VA has adopted several initiatives through its Whole Health wellness program using a variety of Complementary and Integrative Health (CIH) practices designed to keep people well, in addition to supporting recuperation and healing.
In some cases, it can result in a reduction in medications. For many Veterans, it’s changing their lives.
Veterans are aware of the need for good health. Some are making changes subtly over time and others are making daily changes. For Wavey Alston, a Vietnam-era Air Force Veteran, change began in June 2017.
Studies show that acupuncture is an effective treatment for chronic back pain.
“I just couldn’t live with the back pain much longer,” said Wavey. “I was taking Morphine tablets, and they helped, but I only felt better until the effect wore off and the pain came back.”
VA replaced morphine with acupuncture
Wavey’s back pain began in the Air Force. While stationed in Thailand during the Vietnam War, he worked as an aircraft mechanic, which required much physical labor.
“I had fun,” said Wavey, “But I did a lot heavy lifting. Of course, I was young and it didn’t seem to be a problem then.”
Wavey returned home to Durham, N.C., and found work at a printing company. The years of heavy lifting began to emerge in the form of back pain.
“My back just got worse,” said Wavey. “Then our insurance costs went up. I never considered going to VA until then but it was the best decision we ever made.”
Wavey became a patient at the Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Clinic at the Durham VA. He acknowledged his dependency on opioids to control pain. To him, the morphine tablets were necessary but self-defeating. The staff at the clinic suggested a possible alternative: acupuncture.
“Needle thing put me off but glad I stuck with it”
Acupuncture is a CIH practice involving the insertion of needles at strategic points on the body. It is traditionally and frequently used to treat pain. Studies show that acupuncture is an effective treatment for various conditions, especially chronic back pain. Despite the uneasiness some Veterans initially feel about the use of needles, acupuncture is a relatively painless alternative treatment option that promotes wellness.
“The whole needle thing put me off at first,” said Wavey. “But the doctors explained the benefits to me and I decided that it wouldn’t hurt to try it.” It took a few visits but the treatments began to work. “It was a strange feel at first.” He was seeing an acupuncturist twice a week. “It took a while to start feeling the benefits,” said Wavey. “I’m glad I stuck with it.”
Wavey has engaged in acupuncture for his chronic back pain for the past four years. While his pain is not gone entirely, it is not the hurdle that it once was.
“Before I started all this, I could barely move without the morphine,” he said. “It was that bad. Now, I can move around and do more of things that I couldn’t do before. Can’t say I’m a new man, but I really feel like it.”