Since the Department of Veteran Affairs has recently been granted funds meant to further research into the effectiveness of alternative therapies for wounded Veterans, people are expressing a renewed interest in learning more about alternative therapy methods. While some people are reluctant to receive any treatment that falls outside the bounds of established medical practices, others are willing to try anything to alleviate mental and physical pain. Numerous Veterans suffering from a variety of wartime traumas are receiving treatments such as yoga therapy, acupuncture, and other forms of unorthodox medical treatment in an attempt to better manage their pain.
Issues that can be addressed
When Vets return home from war, they often suffer from a variety of problems. One condition Vets can have is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), the symptoms of which involve nightmares, depression, and anxiety as a result of combat experiences. Veterans also experience Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) resulting from blunt-force trauma and explosions during combat. Those who suffer from TBI often experience behavioral and physiological changes as well as lingering fatigue.
Multiple Sclerosis also afflicts some Veterans who were exposed to harmful chemical or environmental agents during war; MS weakens muscles and affects memory. Vets also suffer from various types of cancers due to exposure to asbestos and other harmful agents. These cancers include various skin cancers, cancers of the internal organs, and lung cancers, like mesothelioma, due to exposure to asbestos and other harmful agents.
Alternative therapies at work
The term “alternative therapy” covers a wide variety of treatments, so Veterans have a wide variety of treatments from which to choose. Veterans should research these methods and use caution when selecting alternative therapy so as not to negatively interfere with ongoing regular treatments, even though some therapies can sometimes supplement regular treatment successfully.
PTSD is one of the most common problems treated with alternative methods. Since PTSD deals primarily with memory, some Veterans are trying other types of memory therapy to supplement their standard care. Eye Movement and Desensitization Reprogramming helps over three quarters of its recipients by stripping painful memories of their harmful emotions via a therapist’s finger motions in front of a patient’s eyes.
Emotional Freedom Technique involves putting a positive spin on a painful incident while using acupuncture. Some Vets also engage in Extreme Sports Therapy, a technique that works by replacing combat images with high-adrenaline and more enjoyable experiences. TBI also deals with memory, meaning vets sometimes engage in types of alternative therapy dealing with increasing and healing memory.
Veterans sometimes contract diseases years after service due to exposure to harmful chemicals and war materials and thus must be treated long-term. Multiple Sclerosis and various cancers are two such diseases that often cause immense suffering in those who contract it, so vets often look outside orthodox medicine to better manage their pain. Since MS affects the muscles, vets sometimes receive massages, chiropractic adjustments, and herbal supplements that are supposed to help patients deal with the pain.
Hopefully with this new grant money, more VA hospitals will be able to offer the benefits of alternative therapies to our veterans.
Allison Brooks is a biomedical anthropologist interested in natural health and therapies.