Non-Combat Injuries Plague Veterans

Non-combat related physical issues are becoming more prevalent among returning veterans. According to Dr. Drew Helmer, the lead primary care physician at the DeBakey VA Medical Center in Houston for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, over half the returning veterans seen at his medical center have been diagnosed with severe pain in their backs, necks, and joints. The cause seems to be overuse or accidents.

Dr. Helmer believes this issue is approaching epidemic levels. A Johns Hopkins study of 34,000 military personnel found the top reasons for evacuation out of Iraq and Afghanistan are not combat injuries but:

  • Musculoskeletal disorders; and
  • Connective tissue disorders.

Post-traumatic stress and depression can make untreated disorders like the ones above harsher over time. The end result is an overall poor quality of life for the affected veteran and this is why it is so critical to diagnose and treat these problems as early as possible.

The study suggests the reason for the non-combat injuries are numerous tours of duty coupled with carrying more heavy equipment than has ever been required in the past. One very big problem is soldiers refusing to admit they have reached their limit.

It’s the soldier’s mindset: theirs is not to ask why, theirs is to do or die. Given the choice between existing with pain because of the load you carry or not existing because you weren’t adequately protected from IIEDs or enemy fire, every soldier will make the same choice.

Young soldiers in combat environments are very reluctant to admit they have physical or mental limitations. To expect them to leave their men for treatment, then, is not a realistic option. Therefore, their injuries are left untreated and they end up exasperating their ailments. Soldiers are stuck in a proverbial catch-22; they need the heavier equipment to protect their lives, but this same equipment is causing their non-combat injuries.

Learn more about non-combat pain plaguing returning veterans.