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Military service is crucial to ensure the success of the United States. Fortunately, citizens of the United States volunteer willfully and a draft has not been necessary since the Vietnam War. While the nation strives to offer those who serve proper compensation, there are a number of risks involved with service. While some are clear to those who sign up, others are relatively unknown.

The most obvious risk for service members relates to combat. Ultimately, militaries exist to protect nations and resources and the threat of combat looms large even over those in the world's safest regions. Fortunately, military medical care has improved dramatically and many troops are able to survive incidents that would have claimed their lives in the past.

Mental health issues are also common. Too often, the media and public do not fully consider the effects that combat has on the mind. Unfortunately, troops often fail to fully accept the severity of their mental health problems, and too many resort to substance abuse and dangerous behavior. The good news is that mental health problems, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, are being taken more seriously and many troops are receiving the care that they need to resume healthy lives after their service has ended. Medical science is finding new, better techniques for dealing with these traditionally ignored, yet serious health threats.

The risk of disease also threatens the health and safety of our troops. The realities of military life and warfare often dictate that soldiers live in close proximity to each other. These conditions allow diseases to spread easily from troop to troop. The Spanish Influenza outbreak that claimed between 50 and 130 million lives is partially blamed on World War I, which had many soldiers living in close quarters. Most of these diseases are self-limiting or treatable, but the risk of infection looms over the heads of soldiers.

Another risk is posed by environmental factors. In some cases, these factors have lead to diseases. Because of the usefulness of asbestos, it has been used in military applications for thousands of years; ancient Greeks noted its insulation and ability to limit the spread of fire. Unfortunately, it has also been conclusively linked to mesothelioma, a dangerous form of cancer. For decades after the link between asbestos and mesothelioma was made clear, the military continued to use asbestos, and many soldiers, especially those from the Vietnam Era, are now battling mesothelioma.

Military service comes with risk, and many soldiers pay the ultimate price on the battlefield. Frequently, however, soldiers are also paying a heavy cost decades after their service has ended.