Last month, the New York Times published an article entitled “Scuba, Parrots, Yoga: “Veterans Embrace Alternative Therapies for PTSD.” The article focuses on Veterans with PTSD who seek alternative treatment programs.
In this article, author Dave Phillips, suggests that Veterans with PTSD (Post-traumatic stress) are seeking alternative treatment since conventional treatments approved by the Department of Veterans Affairs (the “VA”) are not working:
Traditional medical approaches generally rely on drugs and controlled re-experiencing of trauma, called exposure therapy. But this combination has proved so unpopular that many veterans quit before finishing or avoid it altogether. This has given rise to hundreds of small nonprofits across the country that offer alternatives: therapeutic fishing, rafting and backpacking trips, horse riding, combat yoga, dogs, art collectives, dolphin swims, sweat lodge vision quests and parrot husbandry centers, among many, many others.
According to Mr. Phillips, one group of Veterans has even taken up swimming with sharks to help “overcome fears and build new experiences that put traumatic memories in perspective.”
Now, it is difficult to say whether swimming with sharks or parrot husbandry have any long term beneficial impact for Veterans, but it does speak volumes for the lack of treatment alternatives currently offered by the VA.
Prescription drugs and exposure therapy seem to be standard treatment procedures within the VA. Sadly, the VA gatekeepers strongly discourage Veterans from seeking alternative programs provided by the private sector and charitable organizations (mostly small).
Hiding behind the cloak of “not FDA approved,” “lack of supporting clinical studies” or other bureaucratic protocols, the VA has effectively blocked many Veterans from seeking what many consider to be more effective treatment without the drug side-effects.
In fact, the VA has established itself as “Il Supremo” or the “Supreme Authority” in deciding what is “right” and proper for Veterans seeking help to cure themselves and re-integrate into society.
For many reasons, Veterans are finding that the VA’s recommended treatment for PTSD has its limitations and, in many cases, undesirable side-effects. In fact, as we reported last week, the VA track record in treating PTSD is abysmal.
While VA administrators argue that they are open to “alternative therapies,” there is little in SFTT’s experience to suggest that the VA is openly encouraging Veterans to seek treatment outside the VA. Quite the contrary, the gatekeepers at the VA consider alternative therapies as “black magic” with little or no scientific basis for support or VA funding.
As such, many Veterans are left to their own devices to find programs that may meet their particular needs rather than the VA pro forma cocktail of prescription drugs which masks symptoms and is often lethal.
While alternative PTSD treatment programs have grown exponentially, it is difficult to gauge the efficacy of these programs given the vast differences in one program from another and the level of supervised care provided. Who is to say whether swimming with sharks is better than parrot husbandry or which program may be best suited for a particular Veteran.
Despite these shortcomings, the VA would be wise to gather as much information as possible to evaluate the efficacy of these “alternative” treatment programs rather than simply dismiss them because there are no clinical trials or replicable results.
As the VA tries to redefine itself to provide more effective treatment programs for Veterans with PTSD, SFTT remains hopeful that the VA embraces other treatment alternatives and provides financial support to private foundations which try to make a difference in the lives of our brave Veterans.