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The Biggest Physical Problems Affecting Veterans

The Biggest Physical Problems Affecting Veterans

One top issue? Back pain. But the list goes on.

Everybody gets hurt sometimes, and while you were training or deployed, you may have been injured or developed a health condition. Now that you've transitioned to civilian life, those physical problems may still affect you—or, you may have new difficulties related to your service.

For US Veterans, some physical issues are more common than others. Here are some of the biggest handled by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

Hearing problems
By far, the disabilities most frequently reported by Veterans are hearing problems. These include hearing loss and tinnitus—a humming, buzzing or clicking in your ears with no apparent source. Tinnitus alone accounted for more than 1.6 million VA disability compensations in fiscal year 2016, while over 1 million Veterans were compensated for hearing loss. Veterans are particularly vulnerable to hearing problems because of the loud noises you were exposed to during service, including gunfire, aircraft and blasts.

Most cases of tinnitus aren't serious, and four out of five people with the condition don't find it to be a major problem. Others can struggle, however, and in addition to sleep and concentration issues, tinnitus may make you more susceptible to depression and anxiety. Some therapeutic treatments can help you naturally downplay the sound, while certain devices can drown it out or amplify other sounds.

In terms of hearing loss, the following are common issues:

  • Conductive hearing loss involves damage to the ear; it can be reversed sometimes, but may require hearing aids or surgery.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss is permanent, though hearing aids can help.
  • Auditory processing disorder makes it tough to understand when someone is speaking, often in noisy places. Devices or therapy may make it easier to live with.

Back pain
Another major physical issue among Veterans: back pain. You most often report it as a strain in either your lumbosacral (lower back) or cervical (neck) region, though many Veterans develop sciatica, or nerve pain that starts in the lower back and radiates out to the legs.

As with tinnitus and hearing loss, your back pain may be connected to the time you spent serving. You were likely expected to lift and transport heavy gear, or asked to run, jump and pivot on a regular basis, often while carrying substantial items. This activity can create or contribute to chronic back pain—and injuries sustained may add to it.

Other significant physical issues include:

  • Limitations of knee and ankle movement: Together, they account for more than 1.2 million disabilities reported by Veterans. These injuries can involve physical therapy and may require surgery.
  • Scarring: Many scars are cosmetic, but others are painful or can affect movement. More than 800,000 of you who deal with the VA receive compensation for scars.
  • Migraines: Over 430,000 Veterans have reported these severe, recurring headaches to the VA.

Fortunately, there are ways to address many of these physical issues, and a plethora of special programs in place to assist Veterans, specifically. To get started, speak to your doctor for guidance, or contact the VA for help with specific injuries or problems.

And, for the next few weeks, come back to Sharecare. We'll be Veterans' go-to resource for tackling the nagging physical issues affecting everyday life. We'll also share proven tips for preventing pain and coping with existing pain, as well as ways to find and access treatment. Keep it here for more.

Medically reviewed in June 2018.

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