Vets Can Lead Fight Against Disease

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Four in ten Americans suffer from a chronic disease.

For veterans, however, the problem is even worse. While 8 percent of the U.S. population has diabetes, a whopping 20 percent of those receiving medical care through the Department of Veterans Affairs suffer from the disease. And while one in four Americans has arthritis, one-third of all veterans suffer from the debilitating condition.

This disproportionate impact doesn’t just affect health. It also hurts our wallets. Conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease account for 75 percent of all healthcare spending.

There is some good news, though. Veterans who take some simple preemptive measures for their health now could improve their health and help offset the high costs of treating such diseases.

So here are some simple steps that vets — and just about everyone else — can take to improve their health and their wealth.

First, make an appointment with your doctor for a fresh physical and basic screening exam for chronic conditions. With diabetes, for example, the symptoms aren’t always apparent — one in four of those afflicted aren’t even aware of it.

Plus, there’s a good chance your employer will pay for the exam. The disease drain on workforce productivity has prompted many businesses to launch comprehensive wellness programs, including screening for chronic diseases. If your employer doesn’t offer these services, start asking for them.

If you do end up taking medication to treat a chronic condition, be sure to carefully follow your prescription in full. Failing to take medications correctly can increase your medical bills by causing adverse drug reactions, emergency room visits, and worsening your health. The Johns Hopkins Center for Adherence Research has found that this “non-adherence” problem costs up to $300 billion each year in avoidable medical costs.

Conversely, adhering to the instructions on your prescription significantly increases your chances of getting better and saving money.

The Journal of Medical Care has found that for every dollar you spend treating diabetes now, you’ll save more than seven dollars down the road on other medical services. The same goes for cholesterol and high blood pressure, which are risk factors for heart disease, stroke, and kidney failure. Every dollar you spend on cholesterol medicine now saves you more than five dollars on future treatment needs across the board.

Finally, don’t forget that weight is a major factor when it comes to your health prospects. Roughly two-thirds of Americans are overweight, and half of those are obese. The numbers are even higher among vets, as 70 percent of people receiving care through the VA are overweight or obese.

Being overweight significantly increases one’s chances of developing diabetes, heart disease, some cancers, and many other conditions. That’s why, when it comes to your weight, an ounce of prevention is truly worth a pound of cure — exercise alone can help you hold on to more of your hard-earned money.

Make no mistake: how far your money goes depends enormously on your health. The earlier you detect a chronic condition, the easier it will be to treat — and the more money you’ll have.

Chuck Partridge, a retired Army colonel, currently serves as government relations director for the American Military Society, a nationwide veterans organization.