Find common veterans health and medical topics starting with the letter M that are related to military service history. The guide covers health topics from A to Z. Read on for more information about mental health, marijuana use, using VA medical centers, and other medical issues and healthcare topics that begin with “M”.
This is an ongoing series and more veterans health topics and letters are coming soon.
Note: What follows should not be taken as medical advice and is not intended as a diagnosis. This page is general information related to common veterans conditions and should not replace advice from your health care provider.
Those who serve are hypothetically at a higher risk for malaria, and those who serve overseas leave “hypothetical” behind, especially where mosquitoes are prevalent. That would include tropical regions, sub-tropical areas, etc. Some overseas duty locations are well-known for elevated risk of malaria and military vaccination requirements for overseas duty will include, where appropriate, anti-malaria drugs or similar measures.
It is true that malaria is a mosquito-borne medical problem, but it can also be spread via transfusions (from an infected person) or other procedures which may expose the patient to malaria-infected blood.
The Department of Veterans Affairs distinguishes between a “presumptive” malaria claim and a non-presumptive one. Those who meet certain VA requirements are assumed to have a service-connected link between malaria symptoms and serving in uniform. The criteria includes but is not limited to:
- Serving in during the Gulf War 8/2/1990 and beyond
- Serving after 9/19/2001 in Afghanistan
- Malaria must be “at least 10 percent disabling within one year from the date of military separation OR at a standard time that would indicate the incubation period began during a qualifying period of military service”
Malaria symptoms are cyclical and can include:
- Excessive sweating
These symptoms may appear between seven and 30 days after exposure, and VA medical literature warns of at least one strain of malaria with a prolonged incubation period of up to 10 months. Malaria relapses are also possible.
Drug-based malaria prevention is not 100% effective-such preventive measures must be supplemented by the use of bug repellent, protective clothing, and mosquito netting.
VA Marijuana Policy
The Department of Veterans Affairs is a federal agency, and as such is subject to federal drug policy. At the time of this writing, that policy includes marijuana prohibition but that does not mean that veterans who live in marijuana-friendly states are denied access to VA care, benefits, or assistance.
The VA official site states clearly, “Veteran participation in state marijuana programs does not affect eligibility for VA care and services.” Your VA health care provider may discuss marijuana use “as part of comprehensive care planning, and adjust treatment plans as necessary.”
However, VA health care providers are not permitted to recommend medical marijuana (also known as MMJ), they cannot help veterans obtain MMJ, nor can they prescribe it. The VA official site lists a group of things vets need to know about medical cannabis and VA policies:
- Veterans will not be denied VA benefits because of marijuana use.
- Veterans are encouraged to discuss marijuana use with their VA providers.
- VA health care providers will record marijuana use in the Veteran’s VA medical record as part of treatment planning.
- VA staff cannot recommend medical marijuana.
- VA clinicians may only prescribe medications that have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for medical use. At present most products containing tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), cannabidiol (CBD), or other cannabinoids are not approved for this purpose by the FDA.
- VA clinicians may not complete paperwork/forms required for Veteran patients to participate in state-approved marijuana programs.
- VA pharmacies may not fill prescriptions for medical marijuana.
- VA will not pay for medical marijuana prescriptions from any source.
- Veterans who are VA employees are subject to drug testing under the terms of employment to include marijuana.
Medical Foster Homes
The VA official site describes medical foster homes as “…private homes in which a trained caregiver provides services to a few individuals. Some, but not all, residents are Veterans.”
Medical foster homes may be paid for in whole or in part by the VA for veterans who want an alternative to nursing home care. In certain cases, the VA states, “It may be appropriate for Veterans who require nursing home care but prefer a non-institutional setting with fewer residents.”
Medical foster homes serving veterans and receiving VA funds are inspected and feature trained care providers around the clock. These caregivers are trained to VA standards and the services are paid for with VA Home Based Primary Care benefits. To be eligible for a medical foster home, the veteran must be enrolled first in the VA Home Based Primary Care program. See the VA officials site for more information.
The Department of Veterans Affairs has pledged to help vets dispose of unwanted or unneeded medication. The VA advises the removal of medication from the home that is no longer needed or used; doing so is a preventive measure that can help avoid accidental or intentional transfer of prescription drugs to those who are not authorized to use them and can also help prevent cases of accidental poisoning or overdose.
To get rid of such medicine, the VA advises against flushing, dumping medication down the drain or placing meds in the garbage. The VA has created special mailers you may use to send your unwanted medications. These mailers are free to obtain from the VA but must never be used to mail syringes. Learn more about these mailers and other drug disposal options at the VA official site at VA.gov.
Treating malaria (see above) often involves preventive medicine; Mefloquine is a drug given to travelers that is intended to prevent the spread of the disease. Mefloquine has FDA approval, but the drug is not without side effects:
- Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea
- Dizziness, difficulty sleeping, and bad dreams
- Convulsions or seizures, restlessness
- Confusion, and unusual behavior
The VA advises that those who have a history of liver problems, those who use alcohol, and those who take medication that affects the liver may have prolonged side effects.
“Recent scientific literature has suggested side effects including mood changes, bad or vivid dreams, agitation, suicidal thoughts, and suicidal behavior,” according to a VA publication on the drug. How often, how severe, and why these more severe effects happen is not fully understood, but if you need to take Mefloquine you should fully understand these potential side effects.
Furthermore, the VA official site says in spite of the drug’s efficacy in preventing malaria, those with certain conditions should not take Mefloquine:
- Psychiatric conditions such as active depression, a recent history of depression, anxiety disorder, psychosis, schizophrenia, or other major psychiatric disorders
- Certain heart conditions including irregular heartbeat, and conduction problems
Military Sexual Trauma (MST)
MST is a term used to describe any sort of sexual harassment or assault a military member experiences while serving. The VA official site adds that military sexual trauma is also defined further as “any sexual activity that you are involved with against your will.”
This can mean receiving pressure to participate in sexual activities, coercion, getting any kind of threat of negative treatment as a response to refusing an advance or request for sexual activities. Military sexual trauma also includes sexual contact without your consent whether awake, intoxicated, or not. MST also includes:
- Being physically forced to have sex
- Being touched in a sexual way that made you uncomfortable
- Repeated comments about your body or sexual activities
- Threatening and unwanted sexual advances
Those who experience MST may develop symptoms including:
- Disturbing memories
- Difficulty sleeping
- Difficulty feeling safe
- Feelings of depression
- Feelings of numbness or detachment
- Problems with alcohol
- Problems with drugs
- Feeling isolated
- Problems with anger, irritability, or other strong emotions
- Physical health problems
Those who suffer from MST should know the VA has pledged to help veterans who have experienced military sexual trauma. Depending on the circumstances, the symptoms, and the side effects there may be multiple avenues of treatment and support. If you have suffered from MST or are experiencing any of the effects mentioned above, contact the VA for assistance and advice on how to proceed with treatment, compensation claims where applicable, and medication where appropriate.
Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
This condition is a neurologic disease that affects the central nervous system; the spinal cord, the brain, and associated systems. Those who have MS suffer from immune system attacks on something known as “the myelin sheath” which is tissue that surrounds nerves to protect them.
According to VA literature, when there is damage to the myelin sheath, “nerve impulses traveling to and from the brain and spinal cord are distorted or interrupted, causing a wide variety of symptoms.”
Sometimes the body can repair itself in the wake of this, but over time the damage from such immune system attacks on the myelin sheath may become permanent which leads to health complications; “This may lead to a decline in function depending on the disease course.”
Symptoms of MS vary depending on where the damage is located. In general, such symptoms may include:
- Double vision
- Facial pain
- Slurred speech
- Poor balance
- Bladder and bowel complications
- General pain
The causes of MS are not fully understood but the Department of Veterans Affairs has created Multiple Sclerosis Centers of Excellence which are dedicated to better understanding the condition and developing more effective treatments for the disease.
Current MS therapies can help slow the progression of the disease and lessen the severity of MS-related disabilities. Active and healthy lifestyle choices are an important part of surviving MS, and this disease should be treated by an MS specialist.
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