For many of the veterans attending the 2015 Los Angeles Veteran and Families Stand Down last December, the prospect of having 40-gauge needles inserted into their ears was more intimidating than any challenge they had faced in, or out of, the military.
For many more, however, the Emperor's College event acupuncture clinic was a welcome sight. Flanked by massage providers, yoga instruction, and the Mindful Warrior Project, acupuncture formed the heart of the wellness area at the Stand Down, making it one of the busiest and most sought-after services at the event.
The 2015 Los Angeles Veteran and Families Stand Down, the largest event of its kind in the United States, brought together under one roof myriad Veterans Affaors, legal, medical/dental, housing and employment services to homeless and at-risk military veterans in the greater Los Angeles area. Recognized as the culminating event of a challenge issued to the nation's mayors by First Lady Michelle Obama to end veteran homelessness by the end of 2015, the event was organized by U.S. Vets with the help of the office of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Los Angeles County, the State of California and numerous private and public institutions and nonprofit organizations.
For the second year in a row, Emperor's College was asked to provide AOM services, and this year to organize all AOM activities. Forty-seven volunteers from the Emperor's community, including alumni, DAOM students, Master's interns, and college faculty transformed the pop-up clinic in the cavernous Kentia Hall at the Los Angeles Convention Center into a warm and intimate space for healing.
"This is a population desperately in need, so just showing up and providing service was the goal first and foremost," said Lisa Ahlstrom, Event Clinic Director. While acupuncture has increasingly gained mainstream acceptance as an effective treatment for PTSD by institutions including the National Institute of Health, the World Health Organization, and The United States Department of Defense, it can routinely take up to five months for vets to receive an initial treatment through the VA; the wait for follow-up visits can be as long as three to four weeks.
AOM colleges around the country are working to fill this void, including Emperor's College which has established a consistent presence at organized vet events like the LA Veteran and Families Stand Down, as well as developing a veterans program within its campus community clinic; "In the last 12 months we have provided over 1,000 treatments to vets and hope to significantly expand that in 2016," said Nicole Wetherington, Emperor's College Veterans Liaison.
"Events like this and other Stand Downs that we are asked to provide services at are an opportunity to showcase the effectiveness of acupuncture to a population that might not otherwise have access or interest," notes Chris Johnston, Director of Public Affairs at Emperor's College. "Many of the veterans that visited our event clinics here were surprised to learn about the medicine's ability to treat their physical pains, stress, anxiety, and insomnia... and without exception everyone we treated was very grateful," added Ahlstrom. Emma, 22, said she is planning to enlist in the military this year with the goal of training to be a nurse. She was apprehensive, but curious, about what acupuncture could do for her neck pain and trouble sleeping. After a momentary hesitation and a little coaxing from her dad, she took a seat in the treatment area. Some 30 minutes later, she floated out with the brightness in her eyes telling the story. "Wow," she simply said.
Others, like John, already knew well the benefits of acupuncture. John was drafted in 1970, and served in special forces until 1972. Now a retired public school teacher, he suffers from chronic joint pain. "I'm always looking for an alternative to drugs and [Western] medicine," he said. "The first time I had acupuncture — and I can't exaggerate this — it was like I went to heaven. After one treatment I had no problem, I was perfect for five weeks. I love acupuncture."
Although John's story is unique, his attitude was representative of the great majority of veterans and their family members who attended the LA Stand Down. Student volunteers overwhelmingly commented on the openness, and open-mindedness, of the vets seeking treatment at the event. Bruce Gustafson, an intern at Emperors, has volunteered at every veterans event that the school has participated in. "This demographic, for us as interns and as a school, is really satisfying to work with. [The vets] are really down to earth; just so straightforward and open. It's such a great chance for us to connect."
Just as valuable as the diversity of patient population was the chance for students to see up close the effectiveness of the auricular microsystem. "The ear protocol has completely changed my bias," Gustafson said. "It's such an effective energetic system. After a treatment, you can see that their whole demeanor, their shen, is different." Irene Rowland, also a student intern and regular volunteer at Emperor's veterans events, echoed the sentiment. "As a student, the opportunity to see such a variety of tongues and pulses is really valuable. It's an honor for me as a non-veteran to work with such special people," she said.
Such experiences, both of the veterans and the students, are exactly in line with Ahlstrom's vision for the outreach program. "It's a symbiotic relationship for our community and theirs," she said. "We want to open the door, to show them how the medicine works, and to elevate the professionalism of our community at the same time. Our next goal is to open wide the doors at VA hospitals in California and across the country for licensed acupuncturists to work at on staff," something Emperor's College is working to achieve in 2016. Johnston added, "It's a long and difficult process opening these doors, but given the demand by the vets wanting ready access to acupuncture to help them with pain and other issues, we're confident it is just a matter of time before every VA medical facility in the country has LAcs on staff."
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