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We are making it harder than it needs to be for CAF members to access their medical benefits. It needs to change

Musculoskeletal conditions are responsible for 42 per cent of career-ending medical releases
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By Dr. Gerald Olin
Dr. Gerald Olin is the Chair of the Canadian Chiropractic Association (CCA) Board of Directors, team chiropractor for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers (CFL) and the Winnipeg Jets (NHL) and a member of the Royal College of Chiropractic Sports Sciences (Canada). 
You may find it surprising that millions of Canadians suffer from musculoskeletal (MSK) conditions each year. It may not surprise you however that MSK injuries are one of the most common occupational risks for members of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF). In fact, MSK conditions are responsible for 42% of career ending medical releases. Our service members voluntarily and selflessly dedicate their careers to keeping our country safe, and yet, we are making it more difficult for them to access the chiropractic care they need to continue working in top form or enjoy a pain-free retirement. 

MSK conditions among active servicepeople and veterans are double that of the general population in Canada due to the physical demands placed on active military personnel. These often debilitating MSK conditions include chronic back pain, headaches, arm or neck strains, osteoarthritis and other diseases of the muscles and joints that have devastating impacts on the health, quality of life, workforce participation and economy in Canada. Extreme cases of MSK conditions can even lead to permanent disability. According to the World Health Organizations (WHO) MSK conditions are the leading contributor to disability worldwide, with low back pain being the single leading cause of disability globally. 

Federal parties are busy criss-crossing the country, speaking about everything from healthcare to defense. They are talking big strategies that are certainly important, but we must also remind them that there are small changes they can make within existing frameworks to improve the lives of our armed forces members and our medical system. 

Military personnel face challenges accessing chiropractic care, which is not only concerning, but confusing, since their job is often physically demanding. Unfortunately, they can only use their chiropractic benefits after first getting a referral from a physician on base. This can cause delays in receiving care and important early intervention. This referral is required even though chiropractors are doctors, which authorizes them to diagnose the cause of their patients’ health condition. They are also often in the best position to recognize when a patient has reached the point of severe disability.

In comparison, chiropractic care is well integrated into the United States (US) Armed Forces and Veterans Administration. Currently in the US, chiropractic services are available on 51 bases, including 2 overseas rehabilitation centers, and 36 Veteran Affairs facilities. Evidence from studies commissioned by the US Department of Defense of this integration has shown that adding chiropractic to standard medical care is cost effective and can lead to decreased pain, disability rates, and increased satisfaction for active duty soldiers with low back pain. 

Military personnel passionately represent and protect our country, and they deserve to be treated with dignity, compassion and respect by the healthcare system during and after they’ve completed their service. 

Just one member denied access to the chiropractic support they’re entitled to is too many. Because of the difficult process to access chiropractic services, it is well overdue for the federal government to supply the right kind of evidence-based framework for our military personnel who have dedicated their lives to defending our country. Chiropractors want to help. 

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the position of this publication.