Veterans Day (Nov. 11) honors the more than 19 million men and women who have served in the US military. For their dedication, service and sacrifice, it is important to recognize service members’ health and well-being.
Many in our armed forces have served in locations where they were exposed to burn pits and other toxic substances. This exposure resulted in health issues affecting their lives and livelihood.
In August, Congress passed the bipartisan Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act. This new law expands Veterans Affairs (VA) health care and benefits for veterans exposed to toxic substances during their years of service. Robinson, a decorated combat medic, died from a rare form of lung cancer after exposure to toxins.
The PACT Act includes an expansion of the types of cancers that are now presumed to be service-connected disabilities. Among these is colorectal cancer.
“Sometimes military service can result in increased health risks for our veterans, and some injuries and illnesses like asthma, cancer and others can take years to manifest,” the White House said in a statement. “These realities can make it difficult for veterans to establish a direct connection between their service and disabilities resulting from military environmental exposures such as burn pits — a necessary step to ensure they receive the health care they earned.
Toxin-exposed Military Personnel May Need Screening Before 45
Within the last 30 years, there has been a rise in colorectal cancer in younger patients. According to statistics, the number of cases has been increasing since the mid-1990s in adults ages 40-54. A diagnosis before age 50 is considered young-onset or early onset cancer.
As a result, leading health agencies now recommend all average-risk individuals start colon cancer screenings at age 45.
Veterans exposed to toxins may be at higher risk of developing colorectal cancer and may need to be screened earlier than age 45.
“Because a significant number of veterans … develop colorectal cancer before reaching the recommended screening age of 45, medical specialists are inclined to overlook the possibility that these patients could, in fact, suffer from this disease,” according to a Fight CRC advocacy blog post.
Don’t Delay Colon Cancer Screening
Veterans or anyone age 45 or older should not delay colorectal cancer screening.
The disease is preventable through timely screenings. Generally, colorectal cancer evolves slowly over a period of years — beginning as a polyp in the large intestine or rectum.
Colon cancer can cause symptoms like abdominal pain, blood in the stool or a change in bowel habits. Other medical conditions can cause similar symptoms, so it is important to consult your healthcare provider if you develop digestive complaints.
A quality colonoscopy is the only screening that can both detect and prevent colorectal cancer. Colonoscopy allows your doctor to see the entire length of the colon to examine for polyps and remove them before they become cancerous.
When colorectal cancer is found at an early stage, before it has spread to other organs, the five-year survival rate is about 90 percent.
Veterans, their family members and caregivers can apply for PACT Act benefits. To apply, file a claim with the US Department of Veterans Affairs at the VA’s website or call 1.800.MyVA411.
When it is time for colon cancer screening, service members should consider scheduling a quality colonoscopy. Our fellowship-trained gastroenterologists perform colonoscopy screenings at surgery centers around the country. Locate one of our GI specialists near you.
A routine colonoscopy for those not impacted by the PACT Act should be covered by health insurance without out-of-pocket costs. Plans vary, so check with your provider to verify coverage.