What Veterans Can Do About Chronic Pain
By Elizabeth Crain
Veterans living from chronic pain is an all-too-familiar story. In 2019, military veterans of nearly every age were more likely to experience chronic pain than nonveterans:
- 27.1% vs. 9.4% for ages 20–34
- 27.7% vs. 17.7% for ages 35–49
- 37.2% vs. 26.3% for ages 50–64
While unfortunate, if you’re a veteran experiencing chronic pain, there is some relief. In addition to the suggestions below, you can get help from veteran-friendly providers to help diagnose and treat your chronic pain. With the proper medical evidence and treatment plan, you can address your chronic pain head on and manage your symptoms.
Before we go any further, let’s cover the definition of chronic pain.
Veteran Chronic Pain Defined
Johns Hopkins Medicine defines chronic pain as “longstanding pain that persists beyond the usual recovery period.”
This pain may be “on-and-off” or continuous and may affect you to the point that you “can’t work, eat properly, take part in physical activity, or enjoy life.”
Just a few of the types of chronic pain that veterans may experience are:
- Neck, back, and/or joint pain
- Scar tissue pain
- Muscle/myofascial pain (like fibromyalgia)
- Neurogenic (nerve) pain
The VA considers chronic pain to qualify for disability (you may qualify for VA disability benefits for Chronic Pain) if all three of these conditions are met:
1. It is a medically diagnosed condition.
2. It is the result of an in-service event, injury, or illness.
3. The veteran is in possession of a medical Nexus Letter, which connects the condition to military service.
When you’re ready to move forward with the process of getting VA disability benefits, it’s important to seek out a diagnosis and/or a Nexus Letter to provide as medical evidence and bolster your claim.
6 Suggestions for Managing Veteran Chronic Pain
You’re not forced to let chronic pain manage your life. These tips can help you manage your pain, so it doesn’t manage you.
Goal setting can help you be productive and progress toward something you want—like taking a hike with your dog. One step at a time, you’ll get closer to achieving your goal, keeping your mind motivated and engaged while you’re at it.
2. Relaxation Techniques
Since pain instinctively puts and keeps the body and mind in fight or flight mode, veterans with chronic pain suffer physically and mentally from all the ongoing stress. To combat this stress and allow the body/mind to relax, learn and practice the following techniques:
- Progressive muscle relaxation
- Diaphragmatic breathing
- Meditation/guided imagery
- Yoga/tai chi/qigong
3. Cognitive Behavior and Acceptance and Commitment Therapies
Patients of CBT and ACT work to change their mindset from “Why me?” to “What now?” This can be a very empowering paradigm shift. These therapies help you, as a veteran, move past the guilt and depression chronic pain can cause so you can feel more in control of your present and future life.
4. Slow and Steady Activity
Keeping your body immobile seems like a good idea to reduce pain, but the opposite can sometimes be the best choice. Getting up and moving gets the blood flowing and keeps the muscles strong.
Just be careful to not push yourself too hard. Even if your body feels like it’s good to keep going, you may suffer for it in the following days. Take it slow and steady—your body will thank you. As always, check with your primary care physician before starting any exercise regime, especially if you are living with an ongoing condition.
4. Healthy Diet
While it’s not always easiest to reach for healthy options, healthy diet and lifestyle changes can have a profound impact on overall health and even mental wellbeing. Eating an anti-inflammatory, colorful diet will go a long way toward fighting painful flare-ups.
4. Make the Most of the Good Times
When your body feels relatively good, be sure to take advantage of it by spending quality time with those you care about the most. It can be helpful to keep a symptoms log so you can track which activities or situations improve your pain and which activities or situations tend to worsen your symptoms. That way you can focus on more of the good things that help improve your condition and be mindful of the things and activities that have a tendency to set you back.
Telemedica is Here to Help
If you’re a veteran with chronic pain, you may be able to receive VA disability benefits. Telemedica can help you take the first step. We help veterans get proper medical evidence for their condition so they can file a stronger claim.
Contact us today through email, phone, or live chat and get the support you deserve.