The Minneapolis VA Health Care System will participate in two major research projects focusing on non-drug approaches to pain.

The Minneapolis Veterans Medical Center has become a site for studying chronic pain and the effectiveness of alternatives to traditional pain medications.

The Department of Veterans Affairs nationwide struggles with the burgeoning use of pain medications for vets. A June 2014 report showed a high rate of chronic pain — 44 percent — among members of the U.S. military after combat deployment, compared with 26 percent in the general public.

VA doctors wrote more than 6.5 million prescriptions in 2012 for hydrocodone, oxycodone, methadone and morphine — more than the total number of patients they saw and a 270 percent increase from 2001, according to the Center for Investigative Reporting.

As a result of the numbers, the Minneapolis VA launched the Opioid Safety Initiative in 2012. It emphasizes reducing opioid use by focusing on patient education, close patient monitoring and alternative treatment practices such as acupuncture, yoga and meditation.

Since the beginning of the program, the Minneapolis VA says it has been able to decrease risky high-dosage opioid use among patients by 67 percent.

The newest studies were announced last week by the National Institutes of Health's National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

The Minneapolis VA's Melissa Polusny and Dr. Erin Krebs will conduct a four-year project that will study more than 3,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans to learn about the development of chronic pain following deployment.

Separately, Richard Branson, staff chiropractor at the Minneapolis VA, will be collaborating on a study of how chiropractic care might best be used for vets who have a combination of musculoskeletal pain and mental health conditions.