“If I can make one person feel better about themselves, I will consider this group a success.” —Steve Smith, Arthritis Foundation volunteer
Arthritis affects 1 in 3 veterans and military service members in the United States. If you’re among them, you can connect with other veterans with arthritis in a newly formed virtual support group. Veterans from across the country were invited to a virtual meet and greet on April 8 at 7:30 p.m. ET.
Service members and veterans of our armed forces are hit especially hard by the physical demands of military training and deployment, increasing the risk of osteoarthritis in service members. Not only is arthritis significantly more pervasive in the military (1 in 3) as compared to the general population (1 in 4), the cost to the U.S. economy and to individuals living with arthritis is staggering, affecting our military’s readiness, veteran quality of life and related medical expenses.
The virtual veterans Live Yes! Connect Group is led by Steve Smith, a committed Arthritis Foundation volunteer for decades with a long history of military experience. Recently, he was honored as the organization’s top national volunteer, receiving the Charles B. Harding Award for Distinguished Service. Besides sharing his own family’s experiences of living with juvenile arthritis (JA), Steve salutes the many military service members who have suffered from the effects of arthritis in different forms. Though based in the Washington, DC, area, veterans can join the group from anywhere.
“I have seen what the Arthritis Foundation has accomplished for my family over the past 25+ years,” Steve says. “They are part of our family. If I can share just a small portion of that with my fellow vets, to maybe make one person feel better about themselves, I will consider this group a success. I just want to help.”
Though Steve says he doesn’t think there are necessarily different challenges for veterans with arthritis, he believes they would rather be with other vets discussing personal issues. “Being a vet and understanding the lifestyles and the general way vets think might be helpful.”
Steve says he feels fortunate to have minimal effects from his osteoarthritis, which he doesn’t think about most of the time. “I am a JA dad, and I have seen what this disease does to families and especially to parents. I think I can bring that understanding to the table for our vets.”
What advice would he give to a veteran or military service member with arthritis that he wished he’d had when first diagnosed? “On active duty, you went to the doctor when you were so sick you thought you were dying. Many saw going to the doc as a sign of weakness or that you were a slacker. Most people are diagnosed by a GP, a corpsman/medic, their neighbor or a good friend, and figure you can take some Motrin and power through it. But see a rheumatologist!”
Steve encourages any service member who feels alone or confused, or just wants to talk with someone who understands, to join the virtual veterans Live Yes! Connect Group.
Because arthritis is so prevalent in the military, another veteran, in Los Angeles, has been designated military honoree for our Walk to Cure Arthritis event there. Farron Dozier, retired from the U.S. Army, says veterans like himself need to be honest with themselves.
“I realized I was suffering in silence,” Farron says. “We are trained to soldier through pain and not go to sick-call, however our body is aching or not healing. We have pride and ego as this tough fighting machine.”
“I now understand more of the mental pain that comes with arthritis,” he says. “There are days I am OK with experiencing certain levels of pain. Some days, I do have limitations and feel the pain in my body. If I knew quality of life was not just an activity, but also an experience, maybe I would be more hopeful.”
Farron encourages you to join Walk to Cure Arthritis this spring, to raise awareness and research funding. And Steve hopes you’ll join the virtual veterans Connect Group on April 8. This is our fight to win together!