COVID-19 Pandemic more Dangerous for Veterans and Former Industrial Workers

By Gregory A. Cade

Only a few weeks have passed since we’ve started to truly feel the consequences of the Coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) and hospitals and are already facing huge pressure in keeping up with the continuous demand for medical service. However, in the midst of this crisis, there is a group of people who need, maybe more than anyone else, to be safeguarded from potential infection with the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2): veterans and former industrial workers, especially those who by the nature of their jobs were subjected to toxic exposure. Most of the people entering this group not only have an advanced age, but it’s likely that they also suffer from serious chronic respiratory diseases or even various types of cancer, particularly lung cancer.

Why Veterans and Former Industrial Workers Are More Vulnerable Amidst the COVID-19 Pandemic?

Just like any other concerned citizen, I have read so much about the coronavirus outbreak over the past weeks, each day, with growing anticipation of discovering signs of relief. Nonetheless, it seems that we might be required to fight this invisible enemy for months to come and the worst part is that it strikes us where it hurts the most – at the heart of our health system that struggles to cope with an increasing number of patients while supplies and medical staff become scarce.

This is not the time to get sick and require hospitalization even if you are young and healthy, let alone if you already suffer from a chronic disease. In my line of work, I often encounter people who suffer from life-threatening conditions such as lung cancer, testicular cancer, asthma, COPD, and the thought of seeing them as exposed to the respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) as any other individual is shattering.

Just by doing their job, thousands of people have been exposed to hazardous substances that can trigger chronic and life-threatening diseases such as lung cancer. We call this occupational exposure and it can occur across a wide range of industries implying various toxic agents. Some of the most common industrial workers that have often been diagnosed with chronic diseases are paper mill workers, miners, chemical factory workers, steel industry workers, construction workers, textile industry workers or automotive workers.

Veterans who served various branches of the US military, especially those serving in the Navy/Marines, could have been exposed to huge amounts of asbestos and as a result, developed various types of cancer or pulmonary illnesses.

When it comes to the toxic substances that triggered the diseases, these may also vary tremendously. However, some of the most frequent cases of toxic exposure have been linked to:

- Asbestos: a toxic naturally occurring mineral that has been highly used in most industries up until 1980.

- AFFF (or aqueous film-forming foam) which is a fire-suppressant foam that contains PFAS chemicals, which are known carcinogens and can cause testicular cancer, kidney cancer, neuroendocrine tumors, pancreatic cancer.

- Coke oven emissions: people who worked in industries related to steel, coal-tar, iron aluminum, or constructions, among others, may have been exposed to high quantities of coke oven emissions that are easily inhaled and that may cause lung, prostate or kidney cancer.

Toxic fumes: such substances are encountered across a wide spectrum of industries including the automotive, welding or gas industry. Once inhaled, these fumes can cause chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), lung or kidney cancer as well as other respiratory conditions. -

PCBs or polychlorinated biphenyls: have had many applications during the past decades, especially as coolants or insulators. Exposure to these chemicals is linked to hepatic and respiratory conditions, as well as skin conditions.

Industrial workers and veterans who have been exposed to such substances and consequently developed a chronic disease are more at risk during the coronavirus pandemic mainly because their immune system is already compromised and forced to battle a severe disease. Since their body’s defense mechanism is less effective, they are more susceptible to complications such as respiratory failure or pneumonia if they develop COVID-19. Due to their fragility, these people require constant care and enhanced protection measures in order to avoid getting infected with the new coronavirus.

Protective Measures for People with Underlying Conditions during the COVID-19 Outbreak

Since they represent a risk group, workers who were subject to occupational exposure and are now battling a chronic disease should thoroughly adopt the recommendations issued by health authorities:

● Washing their hands frequently

● Disinfecting the surface of the objects they use more frequently

● Respecting the social distancing rules

These additional precautionary measures can help further limit exposure to the coronavirus if the person is also pursuing treatment for their underlying condition:

● Avoiding as much as possible places such as hospitals or clinics where interaction with sick people is likely to occur.

● Virtual medical assistance: remote medical services provided online aim to prevent people from commuting to the hospital, unless necessary, thereby limiting the risk of exposure to the virus.

● Remote prescription renewal: the chronically ill may be able to request a prescription renewal online, and have the necessary drugs delivered to their home, thus avoiding going to the pharmacy.

How about medical appointments?

For veterans and former industrial workers who are now coping with a long-term disease, this might be a pressing matter. Not going to a hospital mitigates the risks of contracting the virus, but it is not always a feasible option. Those who require certain procedures and investigations that cannot be conducted remotely need to continue their previous treatment, at hospitals.

The main recommendation, in this case, is to call beforehand and make sure that a visit to that particular medical facility is still possible, given that many hospitals have reached full occupancy and others have been forced to shut down due to the risk of contamination.

If there is one positive thing that this pandemic led to, that is an increased sense of care and togetherness. Despite not being able to interact face to face, people seem more eager than ever to help each other and stay connected. This is what gives me hope that, together, we can protect the most vulnerable members of our community such as the chronically ill, and make sure that they too will get a chance to see this grim period of our history come to an end.

About the author: Gregory A. Cade is the founder of Environmental Litigation Group, P.C., a law firm based in Birmingham, Alabama. Gregory’s firm focuses on cases related to environmental or occupational exposure to toxic substances. With an experience of more than 20 years, they are helping people across the United States who have developed severe illnesses due to toxic exposure. INFO: https://www.elglaw.com/news/

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