The Army’s health care system may soon see changes in how Soldiers are
treated for pain, according to a report released by the Army’s surgeon
general last month.
A Pain Management Task Force report addresses the lack of a comprehensive pain management strategy across the Army, and suggests alternative treatments to medication such as acupuncture, meditation, biofeedback and yoga.
Lt. Gen. Eric B. Schoomaker, the surgeon general of the Army and commanding general of the Army Medical Command, explained that with the increasing numbers of Soldiers returning from combat with severe wounds, reports of medication abuse and suicides with pain as a possible factor are troubling.
He said part of the problem is that severely injured Soldiers, like those in Warrior Transition Units, are often prescribed multiple medications and sometimes seen by several different doctors, which can cause inconsistencies in care. But he maintained that this is not just an Army problem — it’s a problem throughout the U.S. health care system.
“This is a nation-wide problem … we’ve got a culture of ‘a pill for every ill,’” agreed Brig. Gen. Richard W. Thomas, assistant Army surgeon general.
“As a physician, the hardest thing to deal with is patients with chronic pain,” said Col. Jonathan H. Jaffin, director of heath policy and services, Army office of the surgeon general. “So many of us went into medicine to relieve suffering, and chronic pain is frustrating because we want to relieve that pain.”
The task force visited 28 military, Veterans Affairs and civilian medical centers between October and January to observe treatment capabilities and best practices.
Schoomaker’s said his goal is to form a pain-management strategy that is holistic, multidisciplinary and puts Soldiers’ quality of life first.
“This is an opportunity to change medical care and the way we take care of patients,” noted Thomas.
Schoomaker stressed that Army practices have always been in compliance with America’s medical regulations, but he thinks the Army can do better.
“Everything we do in the Army, even managing a toothache, is all in compliance with national standards … what we want to do is set the bar higher,” Schoomaker explained.
Schoomaker said he is hopeful that Soldiers will be receptive to alternative methods of care once they see that the treatments work.
Schoomaker said the recommendations that can be put into policy under his authority will be implemented in the coming months, and the 2010 National Defense Authorization Act asks the secretary of defense to integrate a pain-management policy into the military health care system no later than March 2011.