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Dr. Odle: Helping veterans live their healthiest, happiest lives in Arizona

photo of doctor talking about veterans health
Dr. Leo Odle is an internal medicine specialist at Optum – Arizona. (File Photos/DigitalFreePress)
By Dr. Leo Odle | Point of View

Veteran’s Day was this past Saturday, a time to express our gratitude to the women and men who have proudly served in the military to preserve our freedoms.

For many, the holiday meant a parade down Main Street or honoring veterans in other ways, but for millions of veterans it was perhaps another day struggling with a serious health issue tied to their service.

The U.S Census Bureau reported there were more than 18 million U.S. veterans in 2018. Each year, approximately 200,000 leave active duty.

The irony of veteran health is that upon entering service, most are at the peak of health and fitness; however, after leaving the service some veterans can face a myriad of health issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), other mental health challenges, the effects of traumatic brain injury (TBI), musculoskeletal injuries, and illnesses as a result of environmental exposure.

Veteran health issues can be complex and are driven by many factors including age, race, gender, if the veteran saw combat or not, the geographic location where the veteran served, and the conflict itself. For example, according to the U.S. Census, 2019 American Community Survey, those who served in the past 20 years, post 9/11, have a 43 percent chance of having a disability connected to their time in the military.

Veteran statistics on PTSD vary based on the era in which the veteran may have served. Eleven to 20 percent of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom have PTSD in a given year; Gulf War veterans, 12 percent; and it’s estimated as high as 30 percent of Vietnam veterans have had PTSD in their lifetime.

Each veteran’s health profile is unique and working as a team with the individual, healthcare providers can devise a strategy to meet their patient’s health needs. To help veterans live their best lives and improve their health in addition to needed medical and psychological care, it is important to take an approach of healthy living practices and prevention. The U.S. Veterans Administration offers the following evidence-based recommendations:

  • Get high quality sleep each night and seeking help for sleep difficulties
  • Keeping your recommended screenings and immunizations up to date
  • Being active in your healthcare and working with your healthcare team to meet your specific needs
  • Managing stress
  • Cutting out tobacco use
  • Limit alcohol use*
  • Taking measures to protect yourself and family from harm and injury, including self-harm or domestic abuse
  • Maintaining a healthy weight and eating right
  • Staying physically active**

*OPTUM DISCLAIMER: If you do not drink, it is not recommended that you start drinking alcohol. If you choose to drink, do so only in moderation. Drinking too much can harm your health.
**OPTUM DISCLAIMER: Talk with your doctor before significantly increasing your activity level. Ask about the amounts and types of activities that may be best for you.

While we honor those who answered the call on Veterans Day, it should also be a reminder to our veterans that help is out there whether their wounds are physical or in the form of mental health challenges, or both. If you are a veteran or take care of someone who served, it’s important to take an active role in your health with your healthcare provider. ***

***OPTUM DISCLAIMER: If you have thoughts of hurting yourself or others — or you know someone having those thoughts — seek help right away. If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, call 911 — or go to the closest emergency room.

To reach a trained crisis counselor, call or text the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 or 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273- 8255).

You may also chat at 988.lifeline.org. *

  • The Lifeline provides live crisis center phone services in English and Spanish and uses Language Line Solutions to provide translation services in over 250 additional languages for people who call 988.
  • Veteran’s Crisis Line 1-800-273-TALK (8255) and Press 1 offers live, trained responders to speak with by phone, text (Text 838255), or by online chat. The free resource is confidential, available 24/7, and is run by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Editor’s note: Dr. Leo Odle is an internal medicine specialist at Optum – Arizona.

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