When I was younger, I had a “Girls of Hawaiian Tropic” poster on my wall. If you are a U.S. male between the ages of eight and 80, you probably know these posters. As a teenager, that poster was better than coffee to wake me up in the morning! You might ask, what does this have to do with VA disability and skin cancer? Well, it will become clear soon.

I knew if I ever wanted to date one of those girls, I would need a tan. However often I tried, I could not get my skin to have that tanned, bronze glow. Probably because I am of English and Scottish ancestry, with a little Eastern Europe thrown in for that all-over pelt look.


Playing With Fire

When I was growing up, skin cancer had not been discovered yet.  No one in my family, friends, nor acquaintances used sunscreen, and I’m not sure anyone had ever even heard of it. I had never heard of the VA either, except for my grandfather’s rants. I know they were out there, but while the VA sounded bad that tan sounded awesome!

Skin Cancer VA Disability Sunblock
Overexposure to ultraviolet rays penetrates the skin causing manipulation of skin cells which could lead to skin cancer. Sunburns can not only happen in the summer but winter as well with reflection from the snow. Wear sunscreen to mitigate that risk. (Illustration by Staff Sgt. Alexandre Montes/USAF)

Growing up, I spent a lot of time in the sun. I played outside, rain or shine. Bike riding, skateboarding, band camp (yeah, I was that guy), all were sun-drenched activities. As a teenager, I worked a lot of construction, framing houses, and the like. I usually wore a baseball cap, but rarely used sunscreen. Fast-forward to being in the Air Force, and the sun levels only went up.

My tech training was in Biloxi, Mississippi. On the beach. My first duty station was Travis AFB, California. Every summer, the forecast was 100 sunny and hot. And I spent days and centuries out in that sun.

I had gone with friends to spend the day at Lake Berryessa. We spent the day on a raft on the lake, drinking beer and swimming. By the next morning, my legs were purple and I could not put my uniform pants on. When I called my flight chief to explain why I would be at the doctor’s instead of work, he threatened to charge me with destruction of government property. I know now that’s BS, but as a young E-2, I dragged those pants over the blisters and hobbled my way to work.

C-5M Super Galaxy landing
U.S. Air Force Airmen assigned to the 5th Expeditionary Air Mobility Squadron wait for a C-5M Super Galaxy to complete its landing at Cargo City, Kuwait, December 28, 2020. (Photo by Senior Airman Monica Roybal/USAF)

I did finally go to sick-call, but I did it the next morning (I worked swing shift) so I wouldn’t get in trouble. The doc took pity on me, gave me some lidocaine skin cream, about a thousand 800mg Motrin, and a tube of SPF 50 sunscreen. I’d like to say the ordeal changed my life and I always wore sunscreen from that day forward. You all know that’s crap…