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Military Health: Is a Chiropractor in Your Future?

By Douglas J. Gillert
American Forces Press Service

SAN ANTONIO, Texas, Dec. 1, 1998 – Are chiropractors in DoD's future? Well, technically, they're here now.

In what could become a normal option for beneficiaries of military health care, DoD hired civilian chiropractors to demonstrate their profession at test sites around the country, including Wilford Hall Medical Center, at Lackland Air Force Base, here.

Although the demonstration began three years ago, Wilford Hall is one of three major service hospitals that entered the test this September. The others are the National Naval Medical Center at Bethesda, Md., and Walter Reed Army Medical Center, D.C. They joined hospitals at Travis Air Force Base and Camp Pendleton, Calif.; Fort Carson, Colo.; Offutt Air Force Base, Neb.; Fort Sill, Okla.; Scott Air Force Base, Ill.; Fort Benning, Ga.; Jacksonville Naval Air Station, Fla.; Fort Jackson, S.C.; and Camp Lejeune, N.C.

Each is involved in the Chiropractic Health Care Demonstration Program mandated by Congress in 1994 to find out if chiropractic medicine is feasible for the military. Dr. Sue Bailey, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, will evaluate results of the demonstration and advise Congress by May 2000 if DoD wants to offer chiropractic medicine department-wide.

If patient interest here is any indicator, chiropractic care could catch on fast.

"We maxed out the patient appointment line the first month and were seeing as many as 48 patients a day," said Jim Carlson, who administers the Wilford Hall program.

At all test sites, chiropractic appointments are available to locally based active duty service members and their families, and to retirees and their families located within 40 miles of the servicing hospital. No other doctor can have treated the patients for the condition warranting their visit to the chiropractor.

At Wilford Hall, 90 percent of the patients visiting Dr. Matthew Williams are active duty service members. Since the first month, he and another chiropractor assigned here have been seeing up to 28 patients daily.

Chiropractic medicine involves manual and electronic manipulation and adjustment of the spine, Williams explained. And, because it doesn't involve the use of prescription drugs, Williams said, it's very appealing to pilots and other air crew members who make up a large part of the military population in San Antonio.

Williams said he first evaluates a new patient by taking an oral medical history. All patients also must agree to answer surveys that will be used to evaluate the effectiveness of the demonstration. He defends chiropractic care as feasible for a number of ills.

"The body's structure affects all bodily functions, and the base of the structure is the spinal column," he said. "If the spinal column is out of line, that's going to affect other parts of the body, from numbness in the finger tips to severe lower back pain. We try to re-establish proper structure. We don't treat symptoms, we treat causes."

The key to measuring the demonstration's success is the post-care, fourth-week survey, Williams said. "That's where we ask two important questions: 'How successful was the first meeting?' and 'How do you feel today?'," he said.

The neck and back patient load has dropped way off at other clinics, because they're coming here," Carlson said. And, if DoD bases its decision on the surveys, chiropractic care is highly desirable among beneficiaries, he said. "It's pretty popular."

Williams suggested that anyone considering chiropractic care should give it a try. "Generally, alternative health care doesn't do any harm, and it may help," he said. "If patients have problems we can't treat, we will refer them to the proper specialist."

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