May is National Arthritis Awareness Month and, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in three Veterans has arthritis.
Bruce Eriksen, a Marine Corps and Vietnam Veteran, was diagnosed with arthritis in 2015. About his first appointment with his primary health care provider at a VA medical center, he said, “She actually listened to me.”
Since his diagnosis, Eriksen has participated in “Live Yes! Connect Groups” offered by the Arthritis Foundation, which include sessions on arthritis-related topics and group activities. He also attends the Virtual Military and Veterans Connect Group and a civilian group. “The immediate impression from peer support groups is that I am not alone,” he explained. “There is also the additional comradeship of being with fellow Veterans.”
“VA offers many treatments, education and resources to Veterans diagnosed with arthritis,” said Dr. Tracy L. Weistreich, nurse executive of VA’s National Center for Healthcare Advancement and Partnerships (HAP). Her office establishes non-monetary public-private partnerships to augment services available to all Veterans, irrespective of enrollment or eligibility.
Veterans benefit from support groups
A partnership between VA and the Arthritis Foundation will help Veterans across the country living with arthritis benefit from professional and volunteer-led support group sessions on a variety of topics, and fun group activities.
“This partnership increases Veterans’ access to more resources, including information and support on the foundation’s Veteran-focused webpage, and a support group for Veterans, active duty and retired military individuals,” Dr. Weistreich said.
“The foundation’s peer-to-peer groups offer a crucial kind of support,” said Nick Turkas, director of external affairs at the Arthritis Foundation. “A lot of people with arthritis identify the pain as being very isolating. They dismiss arthritis as an old person’s disease, inconvenient and not serious. But, in fact, arthritis is the number one cause of disability. Arthritis is serious.”
Journeys are personal, but we all journey together
Haydee Sedlmeier, director of online and community connection for the Arthritis Foundation, also explained how peer-to-peer groups can give people the chance to talk about how arthritis affects all areas of their lives. During a recent event, one speaker discussed how it affects sleep.
“She broke it down really well for the folks who attended that meeting, and we had an opportunity afterward for people to just talk to each other, and that’s the beautiful thing about the Connect Groups,” said Sedlmeier. “You have that validation from somebody else who’s having the lived experience. You aren’t alone in it. Every arthritis patient’s journey is personal, but we all journey together.”
VA and the Arthritis Foundation are also collaborating to collect Veteran responses to its Patient Reported Outcomes Survey, INSIGHTS, which includes questions about pain, physical activity, fatigue and anxiety. Responses are used to create more tools and resources.
“Partnerships like this one allow VA to reach more Veterans where they are, including those who are not enrolled in VA,” said Dr. Weistreich. “This embodies VA’s core values of advocacy and commitment: We are remaining Veteran-centric and working diligently to serve them.”
For more information on other VHA and HAP partnerships, please visit: https://www.va.gov/HEALTHPARTNERSHIPS/partnerships.asp.