04 March 2009

Meditation could help VA

Reducing Stress-Related Problems at Military and VA Facilities

David R. Leffler, Ph.D.

The issue of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder has reached public attention in an unexpected way through the revelations that our military medical establishment has failed on major fronts to provide the very best treatment deserved by American servicemen and women returning from conflict.

When wounded military personnel return from battle, they often feel angry and depressed. What are we going to do about them? More keep coming. Do we have any fresh solutions for them after politicians have performed in anger in front of the cameras, and the bureaucratic deck is shuffled and new top brass brought in? Will it be business as usual once the publicity dust has settled? Has anyone proposed anything new for our afflicted GIs?

During these difficult times, all military and civilian leaders struggle to do more with less resources. Working under such constraints is a great challenge. Not just our soldiers need help, but our leaders as well.

Stress-related problems at military and VA facilities could be turned around quickly. To do that I propose a very fresh and scientifically-validated option—Transcendental Meditation (TM), a simple program of mental relaxation proven in multiple research studies to reduce all kinds of stress-related problems. TM is a non-religious practice done twice a day for twenty minutes that anyone can learn to do. It carries one’s awareness to a profound level of rest, revitalizing a frazzled nervous system and clearing out deep-seated stress.

A study with Vietnam veterans showed that the technique is highly effective against post-traumatic stress. The participants in the study were randomly assigned to either meditation or psychotherapy. Compared to psychotherapy, three months practice of the TM program brought significantly greater reductions in eight out of nine criteria, including emotional numbness, anxiety, depression, alcohol consumption, insomnia, family problems, and unemployment. The study appeared in the peer-reviewed Journal of Counseling and Development in 1985.

Wounded and traumatized personnel need—and deserve—every opportunity to regain and sustain their health. Why not try innovative methods as well as conventional? Research shows that practitioners of the TM technique rise to a higher level of health. For instance, a 1987 study in Psychosomatic Medicine, a mainstream medical journal, monitored for five years the medical care utilization of 2,000 Americans who regularly practiced the TM technique. The findings: 50 percent fewer doctor visits and hospital admissions than non-meditators of comparable age, gender, profession, and insurance terms.

Multiple statistical reviews published in respected scientific journals provide powerful evidence for the superior effectiveness of the TM program in the areas of blood pressure and anxiety reduction, self-fulfillment, physiological relaxation, improved psychological outcomes, and decreased use of drugs, alcohol and cigarettes. If you are interested in the research, check out the web sites http://www.tm.cme.edu/stress and http://www.truthabouttm.org.

The TM technique is a portable strategy. After learning the technique, all you need is a comfortable place to sit and close the eyes. No additional resources are needed. The self-reliance of this approach has appeal for a "warrior mind-set."

To more effectively and efficiently treat the wounded minds of our warriors who protect the nation, we need to add innovation into the healing mix of services we provide. TM offers a do less and accomplish more approach that can not only help those precious minds and lives but also save money in the process.

Upon first hearing about the treatment shortcomings in our military medical facilities, a retired senior military leader wrote: "After other wars, they didn't have a place to stay, so they lived on steam grates and in cardboard boxes." Clearly we have made great progress and surely lead the world in the way we treat and rehabilitate our service personnel. The Veterans Administration deserves all the credit for that. However, the continuing scandal over the medical evaluation, housing, and processing for our wounded shows that still more improvement is needed.

The Pentagon wants Congress to boost baseline spending next fiscal year to $38.7 billion for the health care of troops and families. Even if this level of funding is allocated, it will not alleviate a primary root cause—stress—for many of the problems affecting our soldiers. For that, a new approach is needed. That new approach can be a proven stress-buster like TM. It could easily be taught to interested members and veterans of our armed forces. If military medical authorities give approval the positive benefits could start to be reaped immediately. No buildings would need to be built. No major procurement necessary. Just set up some chairs in an empty room. Hire some TM teachers. Put out the word and start teaching.

Col. Brian Rees, M.D., a doctor who deployed to Afghanistan and is now serving a second deployment in Iraq with the US Army Reserve, is a longtime practitioner of TM. He recently shared these thoughts with me: "The uncomfortable travel, the boredom, the heat, the separation from home and family, are difficult and stressful. Throw in big ticket items like casualties and hostile fire, and I can't imagine being without TM. The concentrated rest and personal centering it affords are invaluable in this environment. I think it's our most promising hole card in addressing the wave of post-traumatic stress we are going to be seeing."

About David R. Leffler, Ph.D.

Dr. Leffler is the Executive Director at the Center for Advanced Military Science (CAMS) - www.StrongMilitary.org. David was a member of the U.S. Air Force for eight years. He serves as an Associate of the Proteus Management Group at the Center for Strategic Leadership, US Army War College and is a member of the U.S. Naval Institute. Dr. Leffler's list of publications discussing the military potential of the Transcendental Meditation program, including a link to his 177-page doctoral dissertation are available at www.DavidLeffler.com.

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