We all know that obesity can be severely damaging to the entire body. Being obese can lead to both a greatly reduced lifespan, as well as a reduction in the quality of life for the sufferer. Obesity increases the chances that you will suffer from sleep apnea, arthritis, type 2 diabetes mellitus, cardiovascular disease, and even some cancers. Obesity leads to back pain, knee and leg problems, and can reduce your lifespan by 6 to 10 years!
The VA does not consider obesity a condition for which service connection can be granted. The VA contends that obesity is “only a condition, and at most, a symptom.” See this case for an example. In addition to stating the above, the VA says that this particular veteran’s obesity is not “a manifestation of an underlying pathological process.” This seems to imply that if obesity is an underlying pathological process, or symptom of another compensable disability, then the resulting problems caused by obesity are compensable. In other words, if a disease or pathological process that is service connected causes obesity, then the resulting symptoms (diabetes, cardiovascular problems) should be compensable. This sort of puts obesity in the position of a “middle man,” while the obesity is not a service connected disability.
Let’s look at an example: You are service connected for PTSD, depression, as well as a lumbar spine problem. However, you also have cardiovascular disease, sleep apnea, and diabetes, and the VA keeps refusing to service connect them. One option would be to connect PTSD directly to the cardiovascular disease, as PTSD has been linked to heart disease. However, your diabetes and sleep apnea remain non-service-connected. If you can find a way to link your depression and back pain with your obesity, then you can link your apnea, heart disease, and diabetes.
Sure, everyone knows eating too much unhealthy food, coupled with a lack of exercise, can cause obesity, but there are several problems frequently caused in vets that have been shown to either cause obesity, or to increase the chances of becoming obese. The VA sometimes seems to think that all obesity is caused by cheeseburgers and Netflix marathons, but science is beginning to show that it’s not such a simple matter.
So, let’s take a look at what science has to say about the underlying causes of obesity in my next post, where we’ll look at how musculoskeletal, neurological, and mental illness-and even chemical exposure-can lead to obesity and the problems that accompany it.