Chiropractic in U.S. Military
and Veterans’ Health Care

This section is compiled by Frank M. Painter, D.C.
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FROM:   Military Medicine 2009 (Jun); 174 (6): vi–vii ~ FULL TEXT

Bart N. Green, DC, MSEd; Claire D. Johnson, DC, MSEd; Anthony J. Lisi, DC

Chiropractic Division,
Department of Physical and Occupational Therapy,
Naval Medical Center San Diego,
MCAS Miramar Branch Medical Clinic,
PO Box 452002, San Diego, CA 92145-2002

From the FULL TEXT :


The use of various forms of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) continues to grow in the United States. [1] Eisenberg and colleagues [2] defined CAM as: “Interventions not taught widely at U.S. medical schools or generally available at U.S. hospitals.” Popular CAM practices include: herbal remedies, yoga, acupuncture and, chiropractic. [1] Chiropractic care is reportedly used by 7.4% [1] to 11% [3] of the American adult population, representing approximately 190 million office visits per year and about 30% of all CAM practitioner visits. [4] Smith and colleagues recently reported that as much as one third of Navy and Marine Corps personnel utilize some form of CAM, including chiropractic care. [5] This editorial offers a brief overview of chiropractic care in military and veteran facilities.


Since a 3-year demonstration program launched in 1995 showed successful inclusion of chiropractic services in 10 different Department of Defense (DoD) sites, 6 the service has grown to approximately 45 military treatment facilities across the United States, [7] and is still expanding. [8] In 2004, chiropractic care was introduced into the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) [9] and is currently available at 35 VA facilities. [10] At these locations, doctors of chiropractic work within each hospital or clinic and become an integral part of the healthcare team at each facility. When beneficiaries are consulted for chiropractic care, the chiropractor’s case management approach is transparent to all providers at the facility because of both routine interactions between providers and access to electronic medical records.


Chiropractors are licensed healthcare professionals who, after completing required prerequisite college courses, must complete 4 years of training, certification, and licensure. [11] They primarily focus on neuromuscoloskeletal conditions, such as headache, backache, neck pain, sprains, strains, and are trained to diagnose, comanage, and refer appropriately. Although the number of publications about chiropractic care specifically included within the DoD/VA setting is limited [12-18] there are many articles regarding chiropractic care in general. Two of the most common questions asked by medical personnel are what types of conditions to send to a chiropractor and how chiropractors fit into the system.


Typically, chiropractors within the DoD and VA are successful in treating various spinal conditions such as mechanical low back pain, neck pain, and radiculopathy. Chiropractors additionally often manage a variety of other neuromusculoskeletal problems such as tension-type headaches, extremity conditions, tendinopathies, and noncardiac chest pain. Because of the limited number of chiropractors working in DoD and VA facilities, there may be a wait time for patients to be seen for initial consults. [17] However, most on-station chiropractors make time to see acute cases at the request of a fellow provider. Service agreements help to delineate appropriate consultation processes, and collegial communication among providers allows all to work in the patients’ best interests.


Chiropractors who have been selected to work within the DoD or VA are credentialed and have experience working within the medical healthcare environment. Some chiropractors are certified in specialty areas, such as sports medicine or rehabilitation and may be able to offer expanded services because of this training. In today’s VA and DoD facilities, it is common to see chiropractors working alongside physical therapists, sports medicine physicians, primary care managers, and other specialists, depending upon the needs of the beneficiaries in the area. Chiropractors are functioning currently in departments of primary care, physical therapy, orthopedics, and sports medicine in many VA and DoD facilities and, in some locations, exist as stand-alone departments. Neurosurgeons and orthopedic surgeons sometimes request a course of physical therapy and/or chiropractic care to see if a case will respond to conservative management before planning on surgery. Those cases that go through a course of chiropractic care and do not improve are often excellent candidates for surgery. As well, some chiropractors may be available to assist with postsurgical care as the patient goes through rehabilitation.

Various subpopulations of active duty service members are a good match for chiropractic care, as chiropractors provide conservative care, do not prescribe medications, and are most often able to treat a patient without the need for light duty or med-down status. For example, chiropractic care can be a valuable asset in the aviation community where pilots, who often have neck and back problems, [19] can obtain relief from their pain without jeopardizing their flight status. Many posts have discovered that in addition to assisting in the management of common musculoskeletal problems, chiropractors are also well versed in providing education pertaining to injury prevention, ergonomics, and other health and wellness topics to provider groups and beneficiaries.

There have been early reports of how some chiropractors function in DoD and VA facilities; this demonstrates the need for additional documentation by experienced investigators. Although more research is needed to demonstrate the effectiveness of chiropractic care in the DoD and VA settings, experience thus far has shown the service can be of benefit to both beneficiaries and the healthcare team.


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    JAMA 1998 (Nov 11); 280 (18): 1569–1575

  4. Meeker, W., & Haldeman, S. (2002).
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  5. Smith TC, Ryan MA, Smith B, et al.
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  6. Chiropractic Health Care Demonstration Program . Final Report .
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  7. Government Accountability Office.
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  8. National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2004, Pub. L. No. 108-136, § 711, 117 Stat. 1392, 1530, 2003 .

  9. Department of Veterans Affairs Health Care Programs Enhancement Act of 2001
    Public Law 107–135

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  15. Green BN , Schultz G , Stanley M :
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  17. Dunn AS , Passmore SR :
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  18. Dunn, AS and Passmore, SR.
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    Military Medicine 2008 (Jun); 173 (6): 599–603

  19. Drew WED :
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