It is well documented that 100 million Americans suffer from chronic pain. An important subset of this population is our military and our veterans. It is estimate almost 60 percent of returning veterans from the Middle East and more than 50 percent of older veterans in the VA health care system live with some form of chronic pain.
As Brian Nimmo, the director of the Huntington, West Virginia VA Medical Center wrote “a veteran’s pain is often more complex. Many of our veterans have survived severe battlefield injuries, some repeated, resulting in life-long moderate to severe pain related to damage to their musculoskeletal system and permanent nerve damage, which can not only impact their physical abilities but also impact their emotional health and brain structures.
Georgia chiropractor Robert Hayden also pointed in a recent interview out another reason for the pain, the heavy packs the soldiers are forced to carry and being bounced around in trucks and jeeps puts abnormal stress on one’s back and muscles.
Former Army corporal Keith Parker returned from tours in Bosnia and Iraq suffering from chronic back pain and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). He criticized the VA experience saying that too often it doesn’t appear that doctors talk to each other about the level of care he received. His relief from chronic back pain came only after he sought help outside the VA system.
A lot of the criticism of the VA recently has been aimed at how it treats pain, with a focus on prescribing practices, particularly pain medication.
The Minneapolis Star Tribune just finished a series on the VA which was critical of the agency. In an editorial, the paper wrote:
“The series’ findings suggest that the VA system swung too suddenly in the other direction after the national spotlight on overprescribing. Veterans with a legitimate need for powerful pain medications aren’t getting them or are facing unacceptable delays in getting refills. The VA also appears to have been ill-prepared to help veterans access alternative therapies — such as acupuncture — during pain medication tapering.”
The paper points out that the VA has not lived up to its own standards.
Minnesota U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, a veteran, rightly points out that the Veterans Health Administration has failed to fully implement a best-practices medical treatment blueprint — the Stepped Care Model of Pain Management — that was established by a system wide “Pain Directive” in 2009. Walz authored the 2008 legislation that led to the pain directive’s creation.
Nimmo pointed out in his op-ed, Here at Huntington, we are offering complementary and alternative therapies, including acupuncture, animal-assisted therapy and art therapy.
Chiropractic services are available through the Veteran’s Choice program. We have an interdisciplinary pain team working with providers to find alternative treatments that will help reduce a veteran’s long-term dependence on opioids.
Dr. Hayden thinks this is a good sign and the VA system should adopt more complementary and alternative therapies.
“Going after the source of pain,” he said. “We owe it the people who serve us.”
As we’ve talked with veterans frustrated with the level of pain care provided by the VA, it is up to Representative Walz to capture the essence of what the VA needs to do. He told the Star Tribune.
“There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to this problem. But I … have advocated for a stepped care model to get those most in need assigned to a pain-management specialist that would work with them to create individualized plans to reduce pain, reduce prescriptions appropriately and improve quality of life.”
Editor’s Note: Are you a veteran who has used the VA to address your chronic pain? What were the experiences like? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll use some comments in a future news story.
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