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Dr. Lance Armstrong: Chiropractic warrior, veteran advocate

Dr. Armstrong, left, talks with U.S. Army Captain Pat Lis (Reserves), who also served the VA as a program-support assistant.
Dr. Armstrong talking with U.S. Army Captain Pat Lis

If Lance Armstrong, D.C., Davenport ’96, had his way, every U.S. military installation in the world would have a Doctor of Chiropractic embedded in its health and medical units. For now, he’ll accept his position as base chiropractor at Patrick Air Force Base in Brevard County, Fla., as an important step in achieving that goal.

Like many people, Dr. Armstrong’s experience with chiropractic began with an accident and subsequent injury. While conducting a training exercise in 1991 as a flight instructor for the B-52 Bomber, his plane was forced to make an unexpected landing, virtually crashing to the ground. The result was serious injuries to his back and spine.

After receiving “buckets of pills” from the flight surgeon, who discouraged chiropractic care, Dr. Armstrong took matters into his own hands. “I went to see the local chiropractor, Dr. Ronald Szewc, a 1956 Palmer grad. He put me back together in about three weeks. I was back on flying status and sold on chiropractic. When the reduction in force hit in 1992, I enrolled at Palmer—five minutes after the phone call.”

While waiting, mostly impatiently, for the federal mandate that would implement chiropractic treatment within the Veterans Administration’s health care system, “Cowboy,” as he’s affectionately known, takes matters into his own hands. In his practice, Armstrong Chiropractic, located in Cocoa Beach, Fla., Dr. Armstrong treats many active-duty military personnel and veterans, although most of the veterans he cares for today are homeless.

“It’s a term that shouldn’t exist (referring to homeless veterans) today in our country,” he says. “I’m grateful for the opportunity to continue to serve these people who sacrificed for our country. Turning our back on them is not an option!”

In Florida, Stand Down events, where homeless veterans receive chiropractic care and a host of other services, are held regularly. In east-central Florida, Dr. Armstrong has been participating in these events since 2003. If there’s a homeless veterans event, Dr. Lance Armstrong is likely the D.C. in the middle of all the action, sometimes treating as many as 100 veterans in one day.

“In Florida you’ll find what I call ‘seasonal homeless veterans,’” he says. “Many of these people return to Florida during the cold season from all over the country. That’s why we see so many veterans in the Space Coast area (Brevard County) and in Volusia County, multiplying the need.”

Dr. Armstrong not only advocates for chiropractic in his community, but also continues to lead the charge for increasing the awareness of the benefits of chiropractic care to federal and state legislators, the military and Veterans Affairs. He does this with a warrior mentality, by going to Washington, D.C., providing testimony in Congress and meeting with as many legislators and their aides as possible. “There’s a lack of understanding of the power of chiropractic,” he says. “If those with the authority would take the time to understand the plight of the veterans and how chiropractic care can improve their lives, perhaps then we’d see the mandate (to implement chiropractic care in the VA) begin to be a reality.”

Dr. Armstrong’s passion and energy seem boundless. In addition to the care and advocacy he provides for the military and veterans, he’s worked with the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office SWAT teams for 16 years. As if all of this weren’t enough, one of his priorities is to create opportunities for current students on Palmer’s Florida Campus.

“The experience these students get by participating in Stand Down goes beyond the adjustment credits,” he says. “It is an opportunity to understand that these veterans weren’t always homeless. It’s an opportunity to provide care and to give a little back to an appreciative and grateful group of people. The dedication shown by the Palmer interns who work by my side at these events is second to none. It makes me ‘Palmer Proud.’ I’d love to see Palmer graduates develop Stand Down events all over the country.”

While Dr. Armstrong manages his own practice, treats veterans and the military, advocates with federal authorities and creates opportunities for Palmer College students, he also found time recently to help produce a video, Brevard County Stand Down with Dr. Lance Armstrong (on YouTube), that passionately describes the need and offers some solutions for implementing chiropractic in the military and VA health care system.

As Dr. Armstrong heads into the Patrick A.F.B. Hospital for the first time as a credentialed D.C., he says, “For 21 years I’ve wanted to put the two careers together. I am here to assist the efforts of the ACA, FCA, Palmer College, the VA and all veterans, so everyone can understand the power of chiropractic.”

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