Alternative Medicine and the Military

Alternative medicine blog photoI recently read an article in the June/July 2009 issue of Ode Magazine titled “The U. S. Military’s New Medical Frontline.” What is this “new” medical view? Apparently, it is alternative medicine. Yoga, acupuncture, and meditation are all part of the fold. I commend author Carmel Wroth for writing about this intriguing and overlooked subject, although I would hasten to say that I don’t believe it is necessarily a novel idea for the military.

Alternative medicine is now being touted as some sort of new treatment for the U.S. Armed Forces. The aforementioned article states that a new research program funded by the Department of Defense is slated “to find new tactics for combating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), other stress-related conditions, and traumatic brain injury.” Accordingly, the “Defense Centers of Excellence [DCoE] for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury launched the initiative, spending nearly $5 million last year – more than 10 percent of its research budget – investigating alternative and complementary medical techniques.” This initiative, called the Real Warriors Campaign, was established to address the stigma associated with PSTD and depression by supporting service members and their families in getting help to deal with psychological and TBI issues.

It is well known that due to the OIF and OEF conflicts, more and more of our soldiers returning home are suffering from PTSD and TBI. Estimates from DoD show that about 43,000 service members have been diagnosed with PSTD and 36,000 with TBI. Yet, it is also known that many service members experiencing psychological problems have not been diagnosed at all. According to the RAND Corporation’s recent study titled “Invisible Wounds of War: Psychological and Cognitive Injuries, Their Consequences, and Services to Assist Recovery,” 57 percent had not been evaluated by a doctor for TBI. The study also states that about 1 out of 5 service members suffer from PSTD and 19 percent suffer from TBI.

What is surely recognized is that there is still an insurmountable gap in the psychological care that our soldiers are receiving. And, of those of our soldiers and wounded warriors suffering from these invisible wounds of war, receiving care often means heavily prescribed and numerous medications, perhaps while they also receive psychological therapy and care. But taking prescriptions and occasionally speaking with a therapist may not be the only answer for many soldiers and wounded veterans. It is about time that the military and the DoD examined alternative medicine as a definite possibility.

The truth of the matter is that many of our military hospitals, including the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, have been using acupuncture and yoga for a few years now. In fact, yoga nidra, an integrative restoration and extreme relaxation treatment, is being offered at the VA Center in Washington, DC. While many of these alternatives may not be extensively available to military service members and their families, another central issue with alternative and complementary medicine is similar to that of our civilian counterparts: many of us still think it is all hocus pocus. The military is no exception. Getting wounded soldiers and their families to partake in yoga nidra, meditation and acupuncture can be a daunting task.

As a wounded warrior who had PSTD and TBI, my husband has been receiving acupuncture by a very nice practitioner (I shall call her Sue), who has donated her services for nearly three years now. My husband was on over 20 medications, and now takes only one regularly, depending on his pain level, along with aspirin and Tylenol. And, I go to Sue for monthly acupuncture sessions because it relieves pain and stress, and combats insomnia, a problem I had after my husband returned from OIF and could not sleep through the night. Sure, Ambien worked like a charm, but I became dependent on it, even though I was only taking it two to three times per week.

So, as I have used acupuncture and practiced yoga for some time, I say to those doubters and naysayers of alternative and complementary treatment: don’t knock it unless you have tried it.

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