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Can Integrative Medicine Help Our Veterans?

October 9, 2012

The scholarship for the LA Veterans Affairs Hospital participants is made possible by a special gifts from the Gerald Oppenheimer Family Foundation .

UCLA Center for East-West Medicine has offered the course, Introduction to Integrative East-West Medicine every summer at UCLA since 2008. Over the years, the course has attracted not only students at UCLA, but also students and healthcare practitioners around the world. This year, several from the Los Angeles Veteran Affairs (VA) Hospital participated in the class: Freny Mody, MD (Chief of Cardiology), Karl Lorenz, MD, MSHD (Director of VA Comprehensive End of Life Palliative Care), and Peter Glassman, MD, MBBS, MSc, FACP (Co-Director of VA Center for Medication Safety and internal medicine physician), Stephanie Taylor, PhD (Associate Director of Center of Excellence for the Study of Healthcare), veteran Lori Bennett (EMT certified military firefighter).

We invite you to explore the reflections from two of them, Karl Lorenz and Lori Bennett. “CAM is offered to a very limited extent at the VA” said Dr. Lorenz, “Even though many veterans welcome alternative approaches in an attempt to ameliorate their chronic conditions, acupuncture and herbal therapies are often difficult to secure at the VA.” While integrative practices at the VA are currently very scant, Dr. Lorenz believes that many of the physicians will be receptive to incorporating IM into their practice in order to address the symptomatic concerns of the veterans.

When asked to share his insight from participating in the course, he remarked, “As a palliative care physician, I find the conceptual approaches of integrative medicine to be extremely synergistic with palliative medicine perspectives which focus very much on the whole person and their family context. There is important and fascinating empiric evidence to substantiate specific approaches and therapies available in integrative medicine for the chronic conditions that many of our veterans live with.”

Already an experienced user of CAM modalities for decades outside of the VA and within the VA for over 5 years, veteran Lori Bennett joined the course to further educate herself and to help by sharing this knowledge with the VA's team dedicated to patient-centered care with the objective of improving the VA’s whole system of healthcare. Bennett expressed that the course’s revelations for her were how ‘evidence based’ research is finally making progress in verifying how “[o]ur thoughts, our mindfulness and meditation on affirmative changes are now being ‘proven’ to be critical to achieving freedom from pain, fear and apathy…There are many 'tools' we each can pick up from 'CAM' [Complementary and Alternative Medicine] to heal ourselves or to assist us as a part of a holistic healing process [such as] with our team of doctors at the VA.”

Although veterans like Bennett have benefited extensively from integrative practices currently at the VA, programs centered around ‘CAM’ or ‘IM’ seem rare and difficult to find initially unless the veteran knows specifically what to look for, such as Tai Chi classes and aromatherapy. “A vet needs to be proactive and educate themselves; these “Integrative Programs’ become truly integrated by asking their providers for information, choices and access to them including through the ‘MOVE’ program and by attending events that offer ‘self-care’ education programs,” Bennett said.

Bennett along with a host of other volunteers offer regular talks at the West LA VA to help others glean the best from the blending of Eastern and Western healing tradition. This team is determined to continue to share both the successes and challenges of the healing journey and hope their efforts increase the willingness to integrate new IM practices and CAM modalities at the VA.

The lead instructor of the course, Ka-Kit Hui, MD remarked that, “While the implementation of IM at the VA will not be a simple process, IM is gaining support from both physicians and veterans alike in hopes for more successful and cost-effective treatment.” He expressed great optimism that “the incorporation of IM will result in a system of care that is more individualized and patient-centered by addressing the root of the problem.”



By Shannon Wongvibulsin, BS Candidate, UCLA 2014
UCLA Center East-West Medicine, Staff Writer

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