By Jack Dusik
As summer begins, many are making plans to unwind and relax with family and friends. However, in Washington, D.C., things are heating up for your American Chiropractic Association (ACA) government relations team, which is hard at work pursuing enactment of the ACA’s public policy agenda.
Readers who follow us know full implementation of the chiropractic benefit in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care system is one of the premier issues ACA is diligently working to address.
Heavy gear, blast injuries and vehicular accidents are just a few of the many conditions service members--especially front-line combatants--contend with in the course of duty, placing immense strain on the musculoskeletal system.
Our most recent veterans, the brave men and women who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, compellingly underscore this burgeoning crisis. According to VA data, the most frequent diagnosis among veterans are diseases of the musculoskeletal and connective systems, specifically back and joint pain--with more than 60 percent of veterans receiving this diagnosis since 2002.
Yet, for decades, VA failed to address veterans’ need for reliable treatment of these diseases. Without any chiropractors serving at VA treatment facilities and few VA referrals, access to chiropractic services for veterans preferring an alternative to powerful and addictive opioids was severely, and harmfully, limited.
After ACA conducted an extensive education effort, Congress began to recognize the growing need for effective non-drug therapies for veterans and intervened on their behalf, passing a series of statutes intended to bring about an end to this glaring inequity. In 2004, the process of integrating chiropractic care into the VA healthcare delivery system began.
Today, VA provides access to a chiropractor at 65 major treatment facilities, and the use of chiropractic services in the VA health care system has seen a steep rise. A study, published in the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics, analyzing VA data collected between 2004 and 2015, revealed that the number of patients seen in VA chiropractic clinics annually increased by 821 percent and the number of annual chiropractic visits increased by 694 percent.
Despite this progress, an overwhelming majority of America’s eligible veterans continue to be denied access to chiropractic care due to the lack of chiropractors on staff at 100 additional VA treatment facilities (many located in metropolitan areas with large veteran populations).
To correct this glaring inequity, our congressional allies earlier this year introduced legislation to fully integrate chiropractic programs at all major VA medical facilities and codify chiropractic as a standard benefit for veterans accessing VA care.
In the U.S. Senate, long-time chiropractic supporters and senior members of the Senate VA Committee, Senators Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), introduced S.609, the “Chiropractic Care Available to All Veterans Act of 2017.” The House companion bill, H.R. 103, was introduced by Rep. Julia Brownley (D-Calif.), the Democratic Ranking Member of the House VA Health Subcommittee.
Many of you spoke with your member of Congress about these bills during ACA’s congressional Advocacy Day in February, and I am excited to report your hard work is paying off.
Recently, the Senate VA Committee held a hearing on pending health and benefits legislation where it considered several bills, including S. 609, which received support from numerous veterans service organizations.
A few of the most positive comments:
- The American Legion stated, “It is not uncommon for veterans who suffer from musculoskeletal and connective system diseases to go untreated at VA medical centers because of a lack of available chiropractic care and services.” It views easy access to chiropractic care as a “priority necessity for veterans.”
- The Disabled American Veterans—noting that “as access to chiropractic in VA has grown, veterans’ use of chiropractic services has grown dramatically”--called for veterans’ access to a “full continuum of care” including chiropractic, as veterans with chronic pain and other conditions are “seeking alternative treatment options that do not involve use of opioids or other traditional pharmaceutical solutions.”
- The Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) noted, “Chiropractic care is a widely accepted and invaluable treatment, yet an overwhelming majority of affected veterans still do not have readily available access to chiropractic care.” Addressing the nation’s opioid crisis, PVA went on to state that “with an ever present awareness of VA overreliance on pharmacological solutions for chronic pain and the resulting trends of opioid dependence and accidental overdose, PVA strongly encourages the utilization of alternative treatments.”
- The Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) explained that it believes “it is absolutely crucial that VA be able to provide access to chiropractic care to veterans in need.” Noting studies that have long proven chiropractic services can reduce chronic pain, VFW urged the need to pass S.609, as it would help “improve the quality of care veterans receive at VA, as well as provide another avenue to combat opioid addiction for patients with chronic pain.”
- Importantly, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, representing the most recently returned veterans, are driving the surge in demand for chiropractic care in the VA. The group offered its support of the bill as they fight to obtain a full range of treatment options, including chiropractic care, “that have proven to be effective” for veterans.
These statements, made on behalf of our nation’s veterans, clearly displayed to the Senate VA Committee, the Veterans Health Administration and the VA health community that veterans are in desperate need of services offered by chiropractors. They also underscored that chiropractic care is tested, safe, cost-effective and produces better patient outcomes, especially as an alternative pain management therapy to powerful and dangerously addictive opioids.
While this news is encouraging, we must continue educating members of Congress and encouraging their support through co-sponsoring (and ultimately voting for) this bill at the first available opportunity.
This is where you, as a leader in the chiropractic profession, can lend a hand and make a difference. To assist us, please take a moment to visit ACA’s Chiropractic Action Center, where with a few clicks of a button you can send a message to your representative in Congress and urge them to support this bill.
America’s veterans want, need and deserve access to chiropractic care. For those who gave so much for us, let’s give back to them. Take action today!
Jack Dusik is senior director of federal government relations at the American Chiropractic Association. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.