Over 5.7 million Americans served during the Korean War. Today an estimated 2.25 million Korean vets are still living. Most are now in their 80s.
The Korean Conflict
Following World War II, Korea was divided into two administrative regions separated by the 38th parallel. North Korea was occupied by the Soviet-backed Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and South Korea was administered by the American-backed Republic of Korea
In June 1950, 75,000 members of the DPRK Army, with support from both the Soviet Union and China, crossed the 38th Parallel and invaded the Republic of Korea. In response, The United States formed and led an international alliance to defend the South.
After three years, an official cease-fire was announced stopping hostilities between the North and South. The Korean Armistice Agreement established the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), a 2.5 mile wide border that acts as a buffer between the two Koreas. The war was considered ended at that point, but a peace treaty was never signed.
Korean War Veteran Health Risks
During the Korean War, service members were exposed to many hazards with serious long-term health consequences, such as below freezing climate conditions, noise and vibration, radiation (nuclear weapons testing or cleanup), chemical warfare agent experiments, asbestos, industrial solvents, fuels, lead, PCBs and chemical agent resistant coating (CARC).
Siberian winds cause temperatures in various parts of Korea to drop below 0 degrees F. During the Chosin Reservoir Campaign, which lasted from October 1950 through December 1950; the temperature dropped to 50 degrees F below zero, with a wind chill factor of 100 degrees F below zero. Cold injuries included hypothermia, frostbite and trench foot. An estimated 5,000 Korean service members with cold injuries were evacuated from Korea during the winter of 1950-1951. Cold injuries can develop into more series health conditions such as diabetes and peripheral vascular disease.
Noise & Vibration Injuries
Hearing loss is one of the most common types of military-related injuries. The noise and vibration from guns, explosives, aircraft, communication devices and machinery can cause hearing loss, tinnitus and other types of acoustic trauma. Korean War hazardous noise exposure occurred during training, various types of military operations and combat.
Korean war veterans who participated in nuclear-related activities were exposed to radiation that caused serious and even fatal diseases, such as cancer, leukemia, lymphoma and multiple myeloma. Other types of radiation exposure included:
- X-ray radiation from high voltage vacuum tubes at LORAN (Long Range Navigation) stations operated by the U.S. Coast Guard.
- Pilots, submariners, divers and other individuals who received Nasopharyngeal (nose and throat) radium irradiation treatments to prevent ear damage from pressure changes.
(subheading) Other Occupational Hazards
In addition to noise, vibration and radiation hazards, many Korean Veterans were also exposed to Asbestos, Industrial solvents, lead, Fuels, PCBs and CARC paint.
Asbestos is a fibrous mineral found in rock and soil that can cause serious health problems, including cancer and lung disease. Korean War veterans may have been exposed to asbestos if their work involved:
- Building and repairing ships or other types of shipyard work
- Building demolition
- Carpentry, construction, manufacturing and installation of certain types of products, like flooring and roofing.
Industrial solvents were used during the Korean War to clean, degrease and strip or thin paint. Long-term exposure to industrial solvents can cause various health problems such as:
- Breathing problems
- Neurological damage
- Visual problems
Lead poisoning was another potential hazard for Korean Conflict veterans. Lead is a toxic metal that can accumulate in the body. Korean War veterans may have been exposed to lead if they drank water from old lead pipes, came in contact with lead-based paints, or spent long periods of time at an indoor firing range. Air, dust, soil and commercial products can also contain lead. Symptoms of lead poisoning include fatigue, gastrointestinal problems, anemia, increased blood pressure, weakness, decreased memory, difficulty concentrating, hyperactivity and irritability.
Exposure to diesel and jet fuel also impacted the health of Korean War service members. The gases and air particles from the combustion or burning of diesel and jet fuel contain toxic chemicals than can harm the body. Prolonged exposure can lead to respiratory problems and lung cancer.
PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) are manufactured organic chemicals that were used as coolants and lubricants in various products until 1977. PCB exposure can lead to numerous health issues such as liver problems, neurotoxicity and cancer. Korean War veterans who repaired PCB transformers, capacitors and conduits were at risk for PCB exposure.
CARC (Chemical Agent Resistant Coating) paint, also known as camouflage paint, was used by the military to make the metal surfaces on vehicles, helicopters and certain types of equipment more resistant to corrosion and chemical warfare agents. Korean War veterans who panted tanks, armored personnel carriers and other military vehicles may have been exposed to CARC paint. Health issues resulting from CARC paint include respiratory problems and kidney damage.
Service-Connected Disability Benefits for Korean Vets
Korean War veterans with a disability or injury that occurred (or was aggravated) during the war, may qualify for service-connected disability compensation. Eligibility requirements include having been discharged from service under other than dishonorable conditions.
Aid & Attendance for Korean War Veterans
Korean War veterans with non-service connected health issues who need long-term care may be eligible for Aid & Attendance. The Aid & Attendance benefit is a tax-free pension for qualified Korean War veterans, their spouses and surviving spouses who need help with some of the activities of daily living. The veteran must have served at least 90 days of active duty, with at least one day during an eligible period of war. The eligible wartime period for the Korean Conflict is June 27, 1950 through January 31, 1955. Additional requirements include having an honorable or other than dishonorable discharge.
The Aid & Attendance benefit does not need to be paid back. It is a lifetime benefit to cover the cost of home care, board and care, adult day care, assisted living and skilled nursing. For more information, contact an American Veterans Aid benefit consultant at (877) 427-8065.