US Army Embraces Alternative Therapies
by Guy McCardle
October 13, 2011
Thus far in the War on Terror the US has suffered over 41,000 wounded troops. This does not include those killed in action. The majority of the wounded are living with some degree of chronic pain. Pain management has quickly overwhelmed the military medical management system even though the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) operate the largest health care organizations in the United States. Thousands of soldiers have become addicted to prescription pain killers, sometimes with disastrous results. This is a problem that must be dealt with. What has the US Army chosen to help our wounded warriors? Alternative medicine.
In the interest of full disclosure I should tell you that up until a couple years ago I was a Captain in the Army Medical Department. My service was cut short due to a medical problem incurred on active duty and I'm one of the many thousands seeking treatment for chronic pain. I know the system from the inside out. Nothing I am writing today comes out of any special inside knowledge. I continue to love our troops and would do anything in my power to help them.
Back in 2009, the Army spearheaded an investigation into better ways to control pain in wounded soldiers. The result of this multi-disciplinary pain management task force (PMTF) was a report outlining 109 recommendations on how the Army can move away from merely dispensing pain medication to embracing a holistic, multidisciplinary approach to caring for soldiers.
What follows is the unaltered Army PMTF definition of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM):
"The terms complementary medicine and alternative medicine are often used interchangeably, but they do in fact differ from each other. Complementary medicine is used together with conventional medicine. An example of a complementary therapy is using aromatherapy (the scent of essential oils from flowers, herbs or trees) to help lessen a patient's discomfort following surgery. Alternative medicine is used in place of conventional medicine. An example of an alternative therapy is using a special diet to treat cancer instead of undergoing surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy that has been recommended by a conventional doctor."A major recommendation of the PMTF was the implementation of what the Army calls interdisciplinary pain management centers. These centers consist of physicians and specialists in a variety of areas including acupuncturists, a clinical pharmacist, a movement therapist who specializes in areas such as yoga or tai chi, a chiropractor, a medical massage therapist, physical and occupational therapists and a neurologist. Some centers will have other specialties. Below you can see what "therapies" remained for one center after others were removed for consideration.
Four interdisciplinary pain management centers will open this year on a trial basis. Healthcare worker productivity and patient outcomes will be measured and the data will be analyzed to see if more such units are warranted. If evidence shows that this approach works, the argument can be made for more of these teams to be placed everywhere across the Army.
I should stop here for a second to interject the fact that the Army isn't going to stop giving soldiers pain medication. Trust me, literal truckloads of opiates are being shipped out to VA hospitals and military medical centers as you read this. I mostly believe the brass when they say they are merely seeking to look at other methods of pain management. This whole topic is really a test of my skepticism. I honestly want soldiers to achieve some level of pain relief even if it only through the placebo effect. The pain never really goes completely away, it is just deadened for a time. The scientist in me cringes to see any money that could be spent on real medical pain control research thrown at woo.
My bottom line is this: our wounded warriors are in real pain and deserve to be treated with real medicine. My sincere hope is that they find true relief no matter what modality of treatment that they try.
by Guy McCardle
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