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VA Researchers: 20 Percent of Veterans Have Diabetes

PHOTO: Just being age 40 or older increases a person's risk of diabetes. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is trying new ways to reach and treat veterans who suffer from diabetes, including some high-tech tools. Photo credit: Fotolia
PHOTO: Just being age 40 or older increases a person's risk of diabetes. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is trying new ways to reach and treat veterans who suffer from diabetes, including some high-tech tools. Photo credit: Fotolia
March 18, 2014

BOISE, Idaho - The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has called diabetes a "silent epidemic" among those who have served in the military, and is dedicating resources to better management of the disease. Type 2 diabetes affects almost 20 percent of veterans who use VA health care, compared to about eight percent of the general population.

According to Dr. Timothy O'Leary, acting director at the Office of Research and Development at the VA, diabetes is the leading cause of blindness, kidney disease and amputation in the U.S., and up to 80 percent of patients with diabetes will face a heart attack or stroke.

"While diabetes is silent as it initially presents, and needs a blood test or a urine test, its consequences are not silent at all," the doctor warned.

O'Leary said group meetings are proving to be a successful method to help people keep their blood sugar levels controlled. The VA has also found that having veterans use pedometers encourages more physical activity, which can help keep diabetes under control.

Most research shows that successful management of the disease isn't something people do alone. O'Leary points to video-conferencing as another tool that has helped reduce the rate of physical disabilities.

It can be helpful "sometimes even delivered through the computer or through the telephone, by a coach or a counselor far away, which can be important if you live in a rural area or you have transportation problems," he said.

March 25 is American Diabetes Association Alert Day, when everyone is encouraged to take a risk assessment online. Diabetes risk factors include a family history, being overweight or over age 40, suffering diabetes during pregnancy, and lack of physical activity. O'Leary noted that the disease shows up in people without those risk factors, too, and some research indicates exposure to environmental toxins also can trigger the disease.

That online risk assessment tool is at Diabetes.org.

Deborah Courson Smith/Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - ID