The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is increasing the complementary and integrative health care it provides to military veterans, driven in large part by demand.

The VA’s 2017 national study (which is currently under review) indicates that “84% of veterans were interested in learning about or trying them and 52% reported using them in the past year.”

This statement is according to a new study, “What Should Health Care Systems Consider When Implementing Complementary and Integrative Health: Lessons from Veterans Health Administration,” published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, Vol. 25, No. S1, in March. The study looked at challenges faced by many VA medical centers in implementing complementary and integrative health approaches, as well as how other VA medical centers have successfully implemented such care.

According to the study, several factors tend to determine the success of complementary and integrative health at VA locations, including providers having a positive attitude toward such health care, and program leads and practitioners exhibiting strength, professionalism and enthusiasm. Common challenges to implementation include insufficient space, and cultural and geographic environments.

This study is one component of a growing interest by the VA to provide for veterans’ health and to consider nonpharmaceutical options when addressing chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Whole Health

The VA had declared, in its 2018-2024 strategic plan, that it would promote “collaborative, high-performing and integrated delivery networks that enhance veteran well-being and independence.” That declaration is being borne out in the VA’s recently launched Whole Health Initiative. The initiative was created to address veterans’ physical, mental, emotional, spiritual and environmental needs.

The VA launched 18 Whole Health System programs in 2018. The program consists of three components: The Pathway, Well-being Programs and Whole Health Clinical Care.

According to va.gov: The Pathway is a peer-based program that helps veterans explore their mission, aspiration and purpose, “and begin their overarching personal health plan.” Well-being components are focused on self-care. Participants learn skill-building, may receive health coaching, and can partake of such approaches as mindfulness, yoga and tai chi. Whole Health Clinical Care features a whole-health approach that may include complementary and integrative health approaches, either in a VA facility or within the veteran’s community.

“VA facilities are shifting from a health care system focused primarily on treating disease to one rooted in forming continuous healing relationships and partnerships that support Veterans in achieving their greatest overall well-being,” reads a statement on va.gov.

In 2017, several federal agencies partnered to study pain management for military personnel and veterans; this is the study that is still in review. Data from the 2016 National Health Interview Survey shows that veterans experience a higher prevalence of pain and more severe pain than nonveterans.

Military Massage

A few organizations exist that provide training and opportunities for massage therapists to work with military veterans. These include:

Hands for Heroes

NCBTMB/Crouse Hospital

Clear Path for Veterans

About the Author:

Karen Menehan

Karen Menehan is MASSAGE Magazine’s editor in chief. She has edited and written for additional publications and organizations, including Imagine Magazine, the Sacramento Bee and Mid-County Post newspapers and LIVESTRONG Foundation.

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