There was a time when yoga classes at a VA hospital would have seemed as out of place as poetry readings during boot camp.

Times have changed.

Nowadays, yoga is just one of several complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) practices that have caught on big at VA. Meditation and acupuncture are two more.

According to a 2011 survey, nearly nine of 10 VA facilities offered at least one CAM therapy.

While more CAM studies are needed, research on these practices has been picking up. The latest findings from several groups of VA researchers recently appeared online in the journal Medical Care, as part of a supplement sponsored by VA’s Office of Patient-Centered Care and Cultural Transformation.

The topics reported on are diverse: mindfulness-based stress reduction, chiropractic, vitamins and supplements, and more. What are Veterans doing in and outside of VA, and what are the impacts? The articles provide a window into these timely questions. Importantly, the research covers CAM across the entire spectrum of Veterans: men and women, young and old. Many Veterans are looking into how CAM can help them, whether it’s for arthritis and Alzheimer’s disease or PTSD and chronic pain.

Study probes OEF-OIF Veterans’ use of CAM
One study, led by a team at VA’s War-Related Illness and Injury Study Center at the Washington, D.C., VA Medical Center, pulled data from the larger National Health Study for a New Generation of U.S. Veterans. The results showed that about 15 percent of OEF-OIF Veterans had used at least one CAM treatment in the past year. The Veterans were asked only about their use of CAM for a specific health problem. The authors speculate that the figure would likely have been higher—probably around 30 or 40 percent—had the Veterans been asked about their use of CAM more generally for wellness and disease prevention.

Much of VA’s research on CAM is done by the Health Services Research and Development (HSR&D) division of the Office of Research and Development. In particular, HSR&D has used its Evidence-Based Synthesis Program (ESP) to compile “evidence maps” on different CAM treatments. These maps provide an overview of the evidence that exists to date, and point to what types of further studies are needed. Recent ESP reports on CAM cover mindfulness, tai chi, yoga, and acupuncture. The findings help set the course for future research, and they help VA policymakers determine which therapies have a strong enough evidence base to be incorporated into Veterans’ care.

Joint effort with NIH
More research on CAM is now underway in VA, thanks in part to a recent joint effort involving  VA and the National Institutes of Health. The agencies are providing $21.7 million over five years for 13 new projects focused on non-drug approaches to treating PTSD, drug abuse, and sleep issues. Read about the new projects here.

All in all, it seems that CAM is indeed an idea whose time has come. And VA is playing an important role by conducting rigorous research to show what works and what doesn’t, and then applying those findings into Veterans’ care.

Mitch Mirkin ThumbnailMitch Mirkin, based in Baltimore, is a supervisory writer-editor with VA Research Communications. He has been with VA since 2000. Earlier in his career, he was managing editor of a community newspaper and publications manager for a large nonprofit healthcare facility, both in the Philadelphia area.










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Published on Dec. 5, 2014

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  1. Michael Nowell December 23, 2014 at 1:26 am

    Im glad to hear more about acupuncture. I’m 70% disabled and I’ve got major back problems. I’ve just started using acupuncture and it has taken alot of nerve pain away. I usually get an epidural each quarter but now I don’t need one. I’m not sure how long this will last but I know it works. I pay out of my own pocket for the accupputure and I hope I can get the vs to start paying for that service. It’s ten times cheaper than an epidural.

  2. Russ B December 18, 2014 at 12:53 am

    I had several pretty good TBIs while in the service, a pinched nerve in my lower back leading to bi-lateral sciatica, also service connected, I have titanium implants in my wrists from when I broke my arms, wrists and fingers… is the VA in a position where they will pay for a yoga instructor to help get me stretched out and feeling better again? I would be willing to do group sessions or one on one.

    I am also wondering if there are any differences in spouse benefits available for spouses of Veteran’s rated at 100% VS the 100% w/ Individual Unemployability.

    Thank you for your response,

    • Mitch Mirkin December 22, 2014 at 1:37 pm

      Russ, thanks for your service, and I appreciate your sharing your experience in this forum. To get the answers to your specific questions about care and about benefits, I suggest you contact your local VAMC.

  3. Virginia Dougherty December 17, 2014 at 6:51 pm

    “There was a time when yoga classes at a VA hospital would have seemed as out of place as poetry readings during boot camp.”

    Don’t knock poetry or creative writing. It ain’t all sunshine and ponies. Suggest you read the piece by Don Capps called Deus ex Machina. Writing can be gritty and real and part of CAM “artillery.”

    • Mitch Mirkin December 22, 2014 at 1:32 pm

      Point well-taken!

  4. Fernando Benito II December 17, 2014 at 1:30 pm

    Would their effort not be better utilized if they research first to how to improve the services needed to care and attend to the needs of our veterans. Things like improving scheduling and the way we treat them. Maybe a lesson in empathy from the Director of VA affairs down to the housekeepers. How to treat patients without the need of dispensing drug after drug to keep them subdued. I have visited friends in the VA and the care the received needs to be upgraded by this I mean the human factor, what is most regrettable is that the VA employs vets yet the entitlement of not having to be held accountable for the way they treat other needs to stop.

  5. patrick jahnke December 15, 2014 at 5:33 pm

    I just found out I have a tear in the knee, after I had to go somewhere else to get a MRI done 10 days after I told my nurse I still had pain!! She play doctor , she was not in due to a family problem, so I guess I live with more pain. Deal with it. The health care hit rock bottom in my book, they want get the veteran get thier first chk in done. Then make them wait 90 days or more to cc a specialist clinic and cc him again in 6 month after he has not done nothing care wise for the veteran. How can I make a complaint over thier heads ?? Without going thru the IG bs. Straight to the top! Fire up iowa city va plus thier clinic under them. Shape up get fired. It bad enough MRI made pain worse nerve pain flowing within body up and down the back legs , arms , keep me up until 4 am. I even ask 2nd to see a burn specialist, burn doctor. File 13, no va hospital have a burn specialist in the area, but I’m back to square one , in pain, no one cares in the va system can do it right the first time. Send me else were, pain clinic sorry can’t help u out, will then I’m within limits can’t get outside doctor.

  6. Danny December 12, 2014 at 12:56 pm

    Mr. Mirkin, I just wanted to let you know that I have signed up for acupuncture to help me quit smoking. Also, I will be taking tai chi classes when they start up again in January. Thank you for the great article! Without your writing, many of us would not have known these alternative classes were available to us. I would much rather try these remedies than take all the pills the VETERANS Administration is feeding us.

    • Mitch Mirkin December 22, 2014 at 1:31 pm

      Danny, thanks for your kind words and I am glad to hear this post gave you some useful information. Good luck!

  7. patrick jahnke December 8, 2014 at 6:17 pm

    Acupuncture did not help scar tissue area, I get pt once. a week they put on Big tens units it helps , about hr later I’m back, in same boat. I call it going take 45 days for an opening to cc this person . I seen one person head doc , told I cccc here no more if I can’t turn off the. Pain. I like to cc burn specialist that if vs approve it , thier no clinic in iowa city . will I cc NO HELP at iowa city, this my 3rd really 4th time , I’m getting. A run around for leg pain

    • Mitch Mirkin December 10, 2014 at 10:08 am

      Patrick, I have contacted the Iowa City VA and alerted them to the concerns you have expressed here.

  8. Jerry Hill December 8, 2014 at 5:23 pm

    I am a firm believer in acupuncture. At one time I could not stand for more than ten minutes or walk two blocks without sitting down. One accupuncture treatment on Friday afternoon allowed me to walk pain free Saturday in a one mile long parade.

    • Mitch Mirkin December 10, 2014 at 10:09 am

      Jerry, I am glad to hear of the success you have had with acupuncture.

  9. David Michaelson December 5, 2014 at 10:35 pm

    I used acupuncture to quit smoking in 1989 and have not had a cigarette since. I am a true believer in acupuncture and the positive effects it can bring.

    • Mitch Mirkin December 8, 2014 at 1:03 pm

      David, it’s great to hear a success story about acupuncture and smoking cessation. Keep up the good work!

      • Danny December 9, 2014 at 9:55 pm

        Mr. Mirkin, you are about the third person I have noticed playing advocate to the this a new program the VETERANS Administration is trying out? if so, I think it would be appropriate for some proper introductions. Hello, my name is Danny I am A 100% service connected disabled veteran with PTSD. From what you are saying, it is a pleasure to meet you. I sincerely hope your actions meet your words.I love my country, I love all of my brother and sister veterans, and other than secretary McDonald, I am NOT a big fan of the VETERANS Administration, although I am very happy with the care at my local Clinic. Also, I must say I despise our government, but would fulfill the oath I took almost 40 years ago and protect our duly elected president with my very life.

        • Mitch Mirkin December 10, 2014 at 10:16 am

          Danny, thanks for your service and patriotism. As a blogger, I am committed to following up to the best of my ability when readers express concerns or ask questions. Usually, this will involve asking someone at the person’s local VAMC, such as a patient advocate, to reach out and see what can be done, or simply making sure the Veteran has the right contact info for those who can address his or her concerns.

          • Danny December 10, 2014 at 9:37 pm

            Thanks for looking out for the vets and for trying to help!

  10. Sandy Brewer December 5, 2014 at 7:38 pm

    Tai Chi has been known to have significant benefits for many mental and physical problems, and the VA often advocates it. Along with Accupuncture and Tai Chi, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has now found that QiGong has many benefits not avialible with Tai Chi, and it’s easy to learn. It combines stretching and balance with breathing exercises. The wife of a local VA Patient is a Tai Chi and Qigong instructor, and was considered an accupuncturist as well in China, though she did not transfer her certification to the US. She has developped a program combining Tai Chi and Qigong for people with Parkinsons, and written some findings. One of these people I know has made significant progress in being able to retain and maintain balance. Harvard Medical School and the NIH also have articles on the application of these arts. I have become an instructor in Yang Style Tai Chi and some QiGong routines, and know their worth.
    Now, if we could just convince the VA to at Naturopathy to their arsenal of treatment, we would be well on the way to having the ideal combination of all types of care.

    • Mitch Mirkin December 8, 2014 at 1:01 pm

      Sandy, I appreciate your sharing your thoughts on tai chi and qigong, and on naturopathic care. You might be interested to see a recent article we did on how some of these practices are in place, along with related research, at the Washington, DC, VAMC:

  11. Bill Homola December 5, 2014 at 5:52 pm

    I just found out after 14 years with the VA as my caregiver, they will not prescribe any opiates at all. Looking further into it, I found out that certain VA facilities were prescribing
    these medicines indescrimately. Now that leaves us veterans as senior citizens to endure
    pain. If I am in my late 70’s why would you denie me these meds ? Even if I were to take
    them as a responsible citizen and manage it properly as one should. If I did get addicted,
    whats the big deal. At this time in my life I’am making out ” My last will and testment.” and
    writing my own ” Obituary.” Don’t let me suffer in pain ????? I am not of this new generation of people who are irrisponsible. I look forward to your response.


    • Mitch Mirkin December 8, 2014 at 1:07 pm

      Bill, I found your comments very poignant, and I am sorry to hear about the pain you are dealing with. If you’d care to share which VAMC you’re with, I will contact them and request that someone reach out to you to help address this issue.

  12. patrick jahnke December 5, 2014 at 5:16 pm

    Pls note I have try acupuncture know tens unit at PT it not helping with scar tissue damage s. It looks like I need a doc cut ankle off. No one care in va system . I’ve try many meds too antidepressant other, due to head injury 1997 med make me worses. Narcotics was only one help. Burn nerve pain,

    • Mitch Mirkin December 8, 2014 at 12:56 pm

      Patrick, I am sorry to hear about the problems you have been having with your ankle. If you’d care to share which VAMC you’re located near, I will reach out to someone there and ask them to contact you.

  13. Sean Cannon December 5, 2014 at 4:06 pm

    the VA CBOC Yuma Arizona stopped prescribing me pain medication, with no replacement. I understand that the hydro codeine and methadone is a strong pain reliever but I have been taking this for 8 years now… I now have to pay for a pain specialist locally out of my own pocket for service connected disability pain. please help me with this situation or find some kind of a substitution to control this pain thank you.

    • patrick jahnke December 6, 2014 at 12:36 am

      Hey thier going try give u antidepressants were u have take 10 pills with some nasty side effect s, also don’t try go to a er nearby, sorry they stop too. They did it to me in march, I have burn scar tissue feel like 1000 needles poking out . after they gave. A pill fight right knee pain, read the side effect before they even give u and other meds, death is on of them in some meds, doc do not look into records no more just highlife.

    • Mike Jarrett December 8, 2014 at 5:15 am

      Dear Sean, You didn’t say why VA won’t prescribe you any more pain meds. If you cannot comunicate with your doctor any more you should contact the patient advocates office in the VAMC yougo to and explain the problem to them. They have always done good for me when I needed help with a matter. I hope you get the help you need. Have a happy holiday’s.

    • Mitch Mirkin December 8, 2014 at 12:53 pm

      Sean, this sounds like a difficult situation. I am contacting your local VA to request that someone reach out to you to help you find a solution.

Comments are closed.

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