Who Are Korean War Veterans? What Risks Did These Veterans Face in Addition to the Enemy?

More than 5.7 million Americans served during the Korean War, and today there are still approximately over 2.25 million Korean war veterans still alive. This war started in 1950 and ended in 1953, and resulted in a total of 54,246 deaths of which 36,574 happened in theater according to this report in 2013. More than 103,000 Americans were wounded during the Korean war as well.

Korean War Veterans

What Special Risks Did Korean War Veterans Face?

There are some special risks and circumstances that Korean war veterans faced that veterans of some other wars may not have been exposed to. These include extreme cold injuries, radiation and iodizing radiation exposure, asbestos exposure, noise, vibration, and PCBs (an organic chlorine compound that was widely deployed as dielectric and coolant fluids in electrical apparatus) to name just some of the hazards that these veterans were exposed to during their service.

The health concerns for this group of vets includes 3 special categories: cold injuries, noise, and occupational hazards. This last group includes vibration, PCBs, fuels, lead, industrial solvents, asbestos, and Chemical Agent Resistant Coating or CARC paint. Each type of injury or exposure could have serious health consequences for Korean war veterans.

Cold Injuries

During the Korean War, our service members were exposed to extreme cold during combat and while engaged in military training. Some common cold injuries seen in veterans from the Korean War included:

  • Frostbite
  • Immersion Foot or Trench Foot
  • Hypothermia
  • Non Freezing Cold Injuries

Korean war veterans who served in the Chosin Reservoir Campaign during October, November, or December of 1950 could have been exposed to temperatures which were 50 degrees F below 0 at times, and the wind chill factor reached 100 degrees F below 0. These temperatures can be dangerous or even deadly with very little exposure.

Occupational Hazards

In addition to being at a high risk for cold injuries Korean war veterans also faced a higher risk for occupational hazards. Asbestos and PCB exposure, radiation, and other occupational hazards resulted in thousands of veterans suffering long term and even severe health consequences, sometimes years or even decades after the initial hazard exposure.

A number of cancers and other health problems are associated with radiation and chemical exposure. These occupational hazards were not always recognized by the federal government in the past because the complications and diseases take a significant time to develop. Today the government recognizes that many cancers and other medical conditions caused by occupational hazards are service-related.

Who are Atomic Veterans?

Atomic veterans are US military veterans who were exposed to radiation from nuclear testing or materials. Some Korean war veterans are also atomic veterans. Many of these veterans ended up with serious or even fatal diseases because of radiation exposure. 1 in 5 atomic veterans fathered children who had birth defects.

Radiation exposure occurred in a number of ways for Korean war veterans. Some were involved in nuclear weapons testing, others were in certain areas when radioactive bombs were dropped because they played a support role in the operations. The US Government recognizes that radiation exposure can cause a number of effects including changes on a cellular and DNA level.

There are Organizations Dedicated to Veterans of the Korean War

There are a number of organizations dedicated to specific veterans, and this is true for those who served in the Korean War. The Korean War Veterans Association offers many resources, updates, and data for veterans and their families. The Korean War Educator contains a large amount of information about the Korean War and veterans who served in it.

Silver Star Families of America helps wounded, disabled, ill, or dying veterans from all wars and all branches of service. Korea-Cold War Families of the Missing offers details and information about POWs and MIAs, as well as assistance and details for family members of these veterans. The VA also offers many resources for veterans.


The National Veterans Foundation is dedicated to helping veterans of all eras get the information and resources they need after coming home and taking off their uniforms, to live successful lives in civilian world.   This article on Korean War Veterans is one example of the wealth of resources that the NVF provides.  To sustain this important work, we rely on the support of individuals like you, who care about our nation’s veterans. We receive no government support, and our programs are 100 percent funding by private individuals, businesses, and foundations.

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