BACKGROUNDUse of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is growing quickly in the USA, prompting hypotheses about why people turn to CAM. One reason for increasing use of CAM modalities may be dissatisfaction with the conventional care system. However, recent studies suggest that dissatisfaction is not a major factor.OBJECTIVESThis paper provides another perspective on the possible relationship between dissatisfaction with conventional care and the use of CAM.METHODSQualitative data collection, in the form of 12 focus groups with 100 CAM users, was used to inquire about issues surrounding the use of CAM. Focus group participants were military veterans enrolled in the Southern Arizona VA Health Care System, and their significant others. Qualitative analysis identified key themes emerging from the focus groups.RESULTSAlthough participants were satisfied in general terms with their conventional care, there were particular aspects of the conventional care system that they criticized. Dissatisfaction with aspects of conventional care, particularly its reliance on prescription medications, was an important component in their motivation to use CAM. Results also suggest that the conventional medical system's lack of holism (inadequate information regarding diet, nutrition and exercise, and ignorance of social and spiritual dimensions) is also an important motivation for turning to CAM in this particular population.CONCLUSIONSIndependent research and a sense of responsibility on the part of focus group participants for their own health seemed to be taking them outside the domain of the conventional health care system.