VA New England Healthcare System
Innovative new ways to manage pain
Our nation’s Veterans face unique health challenges. The emotional and physical aftereffects of military service and battle result in higher rates of PTSD, traumatic brain injury, and more. And, the physical demands and injuries from battle also result in a common and debilitating problem: chronic pain.
Over the years, many Veterans have been given prescription pain relievers such as morphine, codeine, hydrocodone, methadone, and other opioid medications. But research has shown that Veterans are twice as likely than non-Veterans to have an accidental overdose and more likely to have other negative outcomes, especially if they also have PTSD.
“Opioid pain medications can be extremely addictive and carry a high risk of dangerous side effects and even fatal overdose,” says Tu Ngo, PhD, MPH, VISN 1 Pain Council Co-Chair. “We want to help Veterans find safer ways to manage pain so they can minimize or even eliminate the need for opioids.”
VISN 1 designated pain management as a strategic initiative and is seeing positive results from these efforts.
“Our VISN now has the second lowest rate of opioid prescriptions in the country” Dr. Ngo says. “As we consider safer use of opioids we are focusing on different treatment options. We are shifting the conversation from chasing the pain intensity rating solely to promoting functioning and quality of life. Many facilities are offering innovative treatments for managing pain. For instance, many of our physicians are trained in an acupuncture technique known as battlefield acupuncture that has been successful in treating pain for many Veterans.”
Today, several VA facilities offer the following services for pain management - and more plan to offer these services in the near future as part of the VISN strategic initiative:
- Chiropractic care
- Mindfulness meditation
- Cognitive behavioral therapy for chronic pain
- Pain school
- Yoga, tai chi, reiki, qi gong
- Physical, occupational, and recreational therapy
Veterans with chronic pain or who may have dependence on opioid pain medication are encouraged to see their VA health care provider for assistance.
One Veteran’s pain story
Ron Sabatino was dealing with constant pain when he completed his duty in 1985. He had a broken ankle that hadn’t been repaired correctly and a back injury. For years, he relied upon his prescription pain medication to help him get through the day - and even then, he was not getting the relief he needed.
But since he began treatment at the Pain Program at the Bedford VAMC, he’s swimming three times a week, doing yoga, meditating, and feeling better than ever. He’s also significantly lowered his dose of pain medication.
“These activities help me with my pain every day,” Sabatino says. “They’ve even helped me manage my PTSD. I give all the credit to the people at the VA. I feel very blessed that I’ve had the help of the VA staff. They really care about the Veterans and their families.”
From Veterans Healthy Living, Summer 2016 issue