Physical health, mental health, and utilization of complementary and alternative medicine services among Gulf War veterans

Med Care. 2014 Dec;52(12 Suppl 5):S39-44. doi: 10.1097/MLR.0000000000000223.


Background: Gulf War veterans represent a unique subset of the veteran population. It has been challenging to identify interventions that result in improvements in physical and mental health for this population. Recently, there has been recognition of a potential role for complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) interventions.

Objectives: This paper examines the characteristics of Gulf War and non-Gulf War veterans referred to a CAM clinic, and explores the utilization of services by this population.

Method and subjects: Participants included 226 veterans enrolled in a CAM clinic at a Veterans Affairs medical center, 42 of whom were Gulf War veterans. Self-report measures of physical/mental health were administered, and service utilization was obtained from participants' medical records for a 6-month period.

Results: Gulf War veterans enrolled in the program reported more severe physical and mental health symptoms than non-Gulf War veterans. However, examining only veterans who participated in services in the 6 months following enrollment, the 2 groups reported similar symptom severity. Both groups were similar in their attendance of individual acupuncture and iRest yoga nidra, although Gulf War veterans attended fewer sessions of group acupuncture.

Conclusions: Although Gulf War veterans who enroll in a CAM program may have more severe symptoms than non-Gulf War veterans, those who actually participate in services are similar to non-Gulf War veterans on these measures. These groups also differ in their pattern of service utilization. Future research should explore the reasons for these differences, and to identify ways to promote treatment engagement with this population.

MeSH terms

  • Combat Disorders / psychology*
  • Combat Disorders / therapy*
  • Complementary Therapies / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Gulf War
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / psychology*
  • Mental Disorders / therapy*
  • Middle Aged
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Treatment Outcome
  • United States
  • Veterans* / psychology