Close to 25 percent of VA Patients Have Diabetes

Diabetes — Know the Risks

November is American Diabetes Month, a nationwide campaign to encourage all Americans to know their risk for diabetes, and to take action steps to decrease their risk of developing diabetes. Key risk factors include:

  • Family history of diabetes (First degree relative, such as parents or siblings)
  • Member of a high-risk racial/ethnic group (African American, Hispanic American, Native American, Asian American, and Pacific Islander)
  • Pre-diabetes (high fasting blood glucose — ask your doctor)
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Low “good cholesterol” (HDL) and high triglycerides
  • Presence of heart or other vascular disease
  • Overweight or Obesity
  • Abdominal obesity
  • Women with polycystic ovarian syndrome
  • History of gestational diabetes mellitus
  • History of delivering babies weighing more than nine pounds
  • Very low physical activity

Fortunately, a person’s risk for diabetes can be markedly reduced by exercise and weight loss, as demonstrated by the Diabetes Prevention Program, a landmark study published in 2002.

American Diabetes Month — Time to Take Action

Nearly one in four Veterans receiving care from VA has diabetes. This is partly attributable to the older average age of Veterans compared to the general US population. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that nearly 26 million people, or about 8 percent of the US population, have diabetes. That includes about 11 million persons 65 and older, or about 27 percent of seniors. In the United States, about one-in-four persons with diabetes are not aware that they have the condition. While exact numbers are not available, it is likely that the number is lower for Veterans receiving regular VA primary care. However, many Veterans of all ages are at risk for diabetes because of the high rate of obesity and those who are overweight, estimated at over 70 percent of Veterans receiving VA care.

“About one-in-four persons with diabetes are not aware that they have the condition.”

Weight Loss and Physical Activity

An individual does not have to achieve drastic weight loss. Losing about five percent of one’s weight will help.

In recent studies, a weight loss and exercise program was more effective than medication in both younger and older individuals. The medication was not effective in persons older than 60.

The VA’s MOVE! Weight Management Program is available to all Veterans who are overweight or obese and for whom weight management is appropriate. It supports Veterans in developing plans that work for them to lose or maintain weight through balanced diet, physical activity, and behavior change approaches.

For the MOVE! program to be tailored to the individual’s needs, the Veteran can complete a 23 item questionnaire. More information is available at

MOVE! is available in multiple convenient formats including group sessions, telephone-based care, and a new home messaging program called TeleMOVE! which uses the telephone line, provides daily support, and is interfaced with a scale for weekly home weigh-ins. Talk with your Primary Care Team about MOVE!. Although the focus of American Diabetes Month is to identify individuals at higher risk for developing diabetes, it is important to remind persons who already have diabetes of the importance of weight loss and physical activity in managing diabetes.

Additionally, persons with diabetes or at risk for diabetes should manage other conditions, such as hypertension or high lipid levels, appropriately, and if they have diabetes, they should be screened at regular intervals for early signs of kidney, foot or eye conditions.

Diabetes and Agent Orange

Diabetes mellitus type 2 is one of the diseases VA presumes is associated with exposure to herbicides, such as Agent Orange. Veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange do not have to prove a connection between their type 2 diabetes mellitus and military service to be eligible for VA benefits. Healthy eating habits and exercise can help prevent this chronic disease.

Visit the Agent Orange homepage to learn more about Agent Orange and VA benefits.

The American Diabetes Association provides an online Diabetes Risk Test.

Other sources for important information include: