information more quickly on VA news, benefits, research, and more. Past issues are available online.
Be sure to sign up for VA to notify you when future issues of Military Exposures & Your Health become available and to receive other updates about military environmental exposures from VA. Subscribe to exposures updates in the "Get Email Updates" box on the right-hand side of this page.
Toxic exposure screening launches at VA Medical Centers
As covered in our last edition of Military Exposures and Your Health, the PACT Act is a historic law that expands and extends VA eligibility, benefits, and services to Veterans exposed to burn pits, Agent Orange and other toxic exposures. On November 8, 2022, as part of the PACT Act, VHA began conducting the Congressionally mandated toxic exposure screening for all enrolled Veterans as part of routine health care. This screening averages 5-10 minutes and asks, “Do you believe you were exposed to any toxic exposures such as Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pits, Gulf War related exposures, Agent Orange, Radiation, contaminated water at Camp Lejeune or other such exposure while serving in the Armed Forces?” If you answer “yes” or “don’t know” and have questions, you will receive a follow-up screening that addresses your health concerns and connects you with information about benefits, registry exams, and clinical resources. By documenting your reported military exposures in the medical record for long-term visibility, your VA health care team is able to provide exposure-informed care—ensuring early diagnosis and treatment of any current related health concerns or those that may arise in the future.
After the toxic exposure screening, you will be offered the Toxic Exposure Screening Information handout, which includes general information on toxic exposures, how to enroll in VA care, as well as information on registry health exams, presumptive conditions, and benefits. The toxic exposure screening is the first step in exposure-informed care. Positive responses are reviewed by a medical provider and appropriate follow-up is provided, including further assessment of symptoms and potential consults to specialty care or environmental health providers, if indicated.
One of the best ways to manage your health is to proactively develop a long-term health care plan with your VA care team. The new toxic exposure screening is an important part of that conversation and an important step in ongoing exposure-informed care. Ask about the toxic exposure screening at your next VA health care appointment. If you are not enrolled in VA health care but meet eligibility requirements, you will have the opportunity to receive the screening after you enroll. Apply for benefits and care now! To learn more about PACT Act and apply, visit VA.gov/PACT and call 1-800-MY-VA411.
Update: Improvements to the Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry
VA’s Health Outcomes Military Exposures is currently building a coalition of internal stakeholders to improve the Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry (AHOBPR). These efforts follow other recent changes to the AHOPBR. They are also in response to the findings and recommendations outlined in 2 recent reports:
- The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM), released the report Reassessment of the Department of Veterans Affairs Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry on October 14, 2022. This report includes 9 recommendations to VA. It is a follow-up to the initial assessment of the AHOBPR completed in 2017.
- On July 21, 2022, the VA Office of Inspector General conducted a review to evaluate VA’s management of Veteran-requested AHOBPR evaluations. They concluded that improvements to the AHOBPR would help ensure that more eligible and interested Veterans receive these exams.
VA aims to make improvements by the end of 2023.
Contaminated water at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam
On November 20, 2021, an underground storage tank began leaking jet fuel (jet propellent-5 or JP-5) into the Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam (JBPHH) water distribution system in Oahu, HI. This water distribution system also serves the Army’s Aliamanu Military Reservation and Red Hill. This incident was at least the fourth documented leak of this 20-tank fuel storage system on record. Residents began to report foul-smelling water on November 28, and some reported symptoms ranging from vomiting and headaches to unexplained rashes. The State of Hawaii issued an advisory on November 29, urging residents to avoid consuming the water and ordered that the Navy permanently close the facility. An estimated 9,000 families were impacted, including members of the Navy, Army, Air Force, and Coast Guard.
The State of Hawaii and the federal government are working diligently to address exposures at the JBPHH, Aliamanu Military Reservation, and Red Hill. The Department of Defense began defueling the tanks in October 2022, a process which is expected to be completed in June 2024. Closure of the facility is slated for August 2027. The State of Hawaii, in collaboration with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, is conducting studies to fully characterize the impact of this accidental release on the health of those who were exposed. VA is working closely with our federal partners to monitor this situation and to project the potential consequences for the Veteran community. Although VA does not currently have policies related to this incident, if you served at the JBPHH, Aliamanu Military Reservation, or Red Hill during this period and feel that your health was impacted by exposure to contaminated water, VA encourages you to file a claim for disability compensation. All claims are considered on a case-by-case basis.
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