Typically, environmental causes are associated with left-leaning politics, and pro-military action is publicly associated with the right. However, a large number of veterans are liberals or are willing to embrace bipartisanship when it comes to sustainability. Thus, some veterans are speaking up about environmental damage.

For instance, in 2018 Texas Democrat (and candidate for U.S. Senate) MJ Hegar, a Purple Heart veteran, made headlines on ABC for having a progressive view on climate change. ABC News noted a progressive movement among veterans “running for Congress who have made climate change action a key part of their platforms.”

However, this may be selling them short. Studies actually show there are many veterans that believe in and are concerned about climate change, contrary to public perception and stereotyping in the media.

This makes sense, considering that climate change affects our armed forces as well – and they have access to some of the best research tools in the world.

For instance, a Pentagon report that was released earlier this year announced climate change as a threat to “a majority of mission-critical military bases,” as reported by Military Times. As many veterans leave the service with health complications, it’s also significant to note that environmental complications affect them directly as well.

PTSD and Environmental Health Risks

It cannot be underestimated that the effects of war last long after the battle is fought. Veterans experience PTSD and homelessness at alarming rates. But there are also a number of physical health complications they experience due to their time in combat.

Of course, the psychological and physical effects of combat have long been studied and affect soldiers long after they’ve left the battlefield. Anxiety and physical stress can affect the immune system. It’s been discovered that soldiers are prone to certain diseases in relation to traumatic experiences. This leaves them open to environmental factors to hurt them directly.

Additionally, they have been exposed to environmental dangers that civilians may not encounter. Contaminated water, hazardous chemicals, infections, and burn pits were listed by MedlinePlus as environmental concerns that may affect veterans. Additionally, asbestos can be added to a list of carcinogens that soldiers have sometimes been exposed to through older military equipment and products. These situations are commonly overlooked in discussions about environmental damage but should be noted by every person who cares about or supports the troops.

Environmental issues affect everybody, including veterans.

A Society Systematically Set to Fail Our Patriots

Our environmental damage to the earth has been highly documented, of course. However, veterans do not always get the support they need to help them assimilate back into society, especially after experiencing environmental health issues.

This has led to economic troubles among veterans, affecting healthcare availability. While it would be reasonable for there to be accessible healthcare for people who’ve risked their lives for freedom, free healthcare only exists for those on active duty. This is morally problematic when veterans experience unique health problems due to their time in battle (though life-threatening injuries and care for limbs lost in war are often covered), many of which are caused by environmental hazards.

Still, there is another problem facing veterans that has environmental ties: obesity. Even with nurses helping to end the obesity epidemic by spreading awareness about healthy practices, veterans can struggle due to injuries sustained in combat. Veterans with disabilities may find getting a healthy amount of daily exercise challenging.

If we cannot fix the problems within our healthcare system and set up better protections for veterans, we will continue to let them down.

Why We Need Our Veterans in the Fight for Environmental Rights

Veterans should be respected and honored for their service. However, we cannot let that support be idle lip service. We need to start thinking of world issues as veteran issues, and vice versa. Environmental issues affect everybody, including veterans.

Remember that military personnel has discovered climate change is massively affecting their critical operations. If the slogans about supporting troops are true, then environmental issues are something we should take seriously. Additionally, the military has the resources the world needs to fight environmental damage.

For instance, technological innovations have been making strides against climate change. The military has some of the best technological resources and researchers. By demonizing or leaving veterans out of the conversation, we’re letting them down, in addition to the rest of the planet. We’re not utilizing some of the best resources we have in the struggle for a habitable planet.

At the end of the day, it’s important to recognize that veterans are necessary for the fight against climate change and other forms of environmental damage. Not only do they have the strength and resources to make a difference, but the issue uniquely affects military personnel. We shouldn’t leave them out of the conversation.

Frankie Wallace

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