Acupuncture for Veterans

Big Impact: Acupuncture for Veterans

Acupuncture in the VA

Acupuncture treatments for veterans gain traction as the Department of Defense (DoD) and Veterans Health Administration (VHA) began embracing the practices of Eastern Medicine with their implementation of the Whole Health Program at VA medical centers. The program offers acupuncture and oriental medicine services to veterans and active duty members, free of charge. 

The program will help alleviate the opioid crisis by providing safe and effective acupuncture treatments for members of the Veterans Association.  Although it has been a long time coming, the VA is truly seeing the results of this program at work for our veterans and active duty service members.

What Is the Whole Health Program?

The main focus of this program is to treat the patient first not the disease. The clinical director at the San Antonio VA Whole Health program Dr. Elizabeth Halmai speaks highly of the program.

 “We’re really geared toward the symptoms the veteran is having and how do we help them address those symptoms,”

First beginning work on the Whole Health program in 2009, it is just starting to come into fruition as of 2018 when 18 VA centers introduced it. The VA hopes to have all VA medical centers with this program by the end of 2022, which will also create the demand for employment of more acupuncturists.  Other holistic professionals the Whole Health Program seeks include tai chi and yoga instructors.

The program looks at all areas of life that can affect a veteran’s health such as work environment, diet, relationships, sleep, and more. It is a much more individualized form of healthcare. They really want to get to know everything about the patient to find the appropriate path to put them on for their health and well-being.

There are five areas that they work through:

  • Look at the big picture.  This helps identify the areas in a patient’s life that are affecting them and come up with ways to address them
  • Have a conversation.  This is the “get to know you” portion of the program. The patient reveals their past, their needs, and their wants for a healthy life
  • Set a goal.  This is the patients “why.” Why do they want to be healthy? See their child graduate? Pursue a new career? Travel? Walk your child down the aisle? These goals help set the foundation for the health plan.
  • Build a health plan.  Finding the resources and support to achieve those set goals.
  • Find community.  Connect with others to help achieve these goals

This program encourages its patients to take charge of their health focusing not only on treatment with holistic clinical care but also self-empowerment, self-healing, and self-care and they call this the whole health delivery system. (picture?)

Can Battlefield Acupuncture Relieve Pain Faster?

According to those who have received the treatment, it can. With the VA fully recognizing these holistic treatments as more than techniques but true professions, acupuncturists are taking notice and familiarizing themselves with alternative forms.

Over 6,000 providers are trained specifically in a veteran geared form of acupuncture used to aid in pain called Battlefield Acupuncture (hyperlink to description?) which involves 5 needles being placed in the ear (sometimes in both ears) which stay in for 3-4 days and are then removed or fall out on their own giving, according to veterans who have received this care, immediate pain relief.

What Needles Are Used?

Equipment used for this method are ASP needles. These are French, semi-permanent needles that come in 3 types of metals.

  • Gold
  • Stainless steel
  • Titanium

Gold is used most often with battlefield acupuncture. They are single use needles that are made to be able to stay in the ear for several days. Minimal pain has been experienced by patients when placed and worn. According to an article posted on the US Army site in January 2019, its pain relief is becoming well known amongst all military branches in active duty and veterans.

What Acupoints Are Used for Battlefield Acupuncture?

This form of acupuncture was developed in 2001 by Air Force Dr. (Col.) Richard Niemtzow looking to reduce pain rapidly in a deployment setting. He found that when you connect these needles to 5 powerful acupuncture points on the ear, it can dramatically reduce pain.

These 5 areas are as follows:

  • Cingulate Gyrus-memory and emotion with pain
  • Thalamus-communication of nervous system to cerebral cortex restoring tranquil feelings
  • Omega 2-pain in limbs
  • Point Zero-body homeostasis
  • Shen Men-supports all other auricular points, pain reduction, calm, alleviate insomnia and sensitivity

This form of acupuncture has seen some of the most rapid results for pain in the industry. While it was created for deployment settings, it is used in the Whole Health program for veterans recovering and active duty members alike. This type of acupuncture could even benefit non-service members who have severe chronic pain. Traditional forms of acupuncture are also used in the program for treating service members for anxiety, depression, sleep, and PTSD.

A Holistic Uprising

The need and want for holistic remedies to replace the over usage of opioids is on the ride and the institution of this program by the VA is a step in the right direction of the dependency on painkillers.

The Whole Health initiative also makes way for an increase in providers not needed before such as acupuncturists, health coaches, nutritionists, and yoga and tai chi instructors. This plan throws the traditional western medicine attitude of “find it, fix it” out the window.

It encourages its patients to take charge of their health in their bodies while also strengthening their mind for complete healing, rebuilding, and well-being. As for the opioid epidemic, one of the flagship VA sites for the program in San Antonio, TX has stated they have seen a reduction in both opioid use and costs for those who use the VA resources of Whole Health.

Any veteran can sign up with any diagnosis and they are predicting this program will also aid in the way of preventing suicide for active duty and veteran members.