VETERANS AND DIABETES

It’s somewhat overwhelming to think that one disease can be so prevalent in American society. Over 25 million Americans have diabetes. That’s 8.3 percent of the U.S. population; seven million people don’t even know they have it.
Unfortunately, it’s worse for veterans. Approximately 5.5 million veterans receive VA health care services. Almost 20 percent of them, or 1,020,000, are diabetics. The prevalence of diabetes among veterans can be attributed to the average age of the veteran population (62), the predominance of men (97 percent), and a higher rate of smoking than the general population. None-the-less, the figures are staggering.
The Veterans Health Administration continues to expand health care services to veterans who have diabetes and the long-term complications that come with it (increased skin infections, neuropathy, eye problems, lower-extremity amputations, etc.). PTSD and other psychiatric disorders complicate matters even more. Many of the medications used to treat psychiatric disorders cause weight gain or increased insulin resistance. This affects diabetes management and requires more intense monitoring by both the veteran and his or her physician.
Some tips for taking care of yourself if you have diabetes include:
• Be an active participant in your healthcare team. Be sure to keep them informed when something is working right as well as when it isn’t.
• Monitor your blood-glucose levels daily. Your doctor will tell you how often.
• Take your medications as directed. I’m always amazed at the times people with diabetes tell me they aren’t feeling well and when I ask, they tell me they were supposed to take their medication just before they ate…but they didn’t.
• Eat a healthy diet. There really isn’t such a thing as a “diabetic diet.” Follow a balanced, healthy diet; if you’re not sure what that is, ask your healthcare team.
• Watch your weight. It’s easy to let yourself go, but it can have especially negative consequences when you’re diabetic. If you’re overweight, plan to make some changes to start getting your weight down.
• Keep an eye on your feet. Foot problems lead to serious trouble. Prevent them by checking your feet on a regular basis for ulcers or sore spots. When you find them, talk to your healthcare team!

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