Veterans are often at high risk for developing osteoporosis due to their lifestyles and health issues connected with military service. If you are a veteran with osteoporosis, you may be eligible for VA benefits if your condition is linked to your military service.
What Is Osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is a chronic disease that causes your bones to become weak, brittle, and prone to breaking. It occurs when your bone mass and bone mineral density decrease due to aging, hormonal changes, and other health conditions. Osteoporosis can affect anyone of any age, though it is more common among older adults and women.
What Are Risk Factors of Osteoporosis?
Certain factors can increase your risk of developing osteoporosis. Some of these risk factors are genetic and cannot be modified, while you can avoid others by changing certain lifestyle behaviors. Risk factors of osteoporosis include:
- Age. Your risk for osteoporosis increases as you get older.
- Gender. Females are more likely than males to develop osteoporosis.
- Race. Asians and non-Hispanic white people are at higher risk.
- Family history. You may be at higher risk if osteoporosis runs in your family.
- Having a smaller body frame. People with small body frames tend to have less bone mass as they age.
- Menopause. The decline in estrogen that occurs during menopause increases the risk of bone loss in women.
- Cancer treatments. Treatments for prostate cancer in men and breast cancer in women can increase the risk for osteoporosis.
- Excess thyroid hormone. Having an overactive thyroid or taking high amounts of thyroid medication for an underactive thyroid can increase your risk.
- Overactive parathyroid and adrenal glands.
- Calcium deficiency. Not getting enough calcium through nutritional supplementation or the foods you eat can increase your risk.
- Eating disorders. Being underweight or not eating enough food can weaken your bones to cause osteoporosis.
- Bariatric/weight-loss surgery. Surgeries such as gastric bypass and sleeve gastrectomy that involves rerouting the intestine and/or removing part of the stomach can lead to bone loss and osteoporosis.
- Certain medications. Corticosteroids and medications used to treat cancer, gastric reflux, and seizures may increase your risk for osteoporosis.
- Certain health conditions. Osteoporosis is more common in people with health conditions, including kidney or liver disease, cancer, celiac disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and inflammatory bowel disease.
- Lack of physical activity. Exercising regularly can strengthen bones and increase bone mass. Therefore, a sedentary lifestyle can increase the risk of osteoporosis.
- Alcohol use. Having at least two drinks a day may increase your risk.
- Smoking and using tobacco products.
What Is the Link Between Osteoporosis and Military Service?
There are countless ways military service can cause you to develop osteoporosis. For instance, trauma or a blow to the head can cause you to experience seizures. Certain anti-seizure medications can increase your risk for osteoporosis. If you suffered head trauma during combat and are taking anti-seizure medications, you can develop osteoporosis due to taking those medications.
Mental health disorders like depression, anxiety, and PTSD that you may develop during military service can increase the risk for osteoporosis, given how these conditions may be treated using anti-seizure medications and medications that cause bone loss.
Exposure to Agent Orange can cause cancer, increasing osteoporosis risk. Lack of access to calcium-rich foods while deployed can also lead to osteoporosis. Often, veterans with PTSD may self-medicate with excessive alcohol consumption, which is a risk factor for osteoporosis. In addition, many Gulf War veterans suffer from irritable bowel syndrome or IBS, which is also a risk factor for osteoporosis.
If you are a veteran with osteoporosis, work with your healthcare provider to identify the root cause of your condition. If you developed osteoporosis during military service or as a result of another health condition you developed during military service, you may be eligible to receive VA benefits.
Is Osteoporosis a VA Disability?
Osteoporosis is considered a disability under VA law, though you must establish a service connection and a level of impairment before receiving benefits.
To do this, you must fill out and submit VA Form 21-526EZ to VA using its online eBenefits platform, mail, or in person at a VA regional office. You must also gather documentation, including a current osteoporosis diagnosis, an in-service event that caused your osteoporosis, and a nexus letter from your healthcare provider explaining how your osteoporosis or medical condition is connected to your military service. The VA will review the nexus opinion with your other medical documents to determine whether you are eligible for benefits.