AMVETS snookered into supporting naturopaths at VA

AMVETS snookered into supporting naturopaths at VA

AMVETS serves as a voice for veterans and their families. It advocates for increased benefits as well as defends benefits already earned.  One of the organization's obvious concerns is adequate health care for veterans. Unfortunately, this laudable goal was undermined recently when the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians used the AMVETS's good name as a front to try to elbow its way into the Veterans Administration.  

As is too often the case, naturopaths, who have failed to impress both the public and the larger health care fraternity with their alleged, but never proven, ability to deliver safe and effective care, want to use the political process to achieve their goals.

Steve Novella, MD, wrote about this effort on his NeuroLogica blog.  As he said, and I agree, "It is an unfortunate byproduct of our democratic system that dedicated groups can relentlessly lobby for their own interests, against the interests of the general public. . . The current effort is just one more way in which naturopaths are lobbying to extend their own footprint in the medical system. They need to be vigorously opposed."  Harriet Hall, MD, herself a veteran, will be covering this as well on Science-Based Medicine on Tuesday. 

AMVETS and the AANP, joined by several members of Congress, are asking Robert McDonald, head of the VA, to employ naturopaths. They are, according to a press release, "trained in the use of safe and effective natural and conventional therapies." If this is true, it certainly doesn't show up in their actual practices, as we have documented many, many times over on Science-Based Medicine. And actually, it isn't true, as Britt Hermes, a former naturopath, revealed on her own blog and on SBM. What naturopaths actually learn (and practice) is a hodgepodge of unproven treatments such as homeopathy and "detoxification" methods (like colonic irrigation). They have created fake diseases, like "chronic yeast overgrowth" and "adrenal fatigue," and use unvalidated tests like "live blood analysis." This is not the kind of health care our veterans need. 

The press release also says that naturopaths place a "strong emphasis  . . . on disease prevention." The VA already has a disease prevention program in place. It would be a terrible fit for a naturopath. The VA, of course, strongly supports vaccination as part of preventive care, while naturopaths have a long-standing ideological opposition to immunization which manifests itself in an association between seeing a naturopath and acquisition of vaccine-preventable diseases. 

This time, the naturopaths are focusing on their supposed ability to treat chronic pain, a huge problem among veterans. As they have done time and again, they simply make such claims without offering a jot of evidence that they are true. I did a quick search on PubMed and I couldn't find a single article in the medical literature even discussing naturopathic treatment of chronic pain, much less whether it is effective. And none is cited in this appeal. 

What they do cite is a survey commissioned by the AANP purportedly showing that "natural therapies" would be popular and that veterans would "consider seeing" a naturopath if one were on staff. The survey itself is not included, so we have no way of knowing whether it used valid surveying methodology. Even if it did, its results are beside the point.  As the VA itself concluded, popularity is not the equivalent of effectiveness:

"Unfortunately, popularity of a treatment does not guarantee its effectiveness. It is up to the individual practitioners to determine whether a given treatment is potentially effective for the condition, and to ascertain if professional or state guidelines or standards of care governing the treatment of certain pain conditions exist." 

Naturopaths have a proven record of eschewing evidence in favor of their "philosophy," which is based on vitalism, a long-discredited, pre-scientific view of bodily functioning. They have no place in the VA.


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