VA Announcement a New Front in Fight Against Chronic Pain Among Veterans

Images of happy reunions, embraces with family members and young parents seeing their infant sons and daughters for the first time have followed the more than 10,000 veterans settling in to civilian life having returned from service in Afghanistan. These images however belie the fact that many combat veterans will return to civilian life plagued with chronic pain. Thankfully, a recent announcement by the VA represents one of the best signs of hope in the battle against chronic pain among veterans.

The announcement of a massive research project that may have far-reaching health implications couldn’t come sooner. The U.S. Veterans Administration is partnering with the National Institutes of Health to begin a five-year, $21.7 million initiative to study the effectiveness of alternative treatment to chronic pain without worsening the opioid abuse problem. As reported on the Pain Medicine News website, the undertaking includes 13 separate research projects. Modalities to be studied will include, but are not limited to, psychotherapy, biofeedback, mindfulness meditation and self-hypnosis.

Chronic pain disproportionately affects those who have served or are serving in the military. According to the Pain Medicine News, a June 2014 report in JAMA Internal Medicine showed an alarmingly high rate of chronic pain — 44 percent — among members of the U.S. military after combat deployment, compared to 26 percent in the general public. Moreover, 15 percent of the U.S. military use opioids post-deployment compared with a four percent rate of use among the general population.

The statistics are grim, but the VA is headed in the right direction. Unlike other health systems for civilians, the VA offers interdisciplinary treatment for chronic pain that does not rely on prescription painkillers.

According to an article in Stars and Stripes, hundreds of veterans from across the nation visit the VA Medical Center in Richmond, Virginia to participate in such modalities as guided imagery, life coaching, yoga, hypnosis, and equine and aroma therapy. One retired lieutenant colonel who had been injured in a combat plane crash tried acupuncture. After treatment, he told the reporter, he stopped taking the half dozen pain pills that he had washed down daily with scotch.

While the treatment at the Richmond center does not have to be precisely replicated, all of the 1,700 VA hospitals, centers and facilities should be able to offer some form of interdisciplinary treatment for chronic pain. This treatment helps reduce reliance on prescription opioids which have led to misuse and addiction for many veterans. Researchers today believe that interdisciplinary pain management programs work best because they allow patients and their providers to explore pain’s deepest root causes, essential for combat veterans. Multidisciplinary pain management centers typically offer the services of psychiatrists, psychologists, and physical and occupational therapists.

As our nation prepares to welcome home thousands of veterans, we, as a nation, must reflect on how we can better assist all people, veterans and civilians, who suffer from chronic pain. With more than 100 million American adults suffering from chronic pain, according to the Institute of Medicine, chronic pain has become a full-fledged crisis in this nation. Unmitigated chronic pain costs the nation between $560 billion and $635 billion annually due to disability, lost wages and decreased productivity. With few to no options available to them, people suffering from chronic pain have been known to turn painkiller abuse and, worse, suicide.

We must address the lack of a coherent and consistent pain policy in the U.S. The federal government must follow the lead of the VA in making interdisciplinary treatment more accessible through Medicare and Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act. While the ACA includes provisions for increased pain research and improved pain education, the law does not cover interdisciplinary pain management.

For so many service men and women, stress, strain and injury is part of the job description. They perform their duties nobly, often without complaint, and deserve to live out their years with health and dignity. The VA’s announcement is a huge step forward to that end and one everyone with a stake in chronic pain treatment ought to embrace.

Lynn Webster, M.D., is the immediate past president of the American Academy of Pain Medicine and Vice President of Scientific Affairs at PRA Health Sciences. His blog can be visited at www.lynnwebstermd.com/blog. He lives in Salt Lake City.

This story was originally published in Pain Medicine News and can be found here:
VA Announcement a New Front in Fight Against Chronic Pain Among Veterans

35 thoughts on “VA Announcement a New Front in Fight Against Chronic Pain Among Veterans

  1. If this new OSI is so great. Why doesn’t the VA roll it system wide on the same day. And take every relief away from all vets equally. I’ll tell you way. Because there would will be a revolt. I hope one you idiots figure out you can’t put accupunture,yoga,aroma thereby or any other happy crap in a mailbox.
    But opioids work and they fit in a mailbox. But in the meantime you and all the the other idiots who think like you are murdering suffering vets in their own home by suicide.

    1. The decision makers who have job treated VA medical staff into this Nazi style pain torture plan have one goal. To destroy the United States Military. Who in their right mind wants to serve in a dangerous job when pain relief denial is PROMISED? This is a calculated act to strip our nation of it’s defenses. Just as termites eat at the framework of a house. The human suffering is just a side benefit to these torture junkies. They enjoy it.

    2. This makes me so mad!!! I can’t believe out vetrans are being torchered in pain after fighting tor All of our freedom! I wish the people that are making these laws we’re in chronic pain or there own children were in chronic pain and then tell them to meditate out of it!!!! What the hell is wrong with these ingnort asses!!!I just can’t believe they are that stupid and hope they wake up and realize this is cruel and unjust torcher !!! Damn have some common sense pain is no f..n joke

  2. As a veteran who has been down this road with VA healthcare (let’s try everything except pain meds) for the past 12 years, I can sympathize with “Kelly”‘s angry and frustrated response above.
    I’m curious: just how many of these advocates of alternative measures suffer from chronic pain themselves? None of the assorted physical therapists, pain management doctors, acupuncturists, masseurs, psychiatrists or nurses I’ve dealt with do. Words cannot express the frustration, depression and sense of helplessness/hopelessness one experiences from suffering pain 24/7–and being reduced to the lowest common denominator of “potential drug abuser” by legislators, VA administrators and other bureaucrats who spout “Support the Troops” but deny us pain meds.
    I just spent the last two days trying to reach my VA doctor because my pain is now the ruling factor in my life; I’m well-documented as a chronic pain sufferer and have tried every “alternative” method they’ve thrown at me from gait-coaching to wearing aTENS unit. The answer I got after describing my inability to walk, sit, lay down or sleep due to pain this last visit? “Go to the emergency room.”
    “Thank you for your service”? More like “F__k you, you’re all going to be drug abusers if we give you any pain relief. Go sniff some lavender and shut up.”

    1. I’m with you all the way, I disagree with them taking away pain meds. I’ve never served, but I deal with the Minneapolis VA for my dad who is a Vietnam Veteran and I to have chronic pain. I will do everything in my power to defend our Veterans against idiots that think they what it’s like to live with chronic pain, including the VA. Your right lavender does not help at all.

    2. I’m sorry you have to suffer for others stupidity! I pray you get relief soon.Somthing needs to he done.My son is active duty and I pray he never gets hurt,because he will not get help for risking his life for the low life law makers!!! Thank you for your sacrifice!

  3. I’ve been taking pain pills since the 70’s. I am so sorry that no one listens at us.22 vets killing themselves every DAY
    WHY CANT. WE SEE WHAT WE ARE DOING VA HAS BECOME THE ENEMY.
    THEY ARE KILLING US.
    I’ve had eight back surgery’s,and a neck fusion, right and left . Rotator cuff and right and left hip replacement. .I’ve had a revision on the right sidesTep have tried. Everything but only the pills worked now I have nothing and I suffer everyday
    Somebody please do something don’t loose us we are very valuable medicine is not killing us it is something else
    Our pain is real!!!!

    Please Understand
    Rev.Willie

  4. I have been on pain medication for about 7 years I have a bad back bad hips and knees. Now my Dr at VA says by the end of the year she will have me off of my pain medication. I can’t take anti flamitory meds because it messes with my patasium and calcium. I have type 2 diabetes. She wants me to see a srink and go to physical therapy. They tell you to take Tylenol or ibuprofen. It doesn’t even help a head ache. Please someone help us Vets that doesn’t abuse our pain meds. There is a difference between being addicted than a addict. I take mine as perscribed not 4 or 5 at a time. I need help with my pain. I don’t want to OD.

    1. MY INSURANCE COMPANY CALLED ME AND SAID IAM ONLY ALOUD MY PAIN MEDS FOR ONE MORE YEAR. THE V.A. HAS NEVER HELPED……THEY WANT TO GIVE YOU TYLENOL AND MOTRIN THEY ARE NSAIDS AND I GET SICK FROM THEM. SO, IM ANOTHER VET THROWN IN THE TRASH !!!!

  5. 500000 miles as a DAV driver on my meds now Im a drug adict 16 years as a Toys for Tots coordinator now Im a drug adict s omeone called the va and turned me in as selling my meds because I wouldn’t but of course I was doing it. Then while I was on a latacan patch I came in positive for cocane GUILTY as charged worked for what they wanted get them off their meds now I can’t walk across the room .NOW what ????

  6. Dr. if you think the VA has a”comprehensive” plan in place for treating chronic pain you are delusional. Their only plan is to take pain meds away without any underlying support.

    1. I have been trying to get va prosthetics to order the electrodes for the quell device for 6 months (i bought the actual device myself) this is a fantastic tens unit and works great. I just dont know how to get through to the right people at the va

  7. The VA does not provide comprehensive pain management. Period. I’ve been to every alternative therapy that they offer. Access for veterans is limited, and the results depend on the person and the type of pain. In the war on opiates, Veterans are once again being put on the front line. The VA overprescribed opiates and that led to deaths. The 180 they took with CDC guidelines is going to cost more lives. If you look at the news stories for pain related suicides now, the VA usually states that person had mental health issues, which we all know go hand in hand with chronic pain and illness. I’m in strict compliance with the new standards. I am frequently hospitalized and I refuse pain medication now because the wide degree of how the CDC protocol is interpreted and implemented throughout the VA system. Now they have a patient that is a low-medium acute risk of suicide.

    “In some ways suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice.”
    ― Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

  8. I was receiving medical treatment consisting of steroid injections and nerve blocks supplemented with two 5/325 vicodins per day for spinal stenosis, degenerative disc disease, bursitis, sciatica, and arthritis of the lumbar area. I was hurt in not one but two accidents involving military aircraft. (Rated 100 percent) Now I can’t get any medical treatment, pain medication or even a lidocaine patch in lieu of medial treatment. The VA scheduled me for six months of class nearly every day instead. They could care less I have to drive 270 miles a day to get to the VA hospital and back. I’m supposed to learn and exercise my pain away now. I’ve already failed physical therapy four times but the VA acts like they did me a big favor and scheduled me for a year of PT through Veterans Choice without even talking to me about it. I go to the doctor at the place of business where the PT is held and they won’t touch me as my back condition is so advanced. Now the VA wants me to agree to have a chiropractor do adjustments and I’m supposed to run 270 miles to attend appointments. Are these VA doctors completely brain dead? I was in a program that was working for me. But it was jerked out from under me and I’m left with nothing and now viewed as combative against the VA program to teach me to think my pain away and do core strengthening. This is not a one size fits all world yet the VA seems to think so. I now view as an enemy who waged a war against me for serving my country. I used to be a proud veteran. The VA has stripped that from me.

    1. I can so sympathize AND empathize..at 200+ miles away too….at the END of 6 months -via televideo-of forced (I say) taper off of LOW DOSE opioids that kept me functional..i was OFFERED the wonder of class 4 days a week..and I would have to drive to as the shuttle buses do not meet any schedule for that.AND I’d have to pay for pet care, mail pickup, etc. I could only shake my head as they wrote down I “would consider it”…. hahahahah

      Basically the VA will pay $100,000 over 10 years for just me, and another $100,000 for you, ..for everything BUT the $18. mo (my copay) low dose opioids that are FAR UNDER the 90MME…which is a guideline ONLY, but taken as fact.

      When I argue I hear that the plan is always CUSTOMIZED.. so this is why they missed renal safety issues and inability to take NSAIDS as suggested by my “pain team chicks”?

  9. I am a 2nd generation marine served in 80’s today i live with chronic pain from pancreatitis caused by va medication. I currently have a neuro stimulator implanted to help me with my pain. FYI no the VA has not aided or provided any care for me since 2002. As a vet and victim of VA meds i had no option but to seek outside medical interventions,,,,,but being a veteran should not be a punishment or scars of that one should have to carry throughout life alone and in pain. Seems easier for VA to kill us then cure us! So who is really sick them (VA) or us (vets protectors of this country)??

    1. Dan. I am so sorry for what you have suffered and continue to do so, my heart is with you.
      You mentioned something in your post that I have been evaluating in my mind for some time yet without any hope it might help you, I and the multitude of vets. who are losing our med lifeline. (Narcotics—which do work).
      Can we find a way to bring us all together to make a louder bigger poltical scream? Something on the order of a petition signed by our group, with opitional history of combat wounding with followup consisting of ‘actual’ (bs) meds offered. A march on Washington might not be effective as so many are unable to travel financially/medically.
      Just hoping to find a kindred soul. I feel this may be more effective than all the VETS talking to other VETS when we are the injured party.
      Not just a petition but anything anybody can come up with but ONE COMAIN PLACE to make our voices louder. Probably many non Vets do not have a clue as to what we suffer. Let us find a way to tell them as well as Congress what is expected of Veteran, yet what is NOT given in return.
      Your thoughts please. George

  10. Why can’t veterans get political or legal help, essentially protection from a system that is killing those of us with chronic pain? Is it even legal for a doctor to stop your pain meds abruptly?

  11. Taking ANYBODY off of pain med’s COLD TURKEY, especially if they aren’t aware that it’s going to happen is just STUPID.

  12. I’v spent the last 38 years working a trade that I learned is the service. I’v had many years of physical work. In the mid 2000’s was told I need shoulder replacement, but with that would come other issues and advised against it. I,v taken pain medication to keep working my trade. I’m taking as prescribed and it is allowing me to do my job. Now I am being profiled with those that abuse their medications, and was told maybe I should get workman’s compensation. All I want to do is finish out my working life, and not get a hand out . { along with being reduced to poverty level income } Why has it come to this ?

  13. I like how they lie and don’t even say the Vets name “One retired lieutenant colonel” who had been injured in a combat plane crash tried acupuncture. They are all tools!

  14. I’ve been on pain management for over 15 years and I had a life! I was teaching full time, playing softball and other activities until the last 3 years when we no longer had insurance and I had no choice but to go to VA. I’ve been through so many different alternative treatments before going to VA, from epidurals and facet injections which helped a lot but I could no longer handle the steroids. I had radio frequency ablations, massage therapy, disc decompression, TENS unit and many different medications that were not opioids but my body is very sensitive when it comes to tolerating these meds. So, when I went to the VA, they started to taper me off my pain meds saying they were unsafe at those levels and that the VA wanted everyone under 100mg per day, morphine equivalent. It’s now been 2+ years and I no longer have any quality of life or life at all. I tried their battlefields acupuncture and physical therapy but they didn’t help. I’ve never abused my meds, asked for them to be filled early, overdosed or failed a urine test in all these years. (I did fail the very 1st one VA gave me saying I had marijuana in my system which was absolutely impossible and filed a complaint with the patient advocate.) I’ve never smoked or had anything to do with marijuana. Anyway, this one size fits all program for pain management for veterans is absurd. I have a non-vet disabled husband to help care for but there are some days, I can’t function. I told my pain dr. I’ll sign whatever he wanted to get all my meds back because I’d rather have 5 years with a life than what I’m living now. I don’t care of the meds killed me over time but at least I’d be able to live and take care of my husband. Oh, and let’s not forget that of you have chronic pain, PTSD and anxiety, that you have a choice. You can get your pain meds, but no anti-anxiety meds or you can get your anti-anxiety meds but not your pain meds. God forbid, or I should say, VA forbid that you get both even if you’ve had both over 12 years! I know I’m not the only one!

    1. They are heavy into that anxiety/pain med combo nonsense. The say the are “afraid I’ll stop breathing”. Caring about the veterans is the last thing they are concerned about.

  15. Well, fellow Veterans, …it is now 7/20117 and our VA pain Mgmt. has All but disappeared under the guise addiction control and prevention of long term Dementia…ie cognitive impairment.My VA Physician called me this week to inform me that all Veterans using opioid pain meds will be tapered off within the next 3 months, except those with terminal cancer.The plan is to put us on Cymbalta , anti- depressant and completely disregard the severe and debilitating chronic pain that we are experiencing.This is part of the Obama Omnibus Bill effective 7/1/17 and effectively paints everyone with the same brush and throws the baby out with the bathwater”. I am missing much of my right knee and thigh, including a deep knee joint infection, synovial membrane fistula, medialis advancement and torn medial meniscus. I cannot even stand on this limb without effective pain Mgmt. I am a Disabled Vietnam Era Combat Medic/ Op, Rm. Tech…Big Pharma Rep. and Vet. Rep. [ Ret]..we need to scream loud and often, including a letter writing Campaign to VA top officials , Senators and Congressman demanding that they evaluate and treat those of us who will have no quality of life without effective pain Mgmt. The people making these decisions should experiance our pain for one day ! Thank you all for your Service !

    1. Amen!!!!Thank you for your service and all who are active,retired and disabled.I am with you on writing them all a Letter and hopefully we can get all vets to apply and yes you are 100% right why should they punish every vet for a lot of bad apples…I think they need to do more random pill counts and random Urinalysis or why don’t they take the time to go to peoples houses and do a unsuspected pill count? They could go about this in way to help the innocent the brave those whom fought for Americas freedom…..Instead of allowing us to go through chronic pain mentally physically,emotionally and financially It feels like we are in war again and living it all over again with our on government just when you think your done fighting you have to fight more..I have had 2 back surgeries,shoulder surgery,stimulator implant,nerve blocking,nerve burning…I just want to live a life pain free and wake up in the morning loving life that the good Lord has given me…What is wrong with that as long as i take what is prescribed to me and there is proof that i am not abusing my medication…But all this sounds like discrimination..They are not looking for the bad apples but accusing all us for being bad apples…How can they leave us in pain like that? Who is are advocate…..For me Jesus Christ!!! If he is for you who can be against you

  16. I have too been cut off with no place to turn. Being old and realizing that there just isn’t much chance to get back to a degree of health that would be acceptable to what I would consider a “decent” retirement I have concluded that one VAMC that totally screwed me over with be the one that gets to clean my brains off their cafeteria walls. I think they’ll hear me loud and clear…..especially with it live streamed and numerous copies of complaints and files going to various news outlets and government watchdog groups.

  17. i can’t tell you how i totally agree with all of these stories. i was labelled a drug addict by the va and had all medicine abruptly stopped on a whim, they cold turkyed me without warning or concern for my health. i am on disability because i was of the mindset, work harder than anyone else and you won’t be fired. i was never fired from any job, so i guess that mindset worked. believe me if i had it to do over, i wouldn’t of killed my body. the treatment the va is giving, is deplorable. my dog gets better healthcare. i have considered suicide several times, but then thats what the va wants, one less statistic and one less veteran complaining. if they hired doctors that gave a shit, is a start. i have been saying for years, that they must of gotten their degree at walmart. got to go my anxiety goes haywire when i talk VA . BACK TO MY COUCH, I AM IN TO MUCH PAIN TO DO ANYTHING ELSE. THEY SAY VETERANS ARE GOING TO BE TAKEN CARE OF. (WHEN)

  18. I was wounded in Vietnam (IED). My legs were shredded, right side of the head crushed, blind right eye, lost right little5 finger and ring finger. left leg is numb inside to the big toe. L4-L5 damaged. I managed to stay off most pills for years because they didn’t offer any help in 72-78. It took protests and damage to get them to help us. We didn’t win our war they said, so we were punished by VA and others with no help. But, after the republicans went away, and the Democrats came in, we started to get help. Pills galore.

    I’m working real hard to do the Meditation and Hypnosis thing because I like being clear headed so I can think. I like to program computers. After getting old, I say damn the pills and pain control and bring on Euthanasia. A nice, Peaceful way to move on is what I really want. AT least I think I do. We all pass on anyway an I don’t think a person should have to live all their life with pain and then suffer through old age with it too. That would decrease the number of veterans on the rolls. I wonder how many would elect Euthanasia if given the choice? I would. I’m really tired of the pain for life thing.

  19. Been going to the VA for over 30 years! This sounds like doing the same thing over again and expecting different results! It’s putting Veterans through things they have already tried just to then deny them pain care instread of giving pain care after they don’t work again! Nothing new for the VA! If they call it something different doesn’t mean it is different than what I’ve done for 30 years. Veterans will now just live in pain instead of the VA having the humility to say they have no other answer than narcotics or opioids and using them like a sane organization would. However, now that Veterans have to go through all the failed procedures again and not be treated because it will be their failure and not the VA’s is despicable and frankly insane!

  20. Does anyone know if the va will approve the Quell tens unit for pain mgmt. it works great for chronic pain. I cut my meds by 75% becuse of it. I cant seem to get sny help from the VA OR I DONT KNOW HOW TO GO ABT IT.

  21. I am so Mad, frustrated,sad,And pray these people behind this traitor un American act of slowly killing our most valuable Americans is jailed punished by torcher till they Die…athis is pathetic that it ishappening at all!!! Damn it I’m Pissed!

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