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As Arthritis Continues to Disproportionately Affect U.S. Service Members, Leading Advocacy Groups Demand Congressional Action

American College of Rheumatology and Arthritis Foundation Host Congressional Briefing Highlighting the Need for Dedicated Arthritis Research Funding at the Department of Defense

WASHINGTON, DC – With data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showing disproportionately high arthritis prevalence rates among active and former U.S. service members, the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) and the Arthritis Foundation today hosted a briefing on Capitol Hill to educate Congressional staff about the prevalence of arthritis in the military and to encourage lawmakers to take action.  

During the event, experts and advocates urged Congress to establish a $20 million dedicated arthritis research program at the Department of Defense (DoD) using existing funds in the DoD’s Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program (CDMRP). The funds would be used for research studies to better understand the disease’s impact on the military population and to explore prevention and treatment strategies.

“All available data shows arthritis is a pervasive problem which affects civilians and U.S. service members at unacceptable levels,” said Steve Smith, the briefing moderator and retired U.S. Navy Commander who is an advocate for the Arthritis Foundation. “I have seen the effects of arthritis on our men and women in uniform firsthand, and I can tell you that Congressional action on this issue is long overdue.”

Arthritis is a leading cause of disability among U.S. military veterans and the second leading cause of medical discharge from the U.S. Army. One in three veterans is diagnosed with arthritis, compared to one in four members of the general U.S. population. Yet despite the disease’s disproportionate impact, there is no dedicated funding for arthritis research at the DoD.

Dr. Colin Edgerton, a former Army physician, practicing rheumatologist and chair of the ACR’s Committee on Rheumatologic Care, elaborated on some of the difficulties in treating service members suffering from arthritis. “This goes well beyond a simple occupational hazard. It can be a challenge convincing service member that they need to modify their activities to allow joint tissue to heal. When you combine a lack of healing time with the physical demands of the job, it can greatly increase the risk of arthritis.”

Panelists noted that the funding necessary to establish an arthritis-specific CDMRP already exists as a part of the DoD’s Peer Reviewed Medical Research Program. However, arthritis topics must currently compete for funding with more than 30 other medical topics authorized in the program, so funding is not guaranteed. This arrangement also limits the long-term availability of research funding, making it difficult for researchers to pursue multi-year studies that require sustained investment.

For many service members, the suffering doesn’t stop after leaving the military. Bill Goulet, a retired U.S. Navy veteran and Arthritis Foundation Advocate, spoke on the difficulties of living with osteoarthritis since he was 21 years old. “I have lived with this disease for well over 40 years. This wasn’t just something that affected my health. It affected my job, my confidence, and my ability to perform basic tasks. Unfortunately, as a veteran, I know my situation is not uncommon.”

“If the purpose of the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program is to improve the health and wellbeing of military service members and veterans through medical investigation, then arthritis should be at the top of the list of priorities,” concluded Dr. Edgerton. “It’s critical that we have substantive research and concrete solutions to improve and expand access to arthritis care. Creating a $20 million research program within the CDMRP will benefit military personnel, veterans, and tens of millions of Americans who live with arthritis and other rheumatic diseases.”

Jocelyn Givens
jgivens@rheumatology.org
404-929-4810

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About the American College of Rheumatology
The American College of Rheumatology (ACR) is the nation's leading advocacy organization for the rheumatology care community, representing more than 7,700 U.S. rheumatologists and rheumatology health professionals who are committed to improving healthcare for Americans living with rheumatic diseases.

About the Arthritis Foundation
The Arthritis Foundation is the Champion of Yes. Leading the fight for the arthritis community, the Foundation helps conquer everyday battles through life-changing information and resources, access to optimal care, advancements in science and community connections. The Arthritis Foundation’s goal is to chart a winning course, guiding families in developing personalized plans for living a full life – and making each day another stride toward a cure. The Foundation also publishes Arthritis Today, the award-winning magazine that reaches 4 million readers.

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