Researchers from the University of Central Florida examined veterans’ health when they returned from their service, and they found that this group was much more likely to suffer from heart disease at a younger age than those who didn’t serve.
“I think it’s sort of the first indications of a coming public health crisis for veterans,” said researcher Ramon Hinojosa. “Because of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, we have a relatively large, new, younger generation of veterans who are going to survive for 30 or 40 years after their war experience.”
Studying veterans’ health
To see how veterans’ health was affected after their time in the war, the researchers examined the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) National Health Interview Survey. Because the study was focused on veterans’ heart disease, the researchers looked at responses concerning cardiovascular health by analyzing over 150,000 participants’ responses from 2012 through 2015.
In addition to physical health, the researchers factored in age and veteran status. They found that veterans were not only more likely to be diagnosed with a cardiovascular issue, but it occurred at a younger age when compared with those who didn’t serve in the military.
Veterans between the ages of 35 and 70 were most at risk, whereas after 70, incidents of heart disease were more common in non-veterans than veterans, which the researchers think could be because of heart disease-related deaths at younger ages.
While the researchers couldn’t pinpoint exactly why this trend is occurring, they did offer several possibilities. These included higher rates of smoking, drinking, and mental illness among veterans; modern warfare; higher rates of obesity in younger veterans; and new approaches to exercise and leisure.
“I think that being aware we sort of have the first rumblings of what seems to be a public health crisis will help us focus our attention on health resources and providing on health resources and providing younger veterans with access to resources that can help them ameliorate the likelihood of early onset cardiovascular disease,” Hinojosa said.
Hinojosa and his team were most surprised by these findings because much research has shown that returning vets tend to be in better shape than those who didn’t enlist.
“The outcome of the analysis suggested that not only does the healthy-soldier effect not seem as potent as it once was, in fact, what I see is veterans tend to have cardiovascular morbidity earlier than non-veterans, and they tend to have a greater number of conditions,” he said.
Overall, the researchers hope that more healthcare providers take heed of these findings, particularly for younger people returning from service, and try to prevent as many cases of heart disease or other cardiovascular issues as possible.
"It's concerning to know that the physical benefits of military service seem to be not holding as well for the younger veterans," Hinojosa said. "This suggests the health protective benefits of military service are not what they used to be. I think that should cause us to really look at what's going on among the veterans after they leave military service.”
Keeping a secure record
Last month, Apple revealed that it would be launching a new Health Records feature specifically for veterans.
The Health Records app would allow veterans to keep a safe, secure record of their known conditions, allergies, procedures, medications, and more, all on their phones. Apple has yet to reveal an exact release date of this feature, but it did say that the app would be available “soon.”
“We have great admiration for veterans, and we’re proud to bring a solution like Health Records on iPhone to the veteran community,” Apple CEO Tim Cook said in a statement. “It’s truly an honor to contribute to the improved healthcare of America’s heroes.”