Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S. and one of the leading causes of hospitalization and disability in the VA. It also is associated with other comorbid conditions that impact veterans, such as diabetes mellitus (DM), spinal cord injuries, and posttraumatic stress disorder. Most heart attacks are due to smoking, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity, DM, diet, lack of exercise, high alcohol use, and stress. Many of these risk factors trend higher for veterans. Some veterans also are at higher risk due to exposure to hazardous materials. For example, veterans with ischemic heart disease who were exposed to Agent Orange or other herbicides during military service do not have to prove a service connection.
Currently the VA Office of Research and Development is sponsoring more than 70 clinical trials covering cardiovascular disease, ranging from using veteran peer coaches who promote cardiac health to robotic training for stroke neurorehabilitation.