Army urged to do more with alternative medicine techniques


When the pills didn't work, Army Brig. Gen. Rebecca Halstead teamed up with her chiropractor to find a holistic solution to her chronic pain.

And that worked.

"Success is a team sport," she said at last week's Foundation for Chiropractic Progress 10th anniversary gathering at the Rio hotel-casino. She was referring to her chiropractor teammate, Dr. Carol Ann Malizia.

"After a three-year journey with her upon retirement, I take no prescription drugs. I take whole-food supplements. I go to my chiropractor routinely, which restores functionality to my nervous system," she said.

"Instead of letting the disease define you, you take on the disease. So she took me under her wing and started to teach me how to take care of myself, which is ironic because in the military we take pretty darn good care of ourselves."

Based on her experience, Halstead said the military needs to put more emphasis on alternative medicine techniques and less on prescribed drugs, its traditional way of treating illness.

A graduate of the U.S. Military Academy, and the first female West Point grad to wear the single star of the brigadier general rank, she had just achieved her promotion in 2005 when Army doctors diagnosed her with the excruciating, soft-tissue disease, fibromyalgia. The malady affects nerves that overlap the body's skeletal-muscular system.

"Your nerves are over-responding all the time, so your skin burns, you ache everywhere. It's really quite miserable," said Halstead, 53.

"The doctors told me, 'Let's face it. You have the disease. You're going to have to live with it the rest of your life. You just better take the drugs,' " she said. "But I take none now and I feel really great."

Before Halstead deployed to Iraq in 2005 to command 20,000 soldiers, she was taking 15 different prescription drugs to cope with pain and help her sleep and eat.

During that Operation Iraqi Freedom tour she took no prescription drugs "because I wanted clarity of mind. Of course my condition got quite a bit worse with the stress" of being in a combat zone.

What she learned from Malizia was that her diet of bland foods she had to eat after her three abdominal surgeries - potatoes, pasta and bread - would keep her stomach from aching but at the same time would warm up her body and cause inflammation.

"It was the inflammation that got the fibromyalgia out of control," she said.

Now she eats whole-food supplements, "greens ground up in capsules that cool my body down," she said, adding, "I eat a ton of carrots. If I eat chicken, I eat organic chicken. I still eat red meat."

Chiropractic and holistic treatments, including acupuncture, are now approved benefits for veterans and active-duty soldiers.

"We're slowly getting chiropractors at all treatment facilities, but they're at only about 25 percent of the sites," she said.

Dr. Ramu Komanduri, chief of staff at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in North Las Vegas, said there are two full-time, established chiropractors at the center.

"We've been fortunate," he said Friday.

The center and satellite clinics have a comprehensive pain management and rehabilitation program.

In addition to chiropractic service, the VA offers physical therapy, acupuncture and tai chi classes to help veterans deal with combat stress through mind-body alternatives.

"We have a humongous demand for our acupuncture service. We're trying to expand," Komanduri said.

Contact reporter Keith Rogers at krogers@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0308.