U.S. Secretary of Defense Dr. Mark T. Esper speaks to members of the press during his first joint press conference with Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff Gen. Joseph F. Dunford at the Pentagon, Washington, D.C., Aug. 28, 2019. (DoD/ Staff Sgt. Nicole Mejia)

WASHINGTON — The Department of Veterans Affairs will take the lead on improving access to medical care for military members exposed to potentially cancer-causing compounds during their service, Defense Secretary Mark Esper told reporters Wednesday.

In response to a question from McClatchy on the rising number of cancers in the military that could be connected to compounds service members were exposed to while deployed overseas or during training, Esper acknowledged the role of both the Pentagon and VA may grow.

"That is one of the areas where I want to improve and make sure we are doing everything we can to assist soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines as they transition out of the service into the VA system," Esper said.

"VA has the lead on this," he added.

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U.S. Air Force Col. Jeannie Leavitt, the outgoing commander of the 4th Fighter Wing, pilots an F-15E Strike Eagle aircraft over North Carolina May 29, 2014. (U.S. Air Force/Senior Airman John Nieves Camacho)

WASHINGTON — Former Air Force and Navy fighter pilots are calling on the military to begin cancer screenings for aviators as young as 30 because of an increase in deaths from the disease that they suspect may be tied to radiation emitted in the cockpit.

"We are dropping like flies in our 50s from aggressive cancers," said retired Air Force Col. Eric Nelson, a former F-15E Strike Eagle weapons officer. He cited prostate and esophageal cancers, lymphoma, and glioblastomas that have struck fellow pilots he knew, commanded or flew with.

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(DoD/Senior Airman Matthew Lancaster)

WASHINGTON — The Air Force has begun to look at whether there's increased risk for prostate cancer among its fighter pilots. A new investigation by McClatchy shows just how serious the problem may be.

The fighter pilot study was requested by Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein after he was contacted by concerned veterans service organizations in 2018, according to the report obtained by McClatchy.

At the heart of the Air Force study was a question of whether extended exposure in the cockpit to radiation may be linked to increased risk of prostate cancer.

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Roger Sundberg Photography

Six years ago, 31-year-old Swedish pilot Emelie Bonin was given the kind of devastating news that every human being dreads. She was told she had cervical cancer — a potentially fatal disease that stole the lives of nearly 270,000 women around the world in 2012. But last year, she received a diagnosis that all cancer patients and their loved ones desperately hope for: After a years-long fight, she was in remission.

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VA courtesy photo

A quick and easy blood donation can help pave the way to better healthcare for veterans — and also provide answers to complex medical questions — through a new gene study program conducted by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

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