by Sarah Meier
What began as a humble, once-a-week NADA clinic in the basement of Durango, Colorado’s Veterans of Foreign Wars—where veterans themselves arrived early to help set up—has expanded to three veterans’ clinics, including one in Pagosa Springs, an hour east of Durango, and one at a local acupuncturist’s private practice.
The Durango Acupuncture Alliance (DAA), a volunteer, donation-based community group began its coordination of clinics for veterans in September 2012. “A year later [since treating our first veteran], not only are we still standing, we’re kicking butt!” said founder and acupuncturist Vanessa Morgan who helped form the Alliance with 14 local acupuncturists. Since its first project—a clinic in Durango for veterans and their families—the Alliance has given over 700 treatments, won the favor of veterans and the local community, and established itself as a model program featured at the 2012 annual NADA conference in Denver.
“Everybody that goes [to the clinic] thinks it’s wonderful,” said Charlie Parnell, treasurer and veteran’s service officer for the Durango chapter of Disabled American Veterans. “I encourage everyone I can talk to [to get the treatment].” He has heard from many Durango veterans that the treatments have helped their tinnitus, although they report the relief is temporary. To which he replies, “Keep going back!” Parnell said he’s “a great believer in acupuncture” since he received treatments for a back problem that threatened his Air Force career in the 1970s.
Morgan also noted changes in the people she has treated. “The ones who’ve been coming regularly, they’re so different [than when they started],” she said. According to a clinic survey of 87 participants, 49% reported a “noticeable” reduction in their stress levels. The most common ways the NADA treatment helped them is with sleep (22%), being calmer (17%), coping with day-to-day life (17%), and anxiety (14%). Out of 87 total participants, 85 would recommend this to someone else, and 2 didn’t answer the question.
One elderly man, thought to be a World War II veteran, initially presented with hearing difficulties. He once told Morgan, “Ever since I started [getting treatments], I have to tell my wife, ‘Don’t talk so loud!’ ”
The success of NADA ear acupuncture comes as no surprise to NADA members. The success of a program, however, can be a different story. Provider attrition, funding obstacles and other challenges can present insurmountable odds, and lead to the closing of many well-intentioned services. The strength of the grassroots effort and the commitment from the participating volunteer acupuncturists has kept DAA going strong. Since its inception, the Alliance has canceled only one clinic due to a lack of volunteers. “[Sharing the workload] hasn’t been a problem,” said Morgan. “We have a system set up . . . we love doing it.”
Of the critical components needed to run a successful program like the Alliance, Morgan considers good communication an important factor. In-person meetings twice-a-month and e-mails in between help keep the momentum going, she said.
While Morgan feels enthusiastic about others who want to start a similar program, she cautions against jumping in too deeply in the beginning. “Start small, don’t think small . . . be realistic about what’s possible in your community,” she said, and consider the space, donations and labor that will be needed. “Trust takes time to build,” especially, perhaps, with veterans. “Take it little by little. Don’t give up too soon; it ebbs and flows.” Most of all, she said: “Start.”
“The media is crucial,” Morgan notes, recalling people contacting the clinic after having seen an article in the paper. “That really helped us a lot.” Morgan also credits public-service announcements for much of the interest the Alliance receives. Providing an opportune time for free media coverage, Veterans Day and other holidays of interest to veterans can act as a springboard.
But the Alliance’s most effective outreach effort—its relationship with the local Veterans Administration—comes with a caution. If you plan to work with veterans, Morgan advises, “Make an offer . . . Don’t come across as ‘We know what’s best for you’ or ‘We’re gonna save you.’ ” With a skeptical veteran population, she said, if you appear insincere or exploitative, you risk alienating them and derailing your program.
Approaching an organization from the “outside” can also pose a challenge, says acupuncturist and NADA trainer applicant, Danielle Hennes, who operates the Pagosa Springs clinic. “People get discouraged when faced with all the red tape.” To bypass the bureaucratic snarl, Hennes recommends connecting with people who are already a part of the organization. “Find the employees who have the passion to help . . . that’s how [NADA] can spread.” And then, she adds, talk with their supervisors.
Hennes hopes to complete her mentorship as a registered trainer early next year, and plans to target social workers for her first NADA training. “They work in unique places in town,” she said, like drug rehab facilities, probation offices, courthouses and inpatient health care facilities. “They’re integrated in so many places.”
Charlie Parnell offered his own bit of advice to those who feel inspired to start a veterans’ clinic: “Follow Vanessa’s program! She’s been so successful here . . . and it’s just getting started.”
For now, Morgan is seeing no slack in client numbers or interest. “We get five to ten calls per week asking whether the free treatments will help with pain” like sciatica. The numerous requests for relief have motivated Morgan and the Alliance to open a pain clinic by the beginning of 2014, offering full-body acupuncture to veterans free of charge.
And, leveraging a recent change in Colorado law, the Alliance looks to broaden its influence by enlisting the help of social workers, psychiatrists and other mental health practitioners who wish to provide the NADA protocol.
For more information or sample forms, Vanessa Morgan may be reached at the Durango Acupuncture Alliance website: durangoacupuncturealliance.org