Veterans and Naturopathic Medicine
The Veterans Administration (VA) serves over 9 million veterans each year. Returning from combat finds many who serve with a collection of health concerns that span the physical, the psychological, and the psychosocial.
Dr. Stephen Hunt, occupational and environmental medicine physician in primary and post-deployment care at the VA Puget Sound Health Care System says, “This is a population that has unique health care needs that need to be addressed. It’s something that really needs to be done by a team. Some of the most common physical complaints of returning soldiers cannot be classified into a single disorder. They include nonspecific symptoms such as fatigue, pain, and cognitive disturbances such as memory and concentration problems.” Other common complaints include chronic pain, headaches, insomnia, anxiety, and depression.
Based on this constellation of symptoms, Tracy Gaudet, MD, who directs the VHA’s Office of Patient Centered Care and Cultural Transformation, has stated that having licensed naturopathic doctors (NDs) at the VA is consistent with the agency’s goals of personalized, proactive, and patient-driven health care.
A Need for NDs in the Military Community
The American Association of Naturopathic Physicians commissioned a nationwide survey of a representative sample of America’s veterans. Close to two-thirds of veterans (64 percent) said they would prefer a doctor who prescribes natural therapies before considering drugs or surgery. And almost three-quarters of veterans (73 percent) would consider seeing an ND if he or she were on staff at a nearby VA facility.
We know that naturopathic medicine is both safe and effective. For example, studies show efficacy when nutritional, botanical, and lifestyle medicine are employed for the treatment of anxiety and depression. Naturopathic medicine is both effective and cost effective for the treatment of chronic back pain. Research underscores the positive impact of mindfulness meditation for insomnia.
Prolotherapy is increasingly studied for the treatment of chronic arthritis pain. Acupuncture has shown positive results for veterans suffering with anxiety post substance abuse and is a promising intervention for patients with chronic anxiety unresponsive to medication. Internet-based cognitive behavioral therapy has been proven effective for the treatment of depression.
Insomnia is challenge for many veterans. Naturopathic doctors have numerous non-pharmacologic approaches to insomnia. The same is true of anxiety and chronic pain. Naturopathic doctors have advanced training in behavioral medicine, which is an essential component in working with veterans and in creating whole-person health plans that often include the need for sustained changes in lifestyle and attitude.
A recent research article reflects the increase in interest and availability of integrative approaches within military populations. Also underscored in this study was the need to ensure that safe and effective treatments are offered. The authors of this study recognize that additional research is warranted and recommend inclusion of licensed naturopathic doctors.
Licensed NDs undergo rigorous accredited medical education including a minimum of four years of hands on training. Naturopathic medical education consists of a minimum of 4,100 hours of class and clinical training. During naturopathic medical school, students are educated in the biomedical sciences as well as the latest advances in natural medicine. Disease prevention and individualized care is emphasized throughout the four-year program.
In addition to a conventional biomedical sciences like gross anatomy and biochemistry, accredited ND schools require coursework in disciplines such as clinical nutrition, acupuncture, homeopathic medicine, botanical medicine, physical medicine, and counseling. For at least the final two years of their medical program, naturopathic medical students intern in clinical settings under the close supervision of licensed providers. Accredited programs are recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.
Returning from service should not be as hard as it is for so many veterans. Adding naturopathic doctor expertise in the VA setting can benefit health outcomes and quality of life of our venerated veterans.
A service for consumers from the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP) and the Institute for Natural Medicine (INM).