U.S. Military using ancient technique for pain with great success

I recently came across a couple of headlines regarding acupuncture that struck me. The first was, “Finally…Doctors Find Evidence for Acupuncture.”

I had to ask, “Finally”?


Where have they been for the past 2,000 years? Or, even just the past 20 years? The National Institutes of Health (NIH) Consensus Conference in 1997 concluded there is good evidence for the benefits of acupuncture for pain. I know because I was there.

Another more recent, misleading headline read “Military Doctors ‘Poke Holes’ in Acupuncture.” To the casual observer, this headline makes it sound like military doctors found faults with studies on acupuncture.

But when I read on, the headline was trying to say, in a convoluted way, that new positive results discredit skeptics of acupuncture who doubt the treatment’s scientifically sound benefits.

In my experience the U.S. military is very open to acupuncture as well as many other natural approaches. In fact, it has been using acupuncture and other natural approaches for at least 15 years.

When the military has a problem, they typically confront it head-on and look at all their options. Like Ulysses S. Grant during the Civil War, or George S. Patton in WW II, they put aside the usual government and political nonsense.

Fifteen years ago, at my Policy Institute for Integrative Medicine, the Surgeons General of the Army, Navy and Air Force shared their concerns with me about treating pain in their troops.

The military had a big problem with pain and pain drugs. (And they still do.) The actual cost of treating physical pain in soldiers and veterans is huge. Perhaps more importantly, the existential costs of “pain” concerns all branches of the military.

So — we began working with the U.S. Congress to sponsor a program called Military Complementary and Alternative Medicine (MILCAM) to help. We quickly convinced Congress to fund programs to get complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) and natural therapies into the Department of Defense (DoD) and Veterans Affairs (VA).

One of my colleagues, Dr. Wayne Jonas, in the Army Medical Corps, had (like me) been at both Walter Reed Military Medical Center and the National Institutes of Health, trying to do good work in natural medicine.

Also, like me, Dr. Jonas eventually created his own private institute, the Samueli Institute for Information Biology. MILCAM was a prominent part of his portfolio. He realized the advantages of working with DoD, instead of the mishmash of other government bureaucratic agencies with questionable constitutional justification.

Another colleague, Dr. Tracey Gaudet, who had bounced around other private CAM organizations, ended up going into the government to be the first Director of CAM in the VA.

(As a side note, after a good run of several years, the big-ego, high-tech mogul who funded Dr. Jonas’ private institute suddenly decided to drop the whole thing. I had had a similar experience with another, far smaller, private financier. The vagaries of both public and private support for CAM research, education, and practice seem designed to prevent the public from getting access to truly safe, effective, and affordable healthcare. Thus, the disaster of our modern disease care system, whether Obamacare, Repeal/Replace, or any other monstrous crony capitalist creation.)

DoD searches for safer ways to manage pain

Nearly 50,000 troops have been wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. Plus, due to our excellence in emergency medical care, more and more wounded warriors with severe, painful injuries survive today. In previous wars, they would have never made it off the battlefields alive.

The DoD continues to seek out innovative ways to deal with ever more serious injuries. For example, army doctors have been ordered to rethink the old “pill-for- every-ill” approach to treating pain. After all, if soldiers get hooked on pain pills, the VA must then deal with side effects for decades. And as it is, 40 percent of veterans entering the VA system are coping with pain.

Some of those “new” alternatives include acupuncture, chiropractic, and massage.

In fact, the medical director for the Army’s Warrior Transition Battalion at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, is now trained to do acupuncture. (A licensed physician can become a licensed acupuncturist by taking a six-week continuing medical course. And even that kind of superficial training is enough to deploy serious healing benefits using acupuncture. So — imagine what a sixth-generation Chinese acupuncturist could do for you.)

In recent years, military doctors have turned to acupuncture for special problems among troops in battle zones. And last year, the Army Surgeon General began making alternative treatments more available (25 years after I started talking to them about all the evidence!). The new Army Pain Management Task Force focuses heavily on alternative, natural therapies.

Of course, there are skeptics.

In the Air Force, which never saw a high-tech “solution” it didn’t like, some surgeons call the new research on acupuncture, “quack-ademic” medicine — thus the recent misleading headline.

These fly-boy, fly-by-night flight surgeons remind me of the scene in Catch-22 with Alan Arkin (as Yossarian). He is flying in a bomber when a fellow airman is hit by flack. Yossarian busily bandages his superficial wounds — but then removes the flight jacket of the injured airman to find massive internal injuries.

That scene is a fitting symbol for modern mainstream medicine, which offers quick, band-aides to patch up the superficial symptoms, while letting us hemorrhage to death for lack of real health care.

You can avoid the flack and get the benefits of safe, effective natural treatments bypassing mainstream medical ministrations, whenever possible. I will keep telling you about all your health options here, and in even more detail in my monthly Insiders’ Cures newsletter. If you’re not already a subscriber, now is the perfect time to get started.