Exposure to Chemicals, Radiation and Other Environments and Substances

There are a great many health risks related to life in the military. The obvious ones are the risk of injury from the physical requirements and physical dangers that are natural to the military.
Just as real, but much less recognized, are the risk of future illnesses caused by exposure to various environments/substances, whether chemicals, agents, radiation, etc. Many conditions caused by exposure do not develop until after the service member leaves the military.
These conditions are considered service-connected and do qualify for VA Disability as long as there is PROOF that the service member was indeed exposed to the cause while in the military. Less proof is needed, however, if the conditions are included on the VA Presumptive List
Since these conditions don’t develop until later, many service members don’t properly prepare for this possible future when leaving the military. Because they seem to be in fine physical condition, they see no need to mess with any disability issues. They simply leave the military and continue on with their lives.
This negligence is the cause of a great deal of stress and headache for a lot of our veterans.
After separation, many veterans develop conditions that are service-connected. They prepare and submit a VA Disability Claim only to have their claim denied or for the VA to request further evidence.
The VA musthave PROOF that every condition a veteran has is service-connected. This goes for every veteran and every condition. No one is exempt.
Because these particular vets didn’t have any health concerns while in the military, though, their medical records do not provide the proper proof they need. The only way to prove to the VA that their conditions are service-connected is to be able to prove that they were exposed to the environment/substance that is known to cause their condition.
This proof can come in the form of a letter from their commander stating that they were exposed to x-chemical or x-whatever. The info about the exposure must be detailed. Just saying that they were exposed to chemicals isn’t enough. The VA needs to know exactly which chemical it was and how much they were exposed.
There are some stations that are known to have caused exposure to certain things during certain periods of time. For example, all service members stationed at Amchitka Island, AK before 1974 were exposed to large amounts of radiation. If they develop leukemia later on, then all they would have to do is prove to the VA that they were in fact stationed there before that date.
Some types of jobs are also known for greater exposure to certain things, just like coal miners develop lung conditions because of the amount of coal dust they inhale. Proof of your job assignment and the length of time you were in contact with those substances would be sufficient proof.
If you submit a claim to the VA without sufficient proof, they will come back to you and tell you what further proof they need. Then comes the hard part of getting this proof.
It is always easier to get this proof while you are still in the military. If you know that you have been exposed to an environment known for causing conditions, get a letter from your commander that states that you were exposed to that environment. Make sure that the letter is clear about exactly what you were exposed to. Just saying you were exposed to something in general is not good enough. The VA must have specifics.
If you have already left the military, you are still going to need this same proof, but it will probably be much more difficult for you to get it. Try contacting the commander or division you were in when you were exposed. You may have to make quite a few phone calls, but be persistent. This proof is VITAL to your VA Disability and thus to your future. There is no easy answer to getting this info. Just do whatever you can.
We were recently contacted by a veteran with COPD. While in the military, he was diagnosed with bronchitis, which is often a symptom of COPD. It is not, however, COPD. You can have bronchitis without having COPD. After leaving the military, he was officially diagnosed with COPD. The VA came back to him after he submitted his VA Disability Claim, requesting evidence of his exposure to chemicals.
Since he was not diagnosed with COPD while he was in the military, the only way for him to get disability for it is for him to prove that he was exposed to chemicals known to cause it. He must now go back to his commanders/units/stations/etc., trying to find this evidence.
If you are now preparing to leave the military, make sure to arm yourself with any and all proof of your exposure to substances and environments that could cause health conditions in the future. Having this evidence will save you a great deal of time and headache if you ever develop a condition in the future.
Remember in all things relating to Military Disability, documentation is key!


  • MY spouse and I were stationed at U.S. Naval Air Facility Atsugi, Japan. The VA has been dragging their feet on my claim by making me gather my VA health records and file a VA-527EZ form. There is no claims process for My spouse. She has experienced a bout of Breast cancer since our deployment. This is unacceptable. There should be a claims process for those dependents who were exposed on military property.

  • Hi Paul –

    Hate to say it, but it is your job to make sure the VA has all the medical records and evidence needed to support your claim. If you are claiming a condition due to exposure, then you have to provide proof of that exposure along with all medical records showing evidence of the condition itself. There is currently not a presumptive list for any exposures in Japan, so the burden of proof is, unfortunately, on you.


    As for your spouse, you are correct that there are no benefits for her at this point. In some instances, the VA provides benefits for spouses or children who are exposed, but again, not yet for anything in Japan.

  • I'very been out the military for 27 years got out for gout and degenative knee desease.They raged me for gout,but never for djd.I file a claim for the DJD about 3 month ago under the ramp.

  • I, and hundreds of others, were exposed to nerve gas at Site 59, Clausen, Germany in the late 70's. The mission was classified and our medical records redacted when we left the unit. Most of our officers are dead. A lot of the people I served with are dead. Everyone else is showing symptoms. The mission was declassified in 1990. I have buddy statements and one old mention of exposure in my civilian medical records from when I was still on duty. Most people have far less. Nerve gas literally causes your brain to shrink. Your children are more likely to have birth defects. You can have anger issues and anxiety. Most of us have diabetes. Rare diseases are common among us. And, the VA's list of chemical exposure sites stops at WWII. This is a huge issue.

  • You are right that this is a huge issue. You do qualify for VA disability, however, since your records were declassified and you can show proof of your exposure. If you submit a claim for your conditions, make sure to include evidence of your exposure (including length, severity, etc.) and medical evidence/research that shows that similar exposure is known to cause your conditions. As long as the VA can see this evidence, they will grant your claim.


  • I also served at Site 59 and was denied my claim for chemical exposure to GB/VX Nerve Agents. I have a civilian Doctor diagnosis of Severe Non-Allergic Rhinitis, I also have PTSD. I am in the process of appealing the denial, I have more Buddy Statements as well as a copy of a DOD directive issued in 1977 stating that no troops were to be billeted within 2000 meters of the Site. I was a member of a specialized team (BAF) and we were onsite 3 to 4 days at a time, within 150' of "E" Bunker. The second set of Medical Records that were kept by the 763rd Medical Detachment were destroyed. I was inside "J" Bunker with no protective gear whatsoever, a lot of protocols/regulations were either not followed or ignored. This affects everyone who served at 636 Ordnance Company.

  • Sounds like you have a strong case for an appeal. Make sure to include all the documents you mentioned. The Buddy statements and any other evidence you can gather to help support the facts of your case will greatly strengthen it. Make sure to also include a personal statement that details your service and exposure and ties together the evidence you are submitting so your exposure is clear.

  • I submitted a claim to the VA for residuals from nerve gas exposure. They said that they only cover nerve gas exposure for veterans who were exposed in Italy in 1941 or after Desert Storm in 1990. Federal regulations do not allow claims in the period in between. You can claim PTSD but you cannot claim PTSD due to nerve gas.

  • Yes, PTSD does not require connection to an exposure to qualify, so you can claim that separately. It simply needs to be very clear in your medical records that the traumatic event was related to your military service.

    For any exposure, however, if you are able to show definite proof that you were exposed, even outside of their official dates, then they will grant service-connection for those conditions.

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