CAM in the United States Military

By: Jonas WB, Welton RC, Delgado RE, Gordon S, Zhang W
Publication Name: Medical Care
Year: 2014

Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) covers a heterogeneous spectrum of ancient to new-age approaches that purport to prevent or treat disease. By definition, CAM practices are not part of conventional western-style medicine because there is a perception of insufficient proof that they are safe and effective or because they are not taught in conventional medical and nursing schools. Complementary interventions are typically used together with conventional western-style treatments, whereas alternative interventions are used instead of conventional approaches. When combined with conventional practices they are often labeled Integrative Medicine (IM).

Many people in the United States (US) use CAM and IM modalities1–7and its use is increasing.2 In 1990, a national survey estimated that 33.8% of US adults used CAM modalities in the previous year,7 which increased to 42.1% in 19973 and 62% in the 2002 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS).1 These surveys included spiritual healing and “folk” medicine (remedies common, ethnically derived remedies used at home), in the CAM modality definition. Recently published results of the 2007 NHIS used a different CAM modality taxonomy and excluded these practices.2,8,9 When prayer specifically for health reasons was excluded, the 2002 and 2007 NHIS found 36% and 38.3%, respectively, of US adults reported using some form of CAM modality in the last 12 months.1,2

These national surveys only include civilian, noninstitutionalized individuals; they do not include our 1.8 million active duty militarypersonnel and families.

In the last 10 years, there has been an increase in interest and use of CAM modalities and IM in the military.9 This important segment of the US population receives health care from both military and civilian practitioners; and is subject to similar health risks as civilians plus additional physical, emotional, and cognitive stress of deployment with associated family separations for both the active duty member and families, and the consequences of combat.10,11 It would not be unexpected for military personnel to seek to improve their health through complementary practitioners, potentially at a greater extent due to health and performance expectations,10 and for the same reasons reported by civilians.1,2,11,12

This interest in CAM has been accelerated by the surge of chronic pain, chronic stress, and chronic symptoms associated with trauma and injuries from over a decade of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.13However, until recently there were little data to determine which CAM modalities are being used, how often, by whom, and for what purposes. Recently, these informational gaps are being filled in and the current picture is summarized below.