Even with access to health care, male military veterans are in poorer health than men in active military duty, men in the National Guard and Reserves, and civilian men, finds a new study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. The study concluded that organizations that serve veterans should increase efforts at preventing poor health behaviors and linking them to health care services.
The findings are from a 2010 survey of 53,000 veterans, 3,700 Guard and Reserve members, 2,000 active duty servicemen and 110,000 civilians. The survey included questions about their health and health behaviors, and their access to health care. A similar study of women veterans, National Guard/Reserve members, active servicewomen and civilians was published earlier this year by the same research team.
"We think our research substantiates claims that veterans bear a disproportionate disease burden," said Katherine D. Hoerster, Ph.D., MPH, a research psychologist at the VA Puget Sound Health Care System in Seattle. Survey results found that veterans were more likely than active duty men to report diabetes. Veterans were more likely to report current smoking and heavy alcohol consumption than men in the National Guard and Reserves and civilian men and a lack of exercise compared to active duty and National Guard and Reserve. National Guard and Reserve men had higher obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease (versus active duty and veteran men, active duty men, and civilian men, respectively). Active duty men were more likely to report current smoking and heavy alcohol consumption than civilians and National Guard and Reserves, and reported more smokeless tobacco use than civilians.
While the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) addresses these common health concerns, Hoerster noted that only 37 percent of eligible veterans receive care through the VA system of hospitals. In addition, National Guard and Reserve servicemen were found to be the least likely of the groups to have access to health care. The researchers advised that other health care providers need to be aware of the prevalence of these health issues facing Guard and Reserve servicemen and veterans.