The Department of Defense, military services, and Veterans Affairs are doing much now to assess the effects of airborne hazards, including open burning fires, on the health of current and veteran service members who may have been exposed during overseas deployment to places like Iraq and Afghanistan. .
On Wednesday, lawmakers on Capitol Hill also turned their attention to how the military might one day assess a service member’s exposure to toxins with wearable sensors, rather than the types of static sensors used today.
“We’re very interested in wearables,” said Dr. Terry Rauch, acting deputy assistant secretary of defense for health preparedness policy and oversight. “The reason for that is that our focus, our focus really needs to be on individual exposure monitoring.”
Speaking before the Senate Armed Services Committee Personnel Subcommittee, Rauch said wearable technology could one day allow the department to more closely monitor an individual’s precise exposure to toxins affecting the health of a person’s health. in a way that is simply not possible today.
“If we can’t determine what the exposure dose was and what they were exposed to, then it’s very difficult to capture their response,” he said.
Captain Brian L. Feldman, commandant of the Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center, told lawmakers the Navy is already considering such wearable technology for use on submarines.
“A unique thing that Navy medicine is doing with research and development [is that] we have very robust underwater atmospheric monitoring, a fairly robust and safe program. And R&D [research and development] is studying silicone wristbands, wearable devices so you can get individual-level exposure data on a submarine,” he said.
Air Force and Army witnesses in the hearing also said their respective services were interested in the handheld detectors.
When it comes to better understanding how service members will react to exposure to toxins – such as those produced by exposure to fire pits, fuels, solvents, or even dust and sand, Rauch said it was also important for services to know how an individual service member’s personal health habits and background may affect their response.
“In addition to wearables, we need to better understand how the individual responds to environmental exposures,” Rauch said. “What risks do they bring [and] other lifestyle factors, such as smoking a pack a day before deployment, [as well as] other lifestyle factors or even the genetic makeup that individuals bring. We have to understand them because they’re going to have an impact, and the science isn’t there yet, but we’re pursuing it.”
Rauch also said the Department of Defense is working with the Department of Veterans Affairs on a variety of tools to better inform health care providers about what a service member’s past exposure to toxins might be.
One of these tools – the Individual Longitudinal Exposure Register – is expected to reach full operational capability in 2023. It allows medical professionals to match a service member’s or veteran’s location data – such as where and when they were deployed – to existing databases documenting exposure. risks, so doctors can get a better idea of what a patient may have been exposed to.
“The department remains committed to continually improving our understanding of exposures of concern and potential health effects in order to prevent and mitigate exposures and to clinically assess, treat and care for our service members and veterans,” Rauch said. .