86536010A nationwide call to action has so far resulted in 1,925 letters sent to Congress in support of H.R. 4887, the Expanding Care for Veterans Act, which would broaden the delivery of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) to U.S. veterans. 

The Integrative Policy Healthcare Consortium (IHPC) is encouraging massage therapists and other CAM providers to contact their representatives to voice their support of the bill. The IHPC advocates for a U.S. health care system that combines allopathic, Western medicine with complementary therapies.

Massage therapy can have a profound effect on veterans, said Marc Silverstein, executive director of Tender Touch For All, a nonprofit that provides massage therapy to veterans via trained therapists, primarily in the New York Metropolitan Area.

“A lot of our veterans who return home from war are suffering from depression, stress and anxiety,” Silverstein said. “They might be isolated from friends and family members and still feel the effects of combat—and human touch is helpful for them.”

U.S. Rep. Julia Brownley, D-Calif., introduced the bill, which would direct the Secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA) to “develop a plan to expand the scope of the VA’s research and education on, and delivery and integration of [CAM],” according to the bill text on file with the U.S. Library of Congress.

IHPC at-large board member Denise Graham told MASSAGE Magazine CAM could help reduce veterans’ dependence on opiates, which military personnel increasingly use for pain relief. 

“The IHPC is keenly aware of the growing dependence on opiates in America and within the ranks of our military personnel … we have become a pharmaceutical society whose dependence on opiates is costing our government billions of dollars and costing individuals their health,” she said.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s 2013 report, Substance Abuse in the Military, “[A]buse of prescription drugs is higher among service members than among civilians and is on the increase.” Most of the drugs misused by service members are pain-relieving opiates—which include oxycodone, Vicodin and Darvon—and, the report noted, “in 2008, 11 percent of service members reported misusing prescription drugs, up from 2 percent in 2002 and 4 percent in 2005.” 

According to a press release issued by the office of Rep. Brownley, the Expanding Care for Veterans Act would:

  • Expand research and education on, and delivery of, CAM to veterans
  • Establish a program on integration of CAM within Department of Veterans Affairs medical centers
  • Study the barriers encountered by veterans in receiving, and administrators and clinicians in providing, CAM services furnished by the Department of Veterans Affairs
  • Establish a program on the use of wellness programs as a complementary approach to mental health care for veterans and family members of veterans

“I believe we need to evaluate what works, and when it does, find a way to provide those therapies to our veterans who are in need, which is what my bill would do,” Brownley said. Many organizations are achieving positive results using CAM for veterans, she added.

Along with Tender Touch For All, another of those organizations is There & Back Again, a Washington, D.C.-area nonprofit that offers breath work, yoga, massage therapy, acupuncture, reflexology, aromatherapy, chiropractic, nutritional counseling, Chinese medicine, reiki and other types of CAM to combat veterans on military bases, via a practitioner network.

“It appears that CAM therapies help to reset the body’s fight-or-flight response, which gets stuck in overdrive when someone is under chronic stress,” founder Susan Lynch, J.D., E.-R.Y.T., said.

“I have seen veterans who have had chronic insomnia fall asleep within five minutes of an acupuncture session, and veterans with chronic pain that stand up after an acupuncture session with tears in their eyes because they are not in pain anymore,” she said. “That’s powerful stuff.”

Karen Menehan is MASSAGE Magazine’s editor in chief.

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