Arthritis is the primary cause of disability among U.S. military veterans and the second most common reason for medical discharge from the U.S. Army. One in three veterans is diagnosed with arthritis, compared with one in five members of the general U.S. population. It is important to keep in mind that these statistics reflect only doctor-diagnosed arthritis. In the culture of the armed services, where pain is commonly associated with weakness, it is likely that the actual number of American service members suffering from arthritis is even higher.
It’s 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—like wearing 100 lb. packs or jumping from trucks with heavy gear on—can result in injuries that affect service members for the rest of their lives. When these injuries result in arthritis and lead to the medical discharge of a service member, it can cost the Department of Defense (DoD) up to $1 million in medical costs per service member after the service member’s discharge.
Even with epidemic-level statistics, the dramatic impact of arthritis on continued military service, quality-of-life measures, the steep financial price tag to the DoD, and research on conditions not related to service being funded by the DoD up to $120 million, there is no dedicated arthritis medical research funding in the DoD budget. There should be: A patient population within the military research ecosystem provides a unique opportunity to conduct clinical trials, test prevention strategies, and explore risk factors associated with arthritis within the closed loop of medical histories and data kept on active duty personnel. Such a program recently resulted in the discovery of markers in the blood of service members that allows doctors to predict the onset of lupus. Imagine the impact on both the military and civilian populations if we could do the same for arthritis.
The ACR has teamed up with the Arthritis Foundation and the American Osteopathic Association to direct $20 million within the DoD’s Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program (CDMRP) to arthritis treatment and prevention. Currently, the CDMRP has $78 million in funds that have not yet been committed to a project. We are asking Congress to dedicate $20 million of this existing funding to finding more effective ways to treat and prevent arthritis.
To support this important program, please visit the Simple Tasks website and select Take Action.