Our A to Z guide on veterans’ health and medical topics continues here with the letter I. Read on for more information about immunizations, insomnia, industrial solvent exposure and more VA health topics that start with I.
Editor’s note: Veteran.com does not provide medical advice or diagnoses. This page contains general information related to common conditions affecting veterans. No information in this guide should replace advice from your health care provider.
Immunizations are an important component of preventive medicine. You can protect yourself and others against seasonal illness and preventable diseases with vaccines.
Every authorized vaccine in the United States goes through rigorous testing to ensure vaccines are safe for the public. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services provides information about vaccine testing and safeguards.
With any medical treatment, a small percentage of the population may experience adverse side effects. Speak with your doctor if you have concerns about vaccine reactions or a have history of vaccine reactions.
Editor’s note: When deciding when and what to get immunizations for, consult your with your doctor. If you read about immunizations online, only trust research from legitimate, peer-reviewed medical sources and epidemiological authorities, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Don’t trust unaccredited blogs, pundits, politicians, celebrities or other non-medical sources with important health decisions.
The Department of Veterans Affairs recommends the following immunizations:
- Influenza / Flu shots: Anyone over six months old can receive a flu vaccine. The influenza virus changes from year to year, so you must get a new flu shot each year to remain protected.
- Pneumococcal: “Older people and those with certain medical conditions are most susceptible to pneumonia,” according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. If you received this vaccine before age 65, you need to get a booster. Talk to your VA health care manager to find you if it’s time for your first vaccine or your booster.
- Hepatitis A: The VA recommends getting a Hepatitis A vaccine if you have a chronic liver disease, a history of intravaneous drug use or frequently travel to areas with high rates of Hepatitis A.
- Hepatitis B: Hepatitis B may be more contagious than HIV, according to the VA. Hepatitis B spreads through sexual contact or shared needles. Infected mothers can also pass the illness to a newborn child.
- Measles, mumps, rubella (MMR): The VA recommends that anyone born after 1956 get an MMR vaccine, as well as “all women of childbearing age who have not had these diseases or been vaccinated against them.”
- Chicken pox (varicella): According to the VA, anyone born in the United States after 1966 who hasn’t had chicken pox needs a vaccine to prevent complications from adult-onset chicken pox.
- Tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis: The VA recommends veterans receive a tetanus-diptheria booster shot every 10 years, as well as a one-time tetanus-diptheria-pertussis (Tdap) imunization protect themselves and others against whooping cough.
- Shingles (herpes zoster): Shingles is a common – but painful – rash caused by the same virus that also ignites chicken pox, according to the American Medical Association. Shingles, known as the herpes zoster virus, most often occurs in people aged 50 or older who have previously contracted chicken pox. Medicine does not completely understand why chicken pox reactivates as shingles. But for one in three adults, it is a risk.
What Shingles Vaccine Does the VA Use?
The VA adminsiters the Shingrix vaccine to veterans over the age of 50, and veterans who previously received the Zostavax vaccine, which is less effective than Shingrix.
Eligibility for the Shingles Vaccine
Both the American Medical Association and the VA recommend that veterans over the age of 50 get the shingles vaccine, as the risk of developing shingles increases as people age. People with a weakened immune system due to cancer, HIV, or other conditions may also be eligible for a vaccine due to their increased risk of developing shingles.
Will the VA Pay for the Shingles Vaccine?
The VA provides health care for preventative disease control to avoid infectious diseases to veterans for free. Shingles, flu and Covid-19 vaccinations are all free. However, if you have questions, check with the VA to confirm your coverage level.
What Other Vaccines Does the VA Pay for?
The VA also covers immunizations against influenza (flu), pneumococcal disease, and hepatitis B.
Incarcerated and Homeless Veteran Re-Entry Resources
The Department of Veterans Affairs works with federal, state, and local agencies, employers and faith-based and community non-profit organizations to connect homeless and previously incarcerated veterans with housing, health care and employment resourches.
Homeless veterans and veterans who have been released from prison may contact the VA directly at 1-877-4AID-VET (1-877-424-3838) for more information.
Some military work exposes service members to industrial solvents like degreasers, paint thinners and harsh cleaning agents.
According to the VA, prolonged exposure to industrial solvents can lead to health problems, including difficulty breathing, eye irritation or burning, vision problems, skin rashes and neurological damage.
The VA said hazardous solvents include:
- Perfluorooctane sulfonate
- Tetrachloroethylene (PCE or PERC)
- Trichloroethylene (TCE)
- Vinyl chloride
If you’re concerned about your exposure to industrial solvents while serving in the military, speak to your primary care manager or reach out to the Department of Veterans Affairs. You may be eligible for VA health care and other benefits, depending on the nature, documentation and effects of such exposure.
The Mayo Clinic describes insomnia as a sleep disorder that makes it difficult to fall asleep, stay asleep or get back to sleep after waking up.
Environmental distractions, stress, medication, and lifestyle choices like caffeine can cause or exacerbate insomnia, according to the Mayo Clinic.
The Department of Veterans Affairs diagnoses insomnia with the Insomnia Severity Index – a set of questions designed to help healthcare providers estimate the level of impact insomnia has on your life. Doctors diagnose insomnia at these levels:
- No clinically significant insomnia
- Subthreshold insomnia
- Clinical insomnia (moderate severity)
- Clinical insomnia (severe)
You can find the Insomnia Severity Index at the VA site myhealth.va.gov.
Ionizing radiation is present in the environment, in nuclear waste and nuclear weapons, according to the World Health Organization. It’s also used in beneficial medical applications like X-rays. But, too much ionizing radiation exposure can cause health problems.
According to WHO, high doses can cause skin burns or acute radiation syndrome, and low doses can increase the risk of cancer and other long term health issues.
Veterans who are concerned about military occupational exposure to ionizing radiation can ask the VA for an ionizing radiation registry health exam to check for possible health problems.
The VA said veterans associated with any of the following work, operations, incidents or exposures should ask for an exam:
- Radiological cleanup of Enewetak Atoll
- S. Air Force plutonium clean-up mission in Palomares, Spain
- Fukushima nuclear accident
- Military occupational exposure including work with depleted uranium, nuclear weapons or x-rays and work in long-range navigation stations
- Work at McMurdo Station, Antarctica nuclear power plant
- Radiation-risk activity (including “atomic veterans” exposed to nuclear weapons testing and the American occupation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki)
- Nasopharyngeal (nose and throat) radium irradiation treatments
- Radiation therapy
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