According to USMedicine.com, Veterans are three times more likely to develop COPD than the general population. Actually, it is the fifth most prevalent disease in the veteran population, affecting approximately 15 percent of U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) healthcare users. Below we will take a closer look at why veterans are more likely to be affected by this incurable disease and its effects on the healthcare system.
Emphysema, chronic bronchitis, irreversible asthma and many forms of bronchiectasis are all possible ailments a patient diagnosed with COPD can face. Cigarette smoke is the leading cause of COPD. In fact, 75 percent of all deaths are caused by cigarette smoke. According to tobaccofreekids.org, in 1980, smoking among active duty service members was shockingly over 50 percent. A survey given in 2011 states that the number has decreased to 24 percent, still a high average compared to civilians smoking, which is at 19 percent.
While on active duty in countries like Iraq and Afghanistan, soldiers face respiratory exposure to many environmental risk factors, such as: Dust from sand or broken buildings (indoors) Mold (indoors) Poor ventilation indoors (dust clogged) Smoke from burn pits Chemicals from explosives Physical shock to the lungs from explosive Pollen
Signs of COPD and How to Recognize Them
Many veterans living with COPD go undiagnosed because the condition is typically a progressive disorder and can commonly be mistaken as a sign of aging. It’s important to recognize the symptoms, such as coughing, wheezing, sputum production and breathlessness.
Air Force Col Chris Henderson, MD, pulmonary medicine chairman at Wilford Hall Medical Center (WHMC) Henderson stated that “part of it is just recognizing whether you have had a significant change or not. Most people don’t have COPD, but if they have a significant change in their ability over a short period of time in being able to breathe, those are the people who need to be assessed.”
Effects of COPD on Veterans and the VHA
Veterans with COPD have shown a higher rate of physician visits, emergency room visits, acute inpatient discharges, and total bed days of care, costing the Veterans Health Administration (VHA billions of dollars annually.
Veterans with COPD not only suffer a tremendous financial burden demonstrated by higher rates of respiratory-related healthcare utilization and costs. Also, a personal burden, that shows that once diagnosed, veterans struggle with the change in living arrangements, increased need for help, fear, and feelings of helplessness.
Treatment for COPD
A major way to prevent COPD is to actively meet with a health care provider and have screenings. There is no cure for the disease but there are medications and treatments to lighten the effect on the body. Bronchodilator and other oral steroids are the typical medications that are given to patients with COPD. Most patients affected by COPD enter pulmonary rehabilitation, where they are counseled on best practices to fight the chronic disease. This counseling consists of physical exercise, diaphragmic breathing, and nutrition to improve their fitness. Many effects turn to oxygen therapy as a means of supportive care. The tanks of oxygen help provide extra oxygen to the lungs of the user.