TCM Program Offers Relief For Military Veterans Seeking Alternative Care
Ella is a Gulf War veteran and a survivor of military sexual trauma. Like hundreds of veterans, Ella was on 11 different medications for depression, anxiety, insomnia, irritable bowel syndrome and chronic pain – and yet she was still not sleeping, afraid to be in crowds, unmotivated to clean up enough to look for a job and had days when she couldn’t get out of bed because her back pain was so severe.
She came to the Samaritan Center for Counseling and Pastoral Care in Austin, Texas after her mother saw a story on the evening news about the Center’s Hope for Heroes program and its reduced-fee integrative wellness services for veterans. During her first visit, through tears, she said the center was her “last hope.”
Ella began a course of twice weekly acupuncture treatments, weekly counseling and EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) sessions and weekly massage therapy. She received a thorough diet and nutrition evaluation and a plan to balance her blood sugar and reduce inflammation.
This intensive program lasted for six weeks. Mid-way through the treatments she stopped taking the Hydrocodone, Ambien and Linzess and began to reduce her psychotropic medications. She continued to improve with the introduction of herbal formulas. By the end of the series of treatments, her pain was gone. She was sleeping through the night and waking feeling rested and motivated and was actively seeking employment.
When she said goodbye because she was moving to another city, the tears in her eyes were of gratitude.
The Evolution of Hope for Heroes
The Samaritan Center founded Hope for Heroes (H4H) in 2007 to meet the growing demand for quality confidential mental health services for veterans and their families. At the time of its inception, H4H was strictly a counseling program.
Three years later, AOMA Graduate School of Integrative Medicine graduate and former Navy Corpsman Sean Hanna wanted to find a way to make alternative healing therapies available to service members, vets and their families. A combat veteran himself, he was all too familiar with the unique needs and challenges veterans face in adjusting to civilian life and navigating the Veteran Affairs healthcare system. He knew his fellow vets needed options for healing; his mission was to make those options as accessible and affordable as possible.
In 2010, Hanna met with Samaritan Center Executive Director Nancy Blaich about making Hope for Heroes an integrative medicine program complete with acupuncture, herbal and nutrition therapies, massage and Tai Chi. The two worked to secure a grant from Texas Resources for Iraq and Afghanistan Deployment (TRIAD), and Hope for Heroes became the comprehensive program it is today.
“Hope for Heroes fills an important gap in services for service members, veterans and their families,” explains Hanna. “By offering integrative medicine services, as well as fully incorporating families into treatment, we holistically work with our clients and provide treatment and support unlike anywhere else to which they have access.”
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: More Than a Label
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates 20 percent of veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars (Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom, or OIF/OEF), 10 percent of Gulf War veterans and a staggering 30 percent of Vietnam veterans struggle with the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.
Other forms of physical trauma, as well as the military sexual trauma Ella experienced, can exacerbate PTSD symptoms. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs 2012 Suicide Data Report, as many as 22 veterans per day commit suicide. The VA created initiatives to expand mental health services in response to these troubling statistics, but demand continues to out pace supply. Organizations outside of the VA must step up to the plate.
In 2011, 383 military patients had visited the Samaritan Center; by 2013, that number jumped nearly 50 percent to 565. From 2011 to 2013, the number of clients who sought acupuncture and other integrative medicine services – almost all veterans or service members – increased by 76 percent. To say that “acupuncture excels at treating post-traumatic stress disorder,” however, is to ignore the complex and highly individual experience of both acupuncture and PTSD. Throw Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and physical trauma into the mix and things get even more complicated. Not everyone’s experience of “stress” is the same. This includes post-traumatic stress, which is why TCM really excels at treating individuals presenting with the many possible symptoms of PTSD. Read More…Acupuncture Today
August, 2014, Vol. 15, Issue 08