Veterans and active service members of the armed forces dedicate their lives to serving the country. The nature of their job, however, places them at risk of several medical conditions. Of all the conditions, cancer is the most common among veterans.

The rates of cancer are high among U.S. military airmen and ground crews, finds a study. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) revealed that it diagnoses 43,000 new cancers in veterans every year. About 16% of these are rare cancers.

Receiving a cancer diagnosis is stressful. But it’s more so for veterans because of the unique challenges they face in accessing healthcare and support services. Fortunately, you can help them navigate the disease as well as the complexities associated with the diagnosis by providing them with the best possible support during this challenging time.

Here, we’ll share some tips to help you care for a veteran with cancer.

Why are Incidences of Cancer High Among Veterans?

Several studies postulate that the incidence of cancer is higher among veterans than civilians. Veterans and active service members of the U.S. armed forces are exposed to different chemicals that place them at a higher risk for developing cancer.  

Exposure-related cancers in veterans have been occurring since World War I(with the use of nitrogen and sulfur mustard). Many WWII veterans were also potentially exposed to radiation following the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. As a result, they developed leukemia. Incidences of pancreatic, prostate, and uterine cancers were also high among them.

You must have also heard of Agent Orange—a herbicide used during the Vietnam War. Cancers of the bronchus, lungs, larynx, or trachea were linked with exposure to Agent Orange. Hodgkin lymphoma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, prostate cancer, and multiple myeloma are other conditions related to herbicide exposure. Both Vietnamese and U.S. veterans sought compensation for damages by filing lawsuits.

Between 1953 and 1985, U.S. veterans were exposed to trichloroethylene (TCE), tetrachloroethylene (PCE), and several other VOCs through the drinking water of Camp Lejeune. As a result, they developed several different types of cancers. Per TorHoerman Law, veterans developed cervical, bladder, esophageal, breast, kidney, liver, and lung cancers. Many even developed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

The passing of the Camp Lejeune Justice Act (CLJA) of 2022 allows Camp Lejeune victims to seek compensation for the damages suffered due to exposure to polluted water. Since the bill was signed into law, more than a thousand Camp Lejeune lawsuits have been filed by victims and on behalf of the families of veterans who died due to cancer.

In regard to the latest Camp Lejeune contaminated water update, cases are expected to go to trial in the early part of 2024. They are expected to address claims over leukemia, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and kidney and bladder cancer along with Parkinson’s disease.

Besides, exposure to asbestos, burn pits, ionizing radiation (from nuclear-powered ships/submarines), and perfluoroalkyl and poly-fluoroalkyl substances resulted in cancer in veterans.

3 Tips to Care for a Veteran With Cancer

Here’s how you can care for a veteran with cancer:

Help Them Navigate the VA System

One of the first things you should do is help them understand the resources available through the VA. Veterans who develop cancer due to military service qualify for VA benefits. The VA cares for over 450,000 veterans with cancer.

Claiming VA benefits, however, isn’t easy. Veterans must prove a link between their diagnosis and the time spent in military service. Of course, that will be challenging for them. Assist them in gathering the evidence required to prove their cancer is a result of exposure to carcinogenic chemicals during military service.

Accompany them to VA medical centers, clinics, or hospitals for treatments. VA also offers monthly compensation to spouses and dependents of veterans with cancer. Help them claim that.

Assist With Everyday Activities

Cancer treatments can be draining, both physically and emotionally. Performing everyday tasks might become difficult for your veteran friend or family member. Lend them a helping hand in everyday activities.

Help them with household chores. Purchase groceries and prepare meals for them or share your meal with them. You can even drive them to and from the appointments or treatment centers.  

Elderly adults are often forgetful. Your veteran friend might forget to take their medicines. Give them medication on time or send a reminder when you’re away, so they don’t miss any doses. If you take care of their practical needs, they will be able to focus on their health and well-being.

Offer Them Emotional Support

Receiving a cancer diagnosis is not only an emotional experience, but it can be traumatic. Many cancer patients battle with depression or anxiety. Your veteran friend might also feel stressed or overwhelmed due to their cancer diagnosis. Consider offering them emotional support.


Be a compassionate listener and listen to their concerns and fears without judgment. Offer them reassurance and words of comfort so that they can feel better. Also, remind them they are not alone in their journey; you’re there with them at every step.

To wrap things up, caring for a veteran with cancer isn’t tough. All you need is compassion, empathy, and a willingness to be present during challenging times to care for them.

Nonetheless, be sure to hire a caregiver who can take care of them at times when you can’t. You can also explore support groups where they can connect with other veterans with similar diagnoses. Remember your support can make a significant difference in their cancer journey.