Are you or someone you love one of our nations proud veterans of military service? If you are, there is some information you might like to know about veterans and their unusually high incidence of diabetes. As a group, veterans are at a much higher risk of developing diabetes than the general population. Approximately 1 in 4 veterans, or 25%, has diabetes according to the Veterans Health Administration. Almost all are Type 2 diabetics which means they developed diabetes as an adult. In the general US population people living with diabetes is about 8%. So why are veterans three times more likely to have diabetes?
Aside from lifestyle and family history, there are several reasons why this may be true. The first is simple. The average age of a veteran is older than the general US population. 58 is the average age of a veteran compared to 37.5 in the general population. Being over 45 is one factor in developing diabetes but there are others as well.
There are three other simple explanations for why veterans have a higher incidence of diabetes; being male, obesity and smoking. Men develop diabetes more than women at a ratio of 3:2. Men also make up 97%of our former military. As a result, there is a greater number of veterans with diabetes because there are so many more men. Obesity is also a well-known risk factor for developing diabetes. Nearly 70 % of our veterans are overweight. Lastly, smoking. Approximately 32%, or 1 in 3 veterans, are smokers. Rates are even higher among deployed members of the military where a staggering 50% smoke.
There is one last, lesser known, possible explanation for greater numbers of diabetics among our veterans. It specifically relates to those who served in Vietnam and that is Agent Orange. In 2001 diabetes became listed as a presumptive condition for vets who served in Vietnam. If you served in the country of Vietnam and later were diagnosed with diabetes the VA presumes that Agent Orange may have been a contributing factor. This based on a study at the National Academy of Sciences that showed a higher than expected correlation between diabetes and dioxin exposure. More Vietnam veterans are being compensated for diabetes than for any other medical condition, including post-traumatic stress disorder, hearing loss or injuries.
Today, the VA provides health benefits to nearly 1.5 million veterans living with diabetes. With so many of former members of the military diagnosed as diabetic, the price tag for their care is very high. Care for diabetics is about 4% of the VAs overall budget and 28% of their pharmacy budget. It costs about one and half billion dollars a year to care for veterans with diabetes. This number has increased dramatically and has nearly doubled in the last 10 years. Diabetes is a more common problem for our veterans than many people realize.
Could you or someone you love be one of the millions of veterans living with diabetes?Sharing this information is important. If you are concerned about the possibility of being diabetic, be sure to see a doctor. The evidence is overwhelming that left untreated, diabetes can result in other secondary medical problems like blindness, cardiovascular diseases and kidney problems. Fortunately, diabetes is treatable but catching it early is key to successful care and management.
As we look ahead to Memorial weekend, it is with great pride and gratitude that we honor all our veterans of military service. It is a time to reflect on the service and contribution of millions of Americans. For all that they have done, our veterans deserve to be happy…. and well.
For more information visit the websites below or contact your local VA