Since the late 19th century, chiropractors have been performing manipulations on American military personnel in order to help keep them in fighting form. In 1992, President George H. W. Bush authorized the Department of Defense to commission chiropractors and in 1999 the Chiropractic Health Care Demonstration Program found that chiropractic care would offer significant benefits to the military. Specifically, the results showed that:
- Chiropractic care demonstrated higher levels of patient satisfaction than traditional medical care
- There were superior outcomes for patients who received chiropractic care than those who received traditional medical care
- Chiropractic care resulted in fewer hospital stays
- Significant improvements in military "readiness" were found due to significantly less duty time lost for those who received chiropractic care as opposed to traditional medical care
Although the nature and quality of chiropractic care has evolved and improved considerably since the days in which it was first used in the military, as yet, there are still no commissioned chiropractors in the US Military, despite the above-mentioned governmental authorizations.
Musculoskeletal problems are the most common type of medical issues showing up at VA hospitals, and it’s not surprising. Military gear is heavy, sometimes weighing up to 60 pounds, 8 to 12 pounds of which is weighing down on your neck in the form of a helmet. And that is before you figure in the weight of a rucksack filled with ammunition, batteries and weapons that must all be carried by the soldier on a daily basis.
Retired Brigadier General Rebecca Halstead, now a spokesperson for the Foundation for Chiropractic Progress, has first-hand experience of the benefits of chiropractic care for those in the military. After being diagnosed in 2004 with fibromyalgia (a chronic disease that makes muscles and joints feel stiff and painful, causes fatigue and other symptoms), she was prescribed 17 different medications to treat her pain and sleeplessness over a five-year period, none of which were effective. On the advice of her father, she visited a chiropractor, which as she said “gave me my quality of life back.” She is now free from medication and continues to receive regular chiropractic care.
Though chiropractic is technically available to military personnel, actual access to that care is often difficult. First of all, Tricare, which covers all medical care for the military, requires that treatment only be received at a designated military treatment facility after a referral from the service member’s primary care physician; Tricare will not cover any chiropractic care outside these facilities. Chiropractic care is available at only 40 of the approximately 160 VA treatment facilities throughout the US. And despite having a contracted or hired chiropractor at 60 military bases around the country, only 54 percent of eligible service members have access to chiropractic care, according to a 2005 report from the Government Accountability Office. The waiting list to see one at a VA hospital can range anywhere from 90 to 120 days.
The way to solve this problem, according to Halstead, is to have Congress approve all chiropractic coverage with Tricare. She says, “If we can get Tricare to cover it, then tomorrow the benefit would be there for all of our soldiers, no matter how many treatment facilities it would be in. Because if it’s not in the treatment facility, then I’ve got enough chiropractors in the local community that I can go get the help. I personally think that’s the fastest way to bring visibility to how wonderful this service is, because then more soldiers would be going to chiropractors. More soldiers, then, would not be on sick call. More soldiers would be doing their mission every day.”