Arthritis Research at the Department of Defense
When my family recently attended the 2014 Arthritis Foundation Advocacy Summit, we visited the offices of our Members of Congress to ask for their support on three specific issues. First, we asked them to support H.R. 460: The Patient’s Access to Treatment Act. If passed, this legislation would make important biologic medications more accessible and affordable for those of us living with RA and other diseases. Second, we asked our Members of Congress to support H.R. 1827: The Pediatric Subspecialty and Mental Health Workforce Reauthorization Act of 2013. If passed, this legislation would encourage doctors to specialized in pediatric rheumatology, helping to fill the major gap in care for the 300,000 children growing up with arthritis in the United States.
Our third request was to ask our Members of Congress to keep the topics of post-traumatic osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis on the list of diseases that can potentially receive research funding from the Department of Defense. Now I will be the first to admit that this request initially did not make a whole lot of sense to me. Why would the Department of Defense care about arthritis research?
As it turns out, arthritis has a major impact on our nation’s war fighters, our veterans, and their families. According to the 2012 Journal of the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, osteoarthritis – the most common type of arthritis – is actually the leading cause of disability and medical discharge in active service members under the age of 40. And post-traumatic osteoarthritis caused by battlefield injuries is now the primary source of disability for our warriors. In fact, it turns out that active duty soldiers and veterans have twice the rate of osteoarthritis when compared to non-military populations.
Our veterans and their families are also impacted by rheumatoid arthritis. RA tends to strike military personnel at the peak of their careers (in their mid to late forties, though many of us know from experience that it can strike much sooner than that!) Unfortunately for the brave Americans willing to give up so much for our country, a diagnosis of RA automatically initiates a Medical Evaluation Board hearing and often results in a medical discharge from services. According to Army statistics, the number of soldiers medically retired from the Army with at least one musculoskeletal condition increased nearly 10-fold from 2003 to 2009.
So in an effort to address the broad spectrum of diseases that affect our nation’s war fighters, our veterans, and their families, Congress created the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program (CDMRP) at the Department of Defense. Established with bipartisan support, meaning the support of both Republicans and Democrats, the CDMRP was developed to specifically fund innovative research that would have near term treatment applications. This program awards grants to only the best research, and requires collaboration to avoid information silos. And, every year, Congress determines which disease topics are eligible to apply for these research grants in the Defense Appropriations Act. But if Congress does not specifically list post-traumatic osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, they will not be eligible for these research dollars.
Here’s How You Can Help!
We owe it to our soldiers, our veterans, and their families to make sure they get the care they need if they are suffering from arthritis. Not to mention that any arthritis research conducted is valuable for all of us living with forms of arthritis. So if you want to help, call, write, or visit your Members of Congress and ask them to make sure that rheumatoid arthritis and post-traumatic osteoarthritis remain on the list of diseases that can receive Department of Defense research dollars.
If you aren’t sure who your members of Congress are:
- Visit Senate.gov to find your two Senators by looking up the state you live in
- Visit House.gov and input your ZIP code to find the Representative for the district you live in.
Your representatives should care about what you have to say – after all you are responsible for electing them! And they should especially care about your concerns this year because it is an election year! So tell them what is important to you! And if you find out that your representative already supports having rheumatoid arthritis and post-traumatic osteoarthritis remain on the list, be sure to thank them!