Help Is out There for Veterans in Need

By Ballou, Carolyn | Aging Today, May/June 2012 | Go to article overview

Help Is out There for Veterans in Need


Ballou, Carolyn, Aging Today


California is home to 1.9 million veterans, 63 percent of whom are 55 years old and older. Veterans' benefits, available through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (USDVA) and the California Department of Veterans Affairs (CalVet), can help veterans of any age, but may be especially important to those nearing or in retirement.

Unfortunately, only about 15 percent of eligible California veterans take advantage of their compensation and pension benefits, and less than 40 percent use their healthcare benefits.

Less than 40 percent of eligible California veterans use their healthcare benefits.

Mike Pagan was only 20 when he enlisted, spending four years in the Navy and two in the Reserves, deployed and assigned to a carrier group operating in the South China Sea. Pagan worked storing ammunition, securing magazines and replenishing supplies. This involved dismantling copious quantities of materials and bombs. After retraining in special operations, he was deployed on a small class ship operating off the coast of Vietnam, north and south of Da Nang, as troop support and rescue.

One day Pagan was hit on the head by a heavy piece of metal packing material tossed by a shipmate. "My head hurt for a few days," he said, "but I didn't give it

much more thought after that." Now, at 63, Pagan suffers from repeated ear infections and loss of hearing. He wonders whether his health issues are related to the injury he sustained on the carrier that day, and wishes he had applied for his health benefits when he got out of the service.

But if veterans like Pagan contact their County Veteran Service Office (CVSO) for help, it's not too late to obtain benefits.

Military History Crucial to Diagnoses

CalVet wants medical professionals, service providers and caregivers to know that an individual's military history can significantly affect their health. For example, Vietnam veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange (publichealth.

va.gov/exposures/agentorange/basics.

asp)-the toxic herbicide sprayed over the jungles of Southeast Asia between 1962 and 1971-now have increased rates of prostate, respiratory and other cancers; lymphoma; Type 2 diabetes; ischemic heart disease; nerve damage; and digestive and skin disorders.

There are 14 diseases and disorders (publichealth.va.gov/exposures/agent orange/diseases.asp) that the USDVA presumes to be caused by Agent Orange exposure when diagnosed in boots-on-the-ground veterans and certain other Vietnam veteran groups.

Veterans of every era, like Pagan, frequently suffer from hearing loss and tinnitus caused by loud or sustained noises associated with combat and other military service. And many veterans struggle with service-connected post-traumatic stress disorder or with mental health issues related to traumatic brain injury,

or military sexual trauma.

"It would be easy for a doctor to overlook Agent Orange exposure as the cause of a patient's Type 2 diabetes when genetic and lifestyle risk factors are present.

The post traumatic stress disorder at the root of a veteran's chronic depression could also be missed," said CalVet Secretary Peter Gravett.

"That's why it's so important for veterans of every era to make doctors aware of their military history when being evaluated, diagnosed and treated," he added. …

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