Air Force Veteran Encourages Military Vets With Arthritis to Seek Support

Meet Donna Olsen, facilitator of the Arthritis Foundation’s Military and Veterans Virtual Connect Group.

Donna Olsen devoted 14 years of her life to military service, with four years of active duty in the Air Force and 10 years combined in the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve. She served her active duty at Offutt Air Force Base near Omaha, Nebraska, and she served her Air Force Reserve time at Bergstrom Air Force Base and Kelly Air Force Base in Texas.

Like many people who serve in the military, Donna has arthritis. Military members have higher rates of osteoarthritis than the general public, largely due to a type of arthritis called post traumatic osteoarthritis (PTOA).

She started feeling pain in her lower back while on active duty, which was initially diagnosed as a strain. Donna’s back problems continued throughout her miliary career. She was diagnosed with osteoarthritis in her low back in 2008 when she applied for disability through the VA. The arthritis now affects all of Donna’s joints and her neck. Donna also is diagnosed with fibromyalgia.


Finding Connection

When Donna attended an Arthritis Foundation Connect Group for the first time, she was cautiously hopeful. Living with osteoarthritis and fibromyalgia, Donna is accustomed to being in pain. She hoped to get tips for managing her pain and coping with the ways it impacts her daily life.

“When I joined a Connect Group, I wanted a safe space where I could learn from other people who battle arthritis and get information from leading experts in the country,” says Donna. “I ended up getting so much out of it, I decided to volunteer as a co-facilitator of the Foundation’s Virtual Connect Group for military and veteran service members.”


Supporting Fellow Vets With Arthritis

Donna began volunteering with the Arthritis Foundation 2020 as a co-facilitator for the Grand Forks, ND Connect Group. That group is now the state-wide Red River Connect Group and Donna remains a co-facilitator. She also is involved with the Foundation’s Advocacy Committee in North Dakota.

Donna began facilitating the Military and Veterans Virtual Connect Group in January 2022 and encourages other vets to join.

“Having the opportunity to connect with other military and veterans can bring a sense of connection and camaraderie that others may not understand. I believe that the group provides a unique opportunity to learn and grow through group members, and from the vetted subject matter experts who join our meetings. They give valuable information to help us live better and more enjoyable, fulfilled lives,” says Donna.

Find information, tips and resources for military and veteran service members battling arthritis at

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