The Patriot Project: Watching Veterans Backs (And Other Bones, Too)

It is a widely held opinion that the Department of Veterans Affairs has failed too many brave men and women who valiantly served their country. In 2014, a whistleblower revealed that at least 40 veterans in Phoenix, Arizona died as a result of languishing on a waitlist for care. Two years on, the VA cannot say for certain how many waitlisted veterans have died. Just last week, the VA’s inspector general reported that calls to the department’s suicide hotline were sent to voicemail. Promised fixes to the VA have never materialized, or have been judged to be inadequate. These are problems at a systemic level.

Timothy Novelli has a problem with veteran aftercare on a personal and professional level. Novelli feels that the VA simply throws drugs at problem patients and soldiers. The seemingly callous bureaucratic response disturbs him deeply. Many of those patients, Novelli says, would benefit from what he calls “actual well care.” He says that the government spends over $300 million a year on drugs that only give a false sense of healing without ever addressing the underlying causes.

Novelli is a chiropractor, one of only 60 in the entire military medical system. All of them are government subcontractors, which he says, “translates to weeks or months to see a chiropractor, leading to more drugs, surgeries, addiction, and suicides.” Even more unbelievable, there isn’t a single commissioned chiropractor anywhere in the United States Armed Forces.

As something of an evangelist for the chiropractic profession, and with a passion for helping veterans, Novelli decided that something had to be done. In 2012, he launched the Patriot Project.

tim novelli

Novelli provides chiropractic care to disabled veterans free of charge, and now has over 3,000 other doctors doing the same in the Patriot Project network. | Photo: Patriot Project

The group’s website lists a lofty, and impressive, mission statement:

  • To provide chiropractic care to active military, their families, wounded warriors, and Gold Star Dependents.
  • To make full chiropractic benefits in TRICARE care readily available for ALL active duty military, retirees and veterans.
  • To have chiropractic physicians commissioned as officers in all armed services.
  • To have chiropractic physicians embedded in all forward operating bases of combat.
  • To have a Chiropractic Department in every VA hospital and clinic.
  • To educate veterans with service related disabilities; they have chiropractic benefit coverage through the Veterans Administration.

Novelli knows that it will take many years to achieve any of those goals, and he acknowledges that some may never come to fruition. To fill in the gap, Novelli has assembled a team of 2,837 doctors of chiropractic in all 50 states. His goal is to sign up 6,000 participating doctors, which he says is less than 10 percent of all of America’s chiropractors

Every doctor who joins The Patriot Project agrees to give services to at least one eligible patient each week at no charge. “These men and women have paid their bill in full already,” Novelli said. He believes the benefit would be “tens of thousands of new chiropractic patients, and a Patriot Project patient army, who will go to battle for us again to end the barriers to providing lasting care, not masking care, to our military.”

One accomplishment Novelli can rightly be proud of is his board of directors, which includes seven Medal of Honor recipients who never had chiropractic care before the Patriot Project. “Now they are our greatest advocates,” Novelli said.

One of those advocates is Clint Romesha, a U.S. Army staff sergeant who earned his Medal of Honor for his extraordinary actions during the battle of Kamdesh in Afghanistan in 2009.

“Some of the best leadership advice given to me was the idea that great leaders adapt their style to every individual underneath them, and never expect everyone they lead to change to them,” Romesha told Opportunity Lives. “Using meds to treat what seems like every injury, and expecting that to be the only option, has gotten out of control. I got to see first hand how chiropractic care has gotten men and women off narcotics, and gave them another option.”

Romesha says when he learned that TRICARE wouldn’t pay for for chiropractic treatments, “it disgusted me.”

“The Patriot Project saw the lack of action from our military health care, and stepped in to offer free treatment, because it is the right thing to do,” he said.

Although Novelli can rattle off countless success stories, he’s also dealt with harsh reality. He says one of the biggest challenges he’s faced with the Patriot Project is breaking through the emotional barriers of the very men and women the organization is trying to help. They’re proud people, and not accustomed to people taking care of them. They’re also guarded. Plenty of fly-by-night nonprofits have sprung up promising aid to veterans, and delivering nothing.

Novelli, however, is in it for the long haul. “About two years into it I was unable to put money in my daughters college fund because the Patriot Project had me overextended,” Novelli said. “But I remembered that she was sleeping safely in her bed, and able to go to college, because of our military and the sacrifices of their families. We are told many times that medical doctors saved the lives of our wounded warriors, but chiropractic gave them their life back.”

If you would like to find out more, go to: http://www.patriot-project.org/

If you would like to donate, go to: https://patriotproject.nationbuilder.com/donatenow

If you are a chiropractor, and you want to join The Patriot Project, go to: http://www.patriot-project.org/patriot_project_chiro_volunteer

Cameron Gray is a contributor for Opportunity Lives. You can follow him on Twitter @Cameron_Gray.