Recent problems brought to the public's concern concerning the Department of Veterans Affairs have highlighted issues of health care for our nation's veterans and active duty service members. National Public Radio aired an exposureé noting a growing number of veterans have become addicted to prescription painkillers like OxyContin, Hydrocodone and Percocet. These medications are considered to be opiate narcotic painkillers and can be highly addictive. The medications are given to members of the military so frequently that some have covered the term “pill mill military.”
One of the reasons these medications are given to service members and veterans is because of lower back pain. It may be surprising to many that musculoskeletal conditions, like lower back pain, account for more medical evacuation from Iraq and Afghanistan than combat injuries. The Department of Defense notes that 20 percent of disabled veterans and 30 percent of hospitalizations from lower back pain. Lower back pain has become the largest disabling condition among active forces.
Col. Stephen P Cohen, MD discovered that only 13 percent of service members who had to leave their units because of lower back pain historically returned to regular field duty.
Another option that should be available to our military personnel suffering from lower back pain is the ability to see a chiropractor. Currently chiropractic care is not available on a wide scale basis for military members. The main insurance used by military members and their families called TRICARE does not cover chiropractic treatment. In addition, most Veterans Administration facilities do not have sufficient chiropractic care.
However, the Department of Defense conducted a trial study of chiropractic in the military. Research called the Chiropractic Care Study, in 2009, was very favorable in helping all branches of the military. The results shown incredibly high satisfaction rates among patients:
• 94 percent satisfaction in the Army
• 12 of 19 Air Force bases had 100 percent satisfaction rates
• TRICARE patient satisfaction surveys rated chiropractors at 88 percent, which was 10 percent “higher than the overall satisfaction with all providers” (78 percent).
• The Navy also reported satisfaction ratings at 90 percent or higher
The report stated that “chiropractors returned active duty service members to duty faster, and they would select a chiropractor as much or more than a Doctor of osteopathy or physical therapist.”
Some in the military incorrectly assume that because medical, osteopathic, or physical therapy is available that chiropractic care is not needed. However, this is definitely not the case. Most medical doctors, doctors of osteopathy, and physical therapists do not have the equivalent education, clinical training or comparable outputs to doctors of chiropractic in regards to back pain.
There may be concerns about how much chiropractic care will cost. However, it is estimated that the inclusion of chiropractic care in the military health services would result in a significant net savings of $ 25.8 million annually.
There have been laws passed by our Congress and presidential directives aimed at having full scale chiropractic care available for our military members. Unfortunately, these measures have not been fully instituted by the Department of Defense and the Veterans Administration. There are probably many reasons why but the current crisis does not allow for any further excuses.
If we want our military to be the best it can be it is imperative that we stop our current path of giving addictive painkillers to our service members and veterans. It is time to use a drug-free, nonsurgical alternative to lower back pain of conservative care given by doctors of chiropractic.