Practitioner seeks state funds to widen study of naprapathy to treat vets’ PTSD
By Robert Nott
The New Mexican
For more than 30 years, Marine veteran Dan Gandee, 51, had trouble talking about the 1983 bombing of the U.S. military barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, by the Islamic Jihad. The attack killed 241 American servicemen, including 220 Marines. Gandee was deployed there in the aftermath of the carnage.
The memories hurt. His body aches, too, recoiling into a defensive position when he hears unexpected noises. “It’s the armor protecting us. The events we experienced caused us to be ultra vigilant and ever-ready. There’s a lot of tension associated with that,” he said.
But recently, Gandee said, he has gotten some relief from an alternative type of medicine: naprapathy. A form of physical therapy, it works on the soft connective tissue that holds the skeletal frame together.
After 10 visits to Patrick Nuzzo’s Southwest University of Naprapathic Medicine at The Lofts on Cerrillos Road, Gandee said he is feeling better, sleeping longer and opening up emotionally.
Now Nuzzo is hoping to get a bill through the Legislature that would appropriate $90,000 for a study on the efficacy of naprapathic medicine in treating veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Currently, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Health Care System for New Mexico does not sanction naprapathy for treatment of PTSD. Spokesman Bill Armstrong said in an email, “Naprapathy therapy for PTSD is not considered the standard of care within our VA or nationally. This therapy is not used at our clinics.”
But after 11 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, thousands of military men and women are at risk of developing PTSD. Veterans Affairs estimates PTSD afflicts 11 percent of veterans of the war in Afghanistan and 20 percent of Iraq War veterans. While there are about 170,700 veterans living in New Mexico, the state Department of Veterans’ Services doesn’t know how many are affected by the condition.
Naprapathy is just one of the methods for treating people diagnosed with PTSD.
When Nuzzo started practicing naprapathy in Illinois more than 25 years ago, he focused on the treatment of adult survivors of childhood abuse, including his former wife, who had been diagnosed with PTSD. Nuzzo said he never set out to use it to heal veterans, but over time several veterans came to him for care and felt that his work was relieving their headaches and physical tension brought about by PTSD.
“Because the body holds on to pain,” Nuzzo said, “guys who go through IED [improvised explosive device] explosions are hunkering down. They are very, very guarded.”
Naprapathy was founded in the early 1900s by a chiropractor. According to the website of the American Naprapathic Association, it employs hands-on connective tissue manipulation, nutritional counseling and a wide variety of therapies, such as ultrasound or electric stimulation. It focuses, the association says, on conditions caused by “contracted, injured, spasmed, bruised and/or otherwise affected myofascial and connective tissue.”
Connective tissue supports and contains all the integral structures of the body, including the tissue surrounding the spinal column and spinal cord, the muscles, organs and joints. It includes ligaments, tendons, fascia, intervertebral discs and cartilage.
Connective tissue problems can be caused by traumatic injury, repetitive motion and temperature-related events.
Nuzzo said naprapathy is different from chiropractic work because chiropractors apply a “high velocity adjustment” that pulls the bony structure back into alignment. He said such treatments are usually less than 10 minutes long. Naprapaths work on releasing tension in the connective tissue, through allowing the vertebrae and body structure to fall back into alignment. Such treatments run 30 minutes.
Earlier this month, Nuzzo appeared before the New Mexico Legislature’s Military and Veterans Affairs Committee to present the results of a preliminary survey his clinic performed on the impact of naprapathic therapy on nine military retirees who were diagnosed with PTSD. Among other outcomes, the study indicates that treated veterans experienced less pain and slept better after 10 weekly treatments.
He asked the committee to consider a broader study of 50 vets, who would be recommended to Nuzzo’s clinic by the state Veterans’ Services Department. Looking ahead, Nuzzo said he would like to train veterans in naprapathy so they can ultimately treat others suffering from PTSD.
Rep. Rudy Martinez, D-Bayard, and chairman of the Military and Veterans Affairs Committee, said by phone that the committee will decide during its November meeting which legislative bills and actions to support. He said he was encouraged by Nuzzo’s initial report. “Anything positive that is going to help veterans is certainly something to consider,” Martinez said. “His work seems to be helpful to veterans suffering from PTSD.” Martinez said he wants to hear from veterans who have benefited from naprapathic healing.
Committee member Dianne Miller Hamilton, R-Silver City, said she supports Nuzzo’s plan and likes the fact that he paid for the initial naprapathic study out of his own pocket. Last year, she introduced a memorial requesting a similar study. She also has been working to pass a bill supporting a virtual-reality treatment plan for veterans suffering from PTSD.
“We have young men and women going to serve in Iraq and elsewhere, and they have had four or five tours of duty, and it takes its toll,” she said. “They’ve had been friends blown up next to them — just a horrible, horrible experience.”
The Veterans Affairs website defines PTSD as “an extremely complex illness that requires a comprehensive approach to healing.” It notes that possible treatments include medication, talk therapy, rest, stress reduction, time and understanding, adding that alternative methods — including naprapathy — are available.
Speaking by phone, Chicago naprapathic therapist and VA compliance officer José Diaz — an Army veteran who suffers from PTSD — said he has treated more than 50 veterans in the past year at his clinic. He said he first came across the uses of naprapathy at the National College of Naprapathic Medicine in Chicago and discovered that the work some of his fellow students were doing on him was easing his pain and helping him sleep better. He said the therapy helped him concentrate and finish his studies. So he began calling some veterans he knew and asked if he could practice naprapathy on them.
He said vets suffering from PTSD cannot disconnect from the trauma. “You are going to be on an ‘on’ switch all the time.” The problem, he said, is that it’s “like trying to run a car for a month nonstop. You are going to have mechanical or electric problems. The same happens with vets.”
Naprapathy’s focus on the body’s connective tissue relieves inflammation and congestion in the nervous system and helps turn that switch “off” for a while, Diaz said.
Diaz said holistic medical approaches like naprapathy are still considered new to the VA, and that the department still prefers to stick to traditional treatments. But, he said, “The VA is trying acupuncture. It may work. I see no results on it yet.” He said if enough data regarding the effects of naprapathy are collected, “I don’t think it will take too much to convince the VA.”
Gandee, a Texas native and Los Alamos resident, said he tried counseling, medication and transcendental meditation for his PTSD, but nothing worked until he began naprapathy.
The therapy has allowed him to talk about his military experience. He was still a teenager in the summer of 1983 when he graduated from boot camp. That fall, he was on his way to Beirut. “We were flown in as soon as [the bombings] happened. We had to immediately go to the site of the blast and do what you gotta do. It was like a miniature 9/11,” he recalled.
His unit remained on alert for several days as firefights broke out. “We saw a lot in a very short time. We were all greatly affected by what we saw and experienced. What we had to do wasn’t real easy,” he said.
After a pause, Gandee said, “I’ve never talked about it to that length.”
He attributes that to the naprapathy. “It goes a little deeper and a little deeper each time. It’s a release. And for guys like us, that’s important,” he said.