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As a rheumatologist, I fight America's leading cause of disability: arthritis.

As the nation's most prevalent chronic condition, arthritis and other rheumatic diseases affect one in four Americans.

Sadly, the number of American veterans with the disease is closer to one in three and it is second only to battle wounds as the basis for medical discharge from the U.S. Army.

When an active service member is dismissed due to arthritis, the cost of medical care falls on the Department of Defense for the duration of their life.

The Department of Defense's Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program is designed to fund medical research for American service members, yet while research budgets for ovarian cancer and tick-borne disease exist through the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program, there is no dedicated research budget for arthritis.

Depending on the age of the service member at the time of dismissal, the cost to the Department of Defense for individual care can amount to nearly $1 million -- and U.S. taxpayers bear the cost.

Such a significant issue deserves a response from Washington.

An arthritis research program should be established at the Department of Defense to accelerate arthritis prevention strategies and treatment breakthroughs for the many servicemen and women whose bodies suffer from their selfless service. Congress can establish this program by dedicating funds that exist within the CDMRP to arthritis.

It is unacceptable that there is no defense program focused on prevention and treatment for arthritis. Setting up this program is a modest ask with a huge return for everyone.

Congress must support the heroes who so bravely serve our country.

Larry Dobbe, Stoddard