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A Few Good Men and Bladder CancerRobert O'Dowd Salem-News.com
Veterans of EPA Superfund sites are at risk for bladder cancer from organic solvent exposure. A simple and non-evasive test is available to detect bladder cancer. This information has not been passed to veterans at risk for disease.
(SOMERDALE, N.J.) - Those that served and were exposed to toxic chemicals have a critical need to know what chemicals they were exposed to and access to medical screening to stay healthy. No reasonable person would disagree with this.
In fact, there’s no government program to screen veterans who worked and lived in highly toxic environments. Bladder cancer is only one of the health effects of exposure to these chemicals. Exposure to organic solvents like trichloroethylene (TCE) can cause bladder cancer, brain cancer, esophageal cancer and other serious diseases.
According to Dr. Robert Schlesinger, retired Army Colonel and urologist, “Organic compounds in general, and benzene containing compounds specifically are recognized as carcinogenic for the lining of the entire urinary tract, kidneys, ureters and bladder. There is no dispute regarding this.”
The good news is that bladder cancer, the fifth leading cause of cancer deaths, can be screened with an inexpensive and non-invasive medical test.
The Journal of the American Medical Association reported in 2006 that an easy in office urine test can detect 99 percent of bladder tumors when used in conjunction with a cystoscopy. The $30 urine test called NMP22 BladderChek was reported to be three times more effective than standard urine testing. The test measures the level of NMP22, a type of protein in the urine. Elevated levels of NMP22 are a sign of bladder cancer.
Chemical exposures of thousands of veterans are an indisputable fact. In 2003, the Air Force reported 1,400 military sites contaminated with TCE alone. The EPA National Priority List (Superfund) lists multiple organic solvent and other contaminants for military bases. The potential health consequences of high exposures are medical facts. But these facts haven't reached most veterans.
I am one of thousands of veterans exposed to chemical solvents while in the military. Unlike many civilian workers, my exposure was around the clock since I worked and lived in the same contaminated environment. Marine Corps Air Station El Toro where I served is now a federal hazardous waste site. The hangar I worked and slept in on duty watch for two years was on land where toxic chemicals were in the soil, air, and water.
The chemical that harmed me, TCE was commonly used by the military and industry as a degreasing agent. I knew nothing about what it could do to my health. Neither did the other Marines at El Toro, including many who are now sick or dead from TCE and other chemicals. El Toro contamination is not unique since it is only one of many military bases on the National Priority List.
Over 130 military bases in the US are hazardous waste sites, with such severe land, water and air contamination that federal action is required to prevent further health damage. This is not about a few empty barrels on an open lot. This is about veterans who worked and lived where chemicals caused mutations and ultimately cancer. And it is veterans who could be warned and preserve their health. Instead, current policies will lead to late diagnosis and death from preventable cancers.
In my case and many others, early warning and the $30 screening test to identify pre-cancerous lesions could have prevented cancer. Instead, tens of thousands of dollars have been spent on surgery, chemotherapy, and other medical care.
Costs of Bladder Cancer
The Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas estimated the lifetime cost of bladder cancer based on a review of several hundred bladder cancer patients in 2005. Their conclusion was that bladder cancer and its associated complications represent a major economic burden: “The average cost of bladder cancer was $65,158 among the cohort patients. Sixty percent of this cost ($39,393) was associated with surveillance and treatment of recurrences, and 30% ($19,811) was attributable to complications. The lifetime cost of bladder cancer was lower for the worst-case scenario ($99,270 dollars) than for the best-case scenario ($120,684). However, a greater proportion of the costs were attributable to complications with the worst-case scenario (43%, $42,290) compared with the best (28%, $34,169).”
In 2009, the National Cancer Institute estimated 70,980 news bladder cancers and 14,330 deaths. According to recent world-wide study of bladder cancer in Germany: “Bladder cancer has the highest lifetime treatment costs per patient of all cancers. The high recurrence rate and ongoing invasive monitoring requirement are the key contributors to the economic and human toll of this disease.” It’s obvious that bladder cancer screening and prevention can result in significant health cost savings and thousands of lives saved.
Department of Veterans Affairs
The Department of Veterans Affairs conceded that medical specialists correctly attributed my bladder cancer to TCE exposure at El Toro. But a lack of information and the high cost of independent medical evaluations prevent other veterans with service-related illnesses from obtaining VA benefits.
Veterans who seek information and medical care from the Department of Veterans Affairs for cancer or other diseases are required to complete an annual financial assessment or Means test to determine if they qualify for cost-free services. For non-service connected disabilities, the VA assigns veterans to Priority Group 8, which means that all medical services must be paid by the veteran.
Even if a veteran goes to a VA Medical Center, the VA has no on-going program to screen high risk veterans for bladder cancer. Denials of disability claims may be based on questionable economics, but that is an inhumane and dishonest response to veterans placed in harms way. This is especially hard to understand when there is an easy, non-expensive test to screen for bladder cancer and a large number of veterans at risk who served at EPA Superfund sites.
The lengthy delay in onset of disease from organic solvent exposure means that the VA benefits for chemical harm are denied unless a veteran spends thousands of dollars for a medical nexus opinion. The sad truth is that veterans seriously ill with cancer and often out of work, can not afford independent medical evaluations and nexus opinions. As result, many never obtain the benefits they are entitled to.
Instead of denying what they know to be true, the VA could inform veterans about chemicals found on the EPA Superfund bases and the diseases linked to them. A proactive approach could allow veterans to share the information with their medical care providers. The medical professionals could catch cancer and other diseases early, when the option for a cure is best. The VA could save the country untold millions in medical costs and families a great deal of pain and suffering.
The VA and Veteran Service Organizations
The information on contaminants of concern and their health effects for bases on the National Priority List (NPL) is on an EPA database easily accessed from the internet. What’s missing is the “heads-up” to veterans and their medical care providers.
One solution is for the VA to provide the Veteran Service Organizations (VSOs) the internet URLs for the chemicals (contaminants of concern) and health effects (diseases) found in the EPA Superfund database. The VSOs could post this information on their websites, allowing veterans and their medical care providers easy access.
To help spread the word to other veterans, I have posted this information on my own website. See: militarysuperfunds.blogspot.com/. The list of bases is shown at the end of this news story. Posting this information on any VSO website is not “rocket science.” Lives can be saved from veterans who would otherwise not consider asking for this inexpensive and non-invasive test.
In regard to bladder cancer, a government initiative to inform veterans is both proactive and inexpensive. Cost effective screening tests at VA medical centers or private health care providers exist for bladder cancer and many other diseases. The solution isn't difficult or costly.
This is a proactive approach to preventing serious disease before it’s too late. Normally, the VA is not in the business of health care screening for veterans, but there are compelling costs and humane reasons for doing so for veterans of EPA Superfund sites.
We promised to protect our country. We now need to protect our own health. It is the right thing to do, and passing on a legacy of honesty in our military services is the honorable thing to do.
EPA Superfund Military Bases:
US Air Force
Air Force Plant #4 (General Dynamics)
Air Force Plant 85
Air Force Plant PJKS
American Lake Gardens/McChord AFB
Andersen Air Force Base
Andrews Air Force Base
Arnold Engineering Development Center (USAF)
Castle Air Force Base (6 Areas)
Chanute Air Force Base
Dover Air Force Base
Edwards Air Force Base
Eielson Air Force Base
Ellsworth Air Force Base
Elmendorf Air Force Base
F.E. Warren Air Force Base
Fairchild Air Force Base (4 Waste Areas)
George Air Force Base
Griffiss Air Force Base (11 Areas)
Hanscom Field/Hanscom Air Force Base
Hill Air Force Base
Homestead Air Force Base
Loring Air Force Base
Luke Air Force Base
March Air Force Base
Mather Air Force Base (ACandW Disposal Site)
McChord Air Force Base (Wash Rack/Treatment Area)
McClellan Air Force Base (Ground Water Contamination)
McGuire Air Force Base #1
Mountain Home Air Force Base
Norton Air Force Base (Lndfll #2)
Pease Air Force Base
Plattsburgh Air Force Base
Rickenbacker Air National Guard (USAF)
Robins Air Force Base (Landfill #4/Sludge Lagoon)
Tinker Air Force Base (Soldier Creek/Building 3001)
Travis Air Force Base
Twin Cities Air Force Reserve Base (Small Arms Range Landfill)
Tyndall Air Force Base
Williams Air Force Base
Wright-Patterson Air Force Base
Wurtsmith Air Force Base
Aberdeen Proving Ground (Edgewood Area)
Aberdeen Proving Ground (Michaelsville Landfill)
Alabama Army Ammunition Plant
Anniston Army Depot (Southeast Industrial Area)
Cornhusker Army Ammunition Plant
Fort Devens-Sudbury Training Annex
Fort Dix (Landfill Site)
Fort Eustis (US Army)
Fort George G. Meade
Fort Lewis (Landfill No. 5)
Fort Lewis Logistics Center
Fort Richardson (USARMY)
Iowa Army Ammunition Plant
Joliet Army Ammunition Plant (Load-Assembly-Packing Area)
Joliet Army Ammunition Plant (Manufacturing Area)
Lake City Army Ammunition Plant (Northwest Lagoon)
Letterkenny Army Depot (PDO Area)
Letterkenny Army Depot (SE Area)
Lone Star Army Ammunition Plant
Longhorn Army Ammunition Plant
Louisiana Army Ammunition Plant
Materials Technology Laboratory (USARMY)
Milan Army Ammunition Plant
Natick Laboratory Army Research, Development, and Engineering Center
New Brighton/Arden Hills/TCAAP (USARMY)
Picatinny Arsenal (USARMY)
Riverbank Army Ammunition Plant
Rocky Mountain Arsenal (USARMY)
Sacramento Army Depot
Savanna Army Depot Activity
Schofield Barracks (USARMY)
Seneca Army Depot
Sharpe Army Depot
Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant
Tobyhanna Army Depot
Tooele Army Depot (North Area)
Tracy Defense Depot (USARMY)
Umatilla Army Depot (Lagoons)
US Army/NASA Redstone Arsenal
Weldon Spring Former Army Ordnance Works
West Virginia Ordnance (USARMY)
US Coast Guard
Curtis Bay Coast Guard Yard
Adak Naval Air Station
Alameda Naval Air Station
Allegany Ballistics Laboratory (USNAVY)
Bangor Naval Submarine Base
Bangor Ordnance Disposal (USNAVY)
Barstow Marine Corps Logistics Base
Brunswick Naval Air Station
Camp Lejeune Military Res. (USNAVY)
Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base
Cherry Point Marine Corps Air Station
Concord Naval Weapons Station
Davisville Naval Construction Battalion Center
El Toro Marine Corps Air Station
Indian Head Naval Surface Warfare Center
Jackson Park Housing Complex (USNAVY)
Jacksonville Naval Air Station
Marine Corps Combat Development Command
Marine Corps Logistics Base
Moffett Naval Air Station
Naval Air Development Center (8 Waste Areas)
Naval Air Engineering Center
Naval Air Station, Whidbey Island (Ault Field)
Naval Air Station, Whidbey Island (Seaplane Base)
Naval Amphibious Base Little Creek
Naval Computer and Telecommunications Area Master Station Eastern Pacific
Naval Industrial Reserve Ordnance Plant
Naval Security Group Activity
Naval Surface Warfare Center - Dahlgren
Naval Undersea Warfare Engineering Station (4 Waste Areas)
Naval Weapons Industrial Reserve Plant
Naval Weapons Station - Yorktown
Naval Weapons Station Earle (Site A)
Navy Ships Parts Control Center
New London Submarine Base
Newport Naval Education and Training Center
Norfolk Naval Base (Sewells Point Naval Complex)
Norfolk Naval Shipyard
NWS Yorktown - Cheatham Annex
Parris Island Marine Corps Recruit Depot
Patuxent River Naval Air Station
Pearl Harbor Naval Complex
Pensacola Naval Air Station
Port Hadlock Detachment (USNAVY)
Portsmouth Naval Shipyard
Puget Sound Naval Shipyard Complex
South Weymouth Naval Air Station
St. Juliens Creek Annex (U.S. Navy)
Treasure Island Naval Station-Hunters Point Annex
USN Air Station Cecil Field
Washington Navy Yard
Whiting Field Naval Air Station
Willow Grove Naval Air and Air Reserve Station
Yuma Marine Corps Air Station
Bob O’Dowd is a former U.S. Marine with thirty years of experience on the east coast as an auditor, accountant, and financial manager with the Federal government. Half of that time was spent with the Defense Logistics Agency in Philadelphia. Originally from Pennsylvania, he enlisted in the Marine Corps at age 19, served in the 1st, 3rd, and 4th Marine Aircraft Wings in 52 months of active duty in the 1960s. A graduate of Temple University, Bob has been married to Grace for 31 years. He is the father of two adult children and the grandfather of two boys. Bob has a blog site on former MCAS El Toro at mwsg37.com. This subject is where Bob intersected with Salem-News.com. Bob served in the exact same Marine Aviation Squadron that Salem-News founder Tim King served in, twenty years earlier. With their combined on-site knowledge and research ability, Bob and Tim and a handful of other ex-Marines, have put the contamination of MCAS El Toro on the map. The base is highly contaminated with TCE, trichloroethelyne
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