by Marie Arnberg
Maine has more veterans per capita than most other states – and it also has a high number of veterans’ acupuncture clinics. The Portland Veterans’ Acupuncture Clinic (PVAC) started in 2008, Bangor followed in 2012, Augusta in 2014 and Brunswick in 2015. Together they have provided over10,300 NADA treatments.
“Doing this work generates a deep sense of gratitude.”
The clinics operate community-style, offering NADA treatments on a weekly basis, free of charge. They are typically housed in community spaces at no or minimal cost, and the operation of many is facilitated by community volunteers.
The model for these clinics is the Acupuncturists Without Borders’ Military Stress Recovery Project whose mission is to “help heal the wounds of war.” That project started in 2006 with a pilot clinic in Albuquerque for veterans, active duty military, reservists and their family members. Today it includes 30 such independent, volunteer-run clinics nationwide.
Chris Luce, a retired mental-health provider, has volunteered at PVAC’s Tuesday evening clinic since 2008 as its coordinator and receptionist, signing in attendees, orienting newcomers, bringing snacks, and keeping records. According to Luce, groups average between 10 and 14 veterans and their families. There is a core group of six who have been coming on and off for the last nine years.
“They made it work. If it was only these six people for the next twenty years, it would be well worth it,” said Luce. Among the people PVAC has treated are two World War II veterans, but most have been those who served in Vietnam. She added, “This clinic has really inspired me – for the people that it has helped, and for the sense of community.”
Susan Reed, one of the founding members of PVAC, recalls: “Early on, distant veterans’ centers might drive a van load of people to PVAC for the evening treatment and then they would go out for dinner. One time I heard that a new man had come, had his first treatment, and went out to eat with the group. Somebody told a joke and everyone started to laugh, then stopped, watching the new person join in the laughter. He asked why they’d stopped laughing and was told, ‘We’ve known you quite a while and have never seen you laugh before’.”
Encouraging outcomes abound. Informal surveys from the clinics show reports of improved sleep and decreases in mood swings, anxiety and pain:
“As a repeat client and combat flight medic from three tours, I’m beginning to feel more relaxed at home and work. Thank you.”
“After eight visits the intensity of the effect has truly multiplied. The depth of calm has increased to my amazement. Very good results.”
“I slept for seven uninterrupted hours last Tuesday – that had not happened in four or five years.”
“Since I’ve been doing this I feel more relaxed and sleep better than I have in a very long time. Thank you.”
“This treatment has promoted a sense of well-being within me which contributes to my physical body feeling better and less painful.”
“Even the music room chairs are getting more comfortable!”
“I suffer from post-traumatic stress. Not dreaming so much and also panic attacks are much better.”
“One of the most helpful treatments for PTSD.”
“I love this! Each week I will be here. I need it. My parents will also accompany me soon.”
“This is my weekly escape from a crazy life. If I could, I’d have it every day. I love it.”
With no advertising budget to speak of, the clinics have recruited through community bulletins, flyers at veterans’ centers and, most importantly, word of mouth. Veterans listen to other veterans.
Efforts to reach out to veterans of the Iraqi and Afghan wars continue through speaking engagements at military facilities and organizations, such as the Maine Military and Community Network. Their annual conference has twice included representatives (a practitioner and a veteran) from a veterans’ acupuncture clinic on panel discussions addressing the topic of alternative treatments for PTSD and traumatic brain injury.
Reed said that “PVAC could never have continued for so long were it not for the dedicated service of our volunteer practitioners who have sustained us from the beginning, week after week, keeping us organized, creating the warm, welcoming, safe ambiance of the clinic from the moment people arrive to when they leave.”
Now most of the founding practitioners serve in the background, acting occasionally as treasurer, PR person or fundraiser. PVAC is always happy to welcome new practitioners to help continue its service to the community. As a volunteer you will most likely gain as much as you will give – doing this work generates a deep sense of gratitude on both ends.