Chiropractic for Military Personnel

Christopher Duncan DC
March 2007

With the recent inadequacies found within the military healthcare system and Walter Reed Hospital, there have been many attempts to determine how far the lack of care for our soldiers goes. According to a 2006 report by the Veterans Administration, “42.7 percent of veterans who sought VA health care after returning from duty in the Middle East or Southwest Asia were diagnosed with a musculoskeletal condition…making it the most common diagnosis among the subject population.” This diagnosis is understandable when considering that these soldiers stand, march, and run around in combat zones wearing, at times, over 80 pounds of gear. That additional weight adds extreme stress and strain on the back and on the body over all.

The Department of Defense (DoD) has done research and determined the most cost effective and efficacious method of treating these conditions. Yet the DoD does not make it available to the soldiers deployed overseas, and stateside its use is limited if even possible to receive when they return home. This treatment is Chiropractic. Chiropractic care has been shown to be extremely effective in treatment of musculoskeletal conditions. As far back as 1986 research done by the DoD has shown the efficacy of chiropractic in regard to musculoskeletal conditions, the number one complaint of returning soldiers.

The research was so conclusive that in 2001 the National Defense Authorization Act replaced the demonstration program. According to the Tricare (the DoD health insurance company) website, “Chiropractic care became a permanent benefit for active duty at designated sites on October 1, 2001. The Chiropractic Care Program is currently available at 42 Military Treatment Facilities.” The website also lists a total of 236 treatment facilities. That means that there are 194 facilities where returning soldiers cannot receive this proven and cost effective treatment for their number one health care complaint.

Utah soldiers do not really have the option. Those preparing to mobilize, returning home, and those stationed here receive treatment at Hill Air Force Base Medical Facility. The closest authorized chiropractic facility for our fighting forces in Utah would be in Colorado over an 8 hour drive. These soldiers are not left without care, according to Tricare soldiers, family members, and non-active duty personnel, “…may seek chiropractic care in the local community at their own expense,” because, “Chiropractic care received outside of the designated locations is not covered under the Chiropractic Care Program.”

Due to the nature of their work and for force security many of our Special Forces troops can’t reveal their identity. One such is a veteran of the war in Afganistan. He is a Staff Sgt. and served in Afganistan from 2001 to 2002. The US Military does an excellent job of making sure that all their soldiers are in peak condition because a unit can only move as well as its slowest component. When asked about his training he said, “We train hard, and we’re in good shape.” However even these soldiers after all that training can get injured, especially when they are carrying their daily load of 150 pounds with ammo. When asked if he and others in his unit suffered any musculoskeletal injuries his response was, “oh yeah, but we don’t complain.” This soldier never received treatment for his back and knee injuries from the military. When he came home they were bad enough that he sought chiropractic care at ALIGN Rehab and Wellness Center, a local Provo based clinic. Because the military doesn’t cover chiropractic outside of the designated locations, he had to pay out of his own pocket.

Dr. Christopher Duncan, a chiropractor at ALIGN where this soldier was treated, comments on the injuries that are seen with these returning soldiers and the success that they have had with chiropractic treatment. “Most of the injuries that we see are overloading or repetitive stress injuries. These types of problems are the bread and butter of chiropractic. It’s what we do. We have seen a great success with the soldiers who come to us with these problems. In fact these soldiers are in such good shape beforehand that their recovery if not delayed is faster than normal. It really is a shame that Tricare doesn’t extend coverage to local chiropractors in the same manor that other insurance plans do. That way, if these soldiers don’t live near a designated military facility they could go to their local doctor, get the care that they need and still be covered for it.”

The US Military is the finest in the world, with soldiers well trained and well armed. Congress has already granted all active duty soldiers chiropractic coverage in their health care package. Here in Utah, overseas, and in 194 military stations with access to medical services, they just can’t use it.

UPDATE: Legislation Would Provide More Chiropractors at VA Centers Nationwide

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