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Explore This IssueFebruary 2017
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Arthritis is the leading cause of disability among U.S. military veterans and the second most common reason for medical discharges from the U.S. armed services after injuries incurred in combat. One in three veterans is diagnosed with arthritis, compared with one in five members of the general U.S. population. Important note: These statistics reflect only doctor-diagnosed arthritis and, in the culture of the armed services where pain is commonly associated with weakness, likely reflects only a fraction of the actual number of U.S. service members suffering from arthritis.
It is not surprising that arthritis affects so many in the military community. The physical demands of the job lead to high-impact injuries, creating long-term damage to joints, tissue and cartilage. Even basic training activities, such as wearing packs that weigh 100-plus lbs. or jumping from trucks with heavy gear on, can result in injuries that affect service members for the rest of their lives. When such an impact injury results in arthritis and leads to the medical discharge of a service member, it can cost the DoD up to $1 million per individual. This amount reflects the medical care for a discharged member for the rest of their life for which the DoD, and not the Veterans Affairs Administration, is responsible.
Even with epidemic-level rates of arthritis among our service members, the steep financial price to the DoD and the dramatic impact on an individual’s ability to continue to serve and their reduced quality of life, Congress has still not dedicated any funding in the DoD budget to arthritis medical research. A military research ecosystem and patient population provides a unique opportunity to conduct clinical trials, test prevention strategies and explore risk factors associated with arthritis within the closed loop of medical data kept on active duty personnel. Just $20 million in dedicated funding could result in more effective ways to treat and prevent arthritis and help these service members avoid medical discharge, improve the quality of life for our veterans and fund research that could ultimately change the lives of the one in five civilians also suffering from arthritis.