From Vietnam Veterans Against the War,

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Serving Your Health After Serving Your Country: How To Stay Healthy As A Military Veteran

By Renee Keats

You've served your country, now it's time to think of serving your health. With the introduction of the new health care laws there has also been an increase in health care and services targeted to ensuring efficient and accessible medical services for veterans.

Approximately 500,000 veterans, previously denied VA coverage, will now have access to health care in 2014. Now is the time for veterans to recognize that, now more than ever, there are great resources especially devoted to serving our most cherished population: our veterans.

Top Physical Concerns

Certain injuries and conditions sustained during service are common to our service members and veterans. Many of these conditions were first treated during service. However, there are other physical issues that evolve after a person has left military service. The most common conditions and ailments include:

Eight Core Wellness Recommendations

The United States Department of Veteran Affairs has identified 8 core wellness recommendations for service men and women to use when managing their health:

  1. Physical Activity: It's not surprising that the VA lists "getting exercise" as its top initiative for veterans. Getting sufficient physical fitness may be the first step in addressing many health issues. It's not uncommon for veterans to get out of the habit of exercising, especially once they are out of the service and coping with other aspects of life (work, school, relationships, family, etc.). Studies have shown that regular physical activity can help lower the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers. It can also help prevent weight gain, reduce depression, and improve sleep. Physical exercise helps to improve all aspects of a person's life including: improved sleep, decreased stress and decreased depression. Whether you like to run, lift weights or take a bike ride, there are ample opportunities to stay fit. If you are looking for an affordable and accessible gym to use, the YMCA offers memberships and respite care services to eligible military families.
  2. Eat Wisely and Strive for a Healthy Weight: You've heard it before, choose your foods wisely and exercise. But if you are carrying excess weight, losing it can be the first step towards servicing your health. People who are considered "obese" often develop problems like heart disease, diabetes, some cancers, sleep apnea and gallstones. The VHA National Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention has developed an interactive program called MOVE!® to help veterans manage their weight and increase their physical fitness.
  3. Get Screening Tests and Timely Immunizations: Veterans have served their country but, after leaving the service, often don't take care of themselves. That is why, regardless of their age, gender, family history and current or past health status, every veteran is encouraged to seek preventive services. As a bonus, under the recent changes in legislation, all of these services are covered benefits. Veterans should be screened for alcohol abuse, depression, high blood pressure, HIV, military sexual trauma, obesity, PSTD and tobacco use. It is also important for veterans to remember to get a flu shot every year and a tetanus shot every 10 years.
  4. Be Involved In Your Health Care: Personally invest in your medical care. To get the best care, you must provide your treatment team with accurate and complete information about your health. It is important to think about your visit prior to seeing the health provider so your questions have been thought out and you don't waste time. Just as important, you must be willing to share all of the stressful aspects of your life that are affecting your health and ability to manage daily activities.
  5. Tobacco Cessation: When you quit smoking, your immediate and long-term health immediately improves. Yes, all forms of tobacco are harmful including cigars, pipes, snuff, chewing tobacco and electronic cigarettes. Two great sites for learning how to be smoke free are:
  6. Limit Alcohol Intake: Avoiding binge drinking and limiting the amount of alcohol you consume seems like common sense. But did you know that too much alcohol use or binge drinking can lead to higher risk of health problems, such as liver damage or other injuries?
  7. Mesothelioma: Due to exposure to asbestos, some veterans have developed mesothelioma, a form of lung cancer. Some experts believe current veterans are still exposed to asbestos and can be at risk for mesothelioma. For more information, check out Cooney and Conway's Veterans Guide To Asbestos Exposure, Mesothelioma and Lung Cancer. Another great resource for veterans is their social media guide for veterans with mesothelioma.
  8. Stress: Everyone experiences stress in their life. But too much stress can create problems both mentally and physically. People who are "stressed" often comment that they have difficulty focusing, feel anxious and worried. Some will describe their bodies as "wound up:" tense muscles, sweaty palms, pounding heart. Obviously, too much stress over an extended period of time can put your overall health at risk. There is a veteran's hotline available for anyone experiencing an emotional crisis: 1-800-273-TALK and press 1 for Veterans.

There is no argument that increasing the availability and accessibility of medical care for United States veterans is a long time coming and much deserved. But that is only part of the story. Even if medical and health care is readily accessible, veterans must want to seek services, know about them and finally, know how to access them.

Renée Keats is a Certified Health Navigator with a Master's Degree in Public Health from the University of Illinois at Chicago. With over 20+ years of healthcare related experience, Ms. Keats has worked in hospital administration, government, managed care, Medical IT development as well as in other health related settings. Prior to founding Windy City Momma, she worked for WellPoint as a Project Manager and later a Client Services Manager.

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