Tuesday, July 22, 2014

How is CAM Helping Our Veterans & Caregivers?


CAM, the acronym for Complementary and Alternative Medicine is gaining recognition for helping veterans adjust and heal after combat mental health injuries (Post Traumatic Stress/PTS and Traumatic Brain Injury/TBI), and for pain management and addiction.  Complementary methods are used with traditional, evidence-based therapies, and Alternative methods are used in place of standard medical practice. 

PTSD (mild to severe) is a complicated condition estimated to effect 20-60% of today’s veterans, and TBI (mild to severe) may overlap in 19% of all veterans.  While there is debate over the condition prevalence and diagnoses, additional treatments for symptoms such as hyper-vigilance, insomnia, anger, social isolation, depression and anxiety are better understood. 

Most CAM therapies are sought by the veterans themselves or family members when traditional, evidence-based VA treatment is ineffective or inadequate.  Newer therapies are slow to mainstream to the VA, yet most practitioners acknowledge there is no “one size fits all” care plan.  Veterans seeking augmented help often feel empowered by taking action, and will then blend traditional methods with their additional therapies. 

If you or someone you know is struggling with the symptoms of PTSD or TBI, researching alternative programs may be of help.  The following is a partial list to explore:

Service Dogs:  Many programs exist that pair a SM/Vet with a dog suited and trained to support their specific needs, ranging from dogs who can alert an impending seizure to those that provide solace and companionship.  Service dogs become part of the household and add a sense of purpose to the vet.

Equine Therapy:   Riding programs assist PTSD and those with physical disabilities that negatively affect their emotional health.  For many, being mobile away from a wheelchair or walker, and in tune with a large animal is a turning point for hope and acceptance.

Outdoor Retreats:  Opportunities for veterans provide not only the peace of the outdoors, but add a renewed camaraderie among their peers.  Retreats may provide learning a new skill (fly fishing, rock climbing, sailing), and others pair outdoor activities with group therapy.  Retreats may also include separate sessions for family members and children, who also benefit from the experience.

Yoga:  Yoga has proven very helpful in easing chronic pain, providing physical focus, and beneficial through adding a spiritual element through movement and breathing awareness.  A growing number of programs are taught by vets or family members who understand the aftereffects of combat, and the essential mind/body connection is nurtured through this practice.

Meditation & Mindfulness:   These practices restore many focusing on both physical and spiritual elements that elicit emotional stability and well-being and are used mainly for decreasing anxiety and depression symptoms and improving overall wellness.

HBOT (Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy):  HBOT has proven life-changing for many veterans with TBI (and/or PTSD).  This treatment places an individual in a highly pressurized oxygenated environment that stimulates cell growth.  These highly oxygenated red blood cells move through the body, facilitating the repair of bruised and damaged tissue for faster recovery.  Brain scans are showing visible improvement and the VA offers HBOT at most facilities upon request.

Acupuncture:  This ancient practice of thin needles placed in the qi (“chee”) points of the body facilitates calm, promotes peace of mind for better sleep patterns, and is also a help for chronic pain.  Acupressure utilizes the same premise, but uses manual pressure on the qi points instead of the insertion of needles. 

Therapeutic Massage:  The soothing element of touch can be very helpful for emotional health, and is often used for pain management, anxiety, insomnia, depression, and physical conditions. 

Art, Music, and Expressive Writing Therapy:  Through personal expression through these mediums, veterans have found emotional relief and improved wellness.  These attentive sessions are often in a group setting, which adds the peer support to those expressing and releasing painful or negative emotions in a non-judgmental environment. 

Many other complementary and alternative therapies exist, and the key element is finding one that fits the veteran’s personal situation most closely.  The symptoms of PTSD and TBI can usually be managed once the correct blend of therapies is followed, and is crucial for the best possible medical outcomes. 

Linda Kreter & the VeteranCaregiver Team