Complementary and Alternative Medicine

Interest in CAM has grown in recent years among military and veteran populations. Reasons for the growing interest in CAM may include perceived limitations of conventional medicine, poor appointment availability, greater public acceptance of CAM and concerns about the effectiveness and side effects of medications (Kroesen et al., 2002). CAM is a broad category, but, in general, treatments not commonly used in traditional medicine fall under CAM. CAM methods have sometimes been viewed as unscientific and ineffective by Western medicine, but research efforts of recent decades have shown the usefulness of specific CAM modalities in treating mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, and various sleep disorders. The effectiveness of treatments, such as yoga and meditation, have been shown in empirical research and shared anecdotally. Meditation involves the quiet focus of thought to induce relaxation and is a key part of yoga, a Hindu spiritual discipline that combines controlled breathing and bodily postures with meditation to promote physical and mental health. Because of the perceived effectiveness and growing popularity of CAM, military patients may seek CAM treatments in lieu of traditional medicine for their various mental and physical health conditions, a decision that often leads them outside of the military and veteran health systems and results in greater personal expenditure.

Among military populations, interest in CAM has increased markedly in recent years. For instance, in a study conducted by Micek and colleagues (2007) on the treatment-seeking behaviors of more than 16,000 patients in the VHA system, 27 percent reported using CAM treatments within a year of the study's survey. The researchers also observed that factors associated with CAM use were patients' beliefs in non-scientific treatments, concerns about the harmful effects of conventional medicine, adherence to a natural diet, and the use of health information not provided by a health care professional. They also found that higher use of CAM was negatively associated with overall satisfaction with VHA primary care and the belief that physicians control patient health.

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