For the Veterans

A Vietnam veteran friend of mine finally qualified for disability benefits last week, only 40 years after he was first disabled in the war, and 20 years after being diagnosed with diabetes. He finally had a major stroke, after a series of small ones.


It was one of those cases that are now common with Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, where some mix of brain injury, chemical contamination, and trauma left him increasingly disabled. I think his diabetes was just one more side effect of military service.

Diabetes is considered a combat-related condition for Vietnam vets because of the herbicide Agent Orange, to which some soldiers and many Vietnamese were exposed. However, among all veterans of all wars receiving Veterans Affairs (VA) health care, the rate of diabetes is more than twice the rate in the general population. Like everyone else with Type 2, their “lifestyle” is blamed for it. But could veterans really have such a dramatically different lifestyle? Does that even make sense? Or are there better explanations?

Two huge factors jump out — stress and pollution. Military service in a war zone is stressful and traumatic, whether you are physically wounded or not. Feeling that you are in danger all the time will weaken your immune system and create insulin resistance, as I have reported before. Using violence against others is also traumatic.

Trauma, if not treated and resolved, can leave your body stressed for life. It’s no wonder veterans have high rates of drinking and smoking, both of which are perceived as stress relievers. Some veterans may also medicate with sugars, which can temporarily reduce stress. But even without these problem behaviors, chronic stress tends to raise blood pressure and blood glucose levels.

Agent Orange was one major pollutant, but the Pentagon uses all kinds of chemicals and now uses the radioactive substance depleted uranium as well. Many closed military bases become Superfund sites because they are so polluted. The communities near those bases suffer, but soldiers have an even higher exposure to these pollutants because they live among them. As I’ve been reporting lately, pollution has strong links with diabetes.

Along with diabetes, veterans also have higher rates of other health conditions, including depression and chronic pain. Serving in war really does not do much for your future quality of life, even if you survive. As my friend found out, it doesn’t even secure disability benefits.

Writer Joshua Kors has been documenting the VA’s denial of benefits to Iraq and Afghanistan soldiers with brain injury. Over 22,600 of these veterans have been disqualified for benefits because the government says that preexisting personality disorders, not trauma, were causing their problems.

This practice has become so widespread that an industry is growing up around appealing denials of VA benefits. It’s a long, drawn-out process of appeals and denials. Imagine having to conduct a campaign like this with a brain injury and PTSD!

I’m not saying anything against the dedicated nurses and other health professionals at the VA. Most of those folks are great. But their administration is no friend of the staff or of veterans.

Anyway, I realize this blog entry probably won’t help too many of our readers. But perhaps it will enable you to help some young person who is thinking of enlisting.

Prevent diabetes: Keep our young men and women out of wars.

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  • Calgarydiabetic

    I bet the CEO of companies that produce the war mongering stuff get very good medical care. If this is true it is a disgrace.

  • Robinhood16

    David, I hope your comments were not to discourage young men and women from considering the military service. I am one of those agent orange infected vets with type 2 diabetes and several other afflictions related to the diabetes. The process of obtaining benefits was not easy but it was also not all that hard.

    I was proud to serve my country and would do it again if called upon. I for one beleive that we do owe our country and fellow citizens the strong military that helps insure our position in the world. Sadly I see our position of strength declining and I feel that is a very bad thing long term.

    It is important that we maintain the freedom that sllows you to write your blogs and for me to respond to them. The system could stand improvement but I disagree that is broken.

    Robinhood16-Combat Helicopter Pilot

  • John

    David: Like Robinhood 16, I am a Viet Nam veteran with Type 2, quad bypaas, pacemaker, glacouma and everything else (age 74). I spent twentyone years in the US Army and two tours in Viet Nam. In 1972 I was a US Army Recruiter, and would do it again.
    The Veterans Administration that was set up to HELP Veterans is broke. Now it is an advesary of Veterans. It may only be the political system that is broke.
    Any way with the economy the way it is, the service is one way to get out of poverty.
    SFC US Army Retired
    100% Service Connected Disabled

  • pamtime

    I am service connected for diabetes. I find it incredible as an IDDM that VA things it reasonable for me to test 3 times a day. Never mind the fact that I take 5-6 shots a day…I have nicely asked them where I might get that crystal ball they seemed to think I have. I have presented that my 34 blood sugar was without symptoms…until it was too late…ah but with only three strips we must save those for the important meals… waking up and going to bed and 3 am are not an issue as is going low…..I am frustrated. My Endo, on the outside and my diabetologist both had told my primary at VA I need and insulin pump with a CGM with alarm… the VA thinks if Medicare pays for the pump they may be able to help with the supplies…. good night Irene… I have asked my diabetic educators how the words Congressional ring in her ears…

    The military is still the best thing that happened to me and would not trade the experience I got in exchange… out political machine is not broken, what is broken in honor, integrity, and compassion for those who fought and died for the right of some doo gooder make decisions that seem politically correct….Canada takes much better care of their vets…it is incredible.. but expected.. the VA has always been expected to do a lot with very little to do it with. I expect that my life should not be endangered again utilizing their services.
    Just my thoughts.

  • coy craig

    I am service connected for Diabetes as well as 100% total service connected….I have been receiving test strips at no cost for me for over 6 years. I now have a newer monitor (Freestyle light) but VA will not provide the strips…kinda like getting the coffee cup but no coffee…..

    I do not know who paid for the strips in the past but it was not the VA according to my team..nor was it my insurance company…called both…

    Will I have to pay for these strips or am I getting bad info???

  • Ashlynn Ferrand Wagner

    I am wondering if anyone has found more research on combat caused diabetes, and or personal experiences? My husbands (OIF) health has gone down the past couple years, and is starting to show many symptoms that sound like diabetes… We had given up on the VA and gone to the ER a couple years ago after weird mouth ulcers that’s would pop up, and talked to a Doc that was a vet who gave us a horror story of GWS and said the younger guys will have it too, it freaked him out, but life happened and we never went anywhere with it. We’ve recently tried the VA again but of course no one has answers, or will test what we ask. It would be interesting to read any info or links anyone has.