Would it surprise you to learn that the single largest cause of medical discharge from the Armed Forces for people under 40 is arthritis? More specifically, post traumatic osteoarthritis. It’s largely the result of the intensive conditions of the job: Carrying around 60- to 100-pound packs in extreme temperatures; The rigors of basic training; and the autonomic nervous system response to being in the vicinity of bomb blasts. Young people in their twenties and thirties who were not injured in combat–thousands of them–are coming home permanently disabled.
Today is November 11th, Veterans day. Social media will be peppered with plenty of well-intentioned, patriotic posts and memes. Most will include some variation of the sentiment, “Thank you for your service.” While an admirable thought, there’s actually a much more effective way to say thanks.
Last March, I served as one of 350 advocacy ambassadors representing the Arthritis Foundation (AF) at a lobbying event in Washington, DC. We collectively attended 220 meetings with members of congress and their staffs, delivering nearly 1700 letters written by people from every congressional district whose families have been touched by one of the 100+ forms of arthritis. Our job was to raise awareness and, of course, make a pitch for increased resources.
I’ve lead and/or participated in a number of events sponsored by the New York Chapter of the AF and it’s a great charity. Over seven or so years, I’ve presented community forums, training programs and webinars, all offered free to the public. I’ve also watched the landscape changing rapidly as AF-funded research and partnerships have produced more effective drugs and treatment protocols. (You can hear a webinar that I delivered on the Arthritis Basics of Care here. Register by entering your name and email address and you’ll be able to view it.)
As much as I thought I knew on the topic of arthritis, though, I must admit that the connection between our young warriors and this advanced form of osteoarthritis–a condition that more typically presents in people in their mid-forties–was eye-opening. And it’s not just young people who are affected: Arthritis is the second leading cause of medical discharge from the Army for soldiers of all ages, second only to injury from war. While one in five Americans lives with arthritis, the number for vets is one in four, with a heightened risk of becoming disabled at some point in their lives.
So as you proudly post that photo of your loved one or acknowledge the bravery and courage of those who have served on your news feed, consider going one step further by writing a check to and/or volunteering at either your local VA or the Arthritis Foundation.
And if you’d really like to roll your sleeves up make a difference, this AF toolkit will get you started.