The quiet sounds of a Native American flute, accompanied by flowing water and chirping birds, sings through the dimly lit space. There is a massage table set to one side and a handful of earth brown chairs and tables along the perimeter of the room. A small open space in the center welcomes patients who are lining up at the door, many in wheelchairs and walking with assistive devices. They are here seeking relief from their pain.

“It sets the stage for a calm, healing environment,” said Dr. Juli Olson, chiropractor and acupuncturist from VA Central Iowa Health Care System. “The environment in which the care is delivered is very important. It’s a chance for the body to focus on healing itself.” Olson is one of a four-person team from VA bringing acupuncture to Veterans participating in the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic. It is the first time a daily acupuncture clinic has been offered at the event.

Navy Veteran Juan Sandoval was paralyzed in an auto accident in 2001 and suffers from nerve pain in his back and elbow. He had no previous experience with acupuncture, but today he is returning to the clinic for a second time in as many days after the first treatment relieved the pain in his elbow.

“I had to try it out. Guess what? I’m glad I did,” Sandoval said. “I’m able to push my chair. I’ve got flexibility back. The pain is so low and it’s still going down.”

Sandoval’s dramatic results are not uncommon said Dr. Dan Federman, a primary care physician and the associate chief of medicine at the VA Connecticut Healthcare System in West Haven. “We found that around 85 percent of people have an immediate decrease in pain score.”

Federman is also a professor of medicine at Yale University’s medical school. He is leading VA research on the benefits and effectiveness of battlefield acupuncture – a subset of ear acupuncture that is easily performed with only five paper-thin needles inserted into specific points around each ear.

Air Force Veteran Ronnie Leeth had been experiencing back pain and was treated by Federman. Leeth said he felt the benefits firsthand. “It was like I had to remind myself I had the pain. It was gone.”

Along with pain relief many patients experience emotional improvement.

“It’s super cool to see, in some patients, there are some immediate results,” Olson said. “You can see their anxiety drop.”

Sandoval said he became a true believer of the treatment when his mood improved.

“My stress went away. (The pain) is one less thing I have to worry about,” he said. “That sold me right there.”

Army Veteran Jeff Daniels, who came to the clinic with Leeth, said he had received acupuncture before and was excited to hear VA was offering treatment at the Winter Sports Clinic. He also came seeking pain relief, but his goal was clear – he wants to be able to stop taking pain medications.

“It’s a relief,” Daniels said. “In a couple of days if I feel I won’t need to take my medication, that’s the telltale for me.”

man's ear with tiny acupuncture needles around the ear

Navy Veteran Juan Sandoval was one of several Veterans to receive Battlefield Acupuncture treatment at the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic. It was the first time acupuncture was offered at a daily clinic during the event.

Sandoval also is hoping to reduce his reliance on pain medications.

“I want to get off the pills. And see others get off the opiates,” he said. “I need something new that is going to take the pain away.”

In May 2017, VA’s undersecretary for health approved a policy establishing the provision of complementary and integrative health, previously referred to as alternative medicine. The policy outlines the types of therapies available to Veterans, including acupuncture.

“Acupuncture in particular has gained a great deal of traction within the VA system, and is in great demand as part of the response to the opioid epidemic and to the need for effective pain treatment,” wrote Dr. Benjamin Kligler, director of VA’s Integrative Health Coordinating Center in Medical Acupuncture, the official journal of the American Academy of Medical Acupuncture.

Janet Durfee is a nurse consultant at VA’s Office of Patient Care Services, and serves on the center’s advisory work group, a group of subject matter experts and program office leadership.

In Septermber 2017, Durfee helped bring acupuncture treatment to the National Veterans Summer Sports Clinic for the first time. She said the feedback from Veterans was extremely positive.

“We had some lessons learned and what encouraged us is one third of participants came through the acupuncture (clinic) and Veterans requested to have acupuncture at the Winter Sports Clinic,” she said.

Perhaps the most significant advancement at VA regarding acupuncture came in February 2018 when the department updated the handbook covering professional qualification standards and recognized acupuncturists as a standalone occupational series. Previously, only clinical staff trained in acupuncture as an ancillary skillset were allowed to perform the treatment. Now, VA facilities can hire individuals whose sole training and certification is as an acupuncturist.

“One big thing is the new professional standards and the hiring of acupuncturists,” said Alison Whitehead, the center’s national program manager. “Acupuncture has been added to the Veterans benefits package, along with yoga, massage, tai chi, clinical hypnosis, biofeedback and others. Veterans can access these therapies on site, via telehealth and sometimes in the community, if it’s part of their treatment plan.”

“I’m sure going to talk to my provider,” Sandoval said. “I think all the VA’s should have it.”

Veterans interested in receiving acupuncture or other complementary and integrative health therapies, should speak with their primary care provider.

About the National Disabled Winter Sports Clinic

Co-hosted by DAV and VA, the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic promotes sports therapy and rehabilitation through adaptive Alpine and Nordic skiing, rock climbing, wheelchair self-defense, sled hockey, scuba diving and other adaptive sports and activities. The five-day event in Snowmass, Colorado is a world leader in adaptive winter sports instruction for ill and injured Veterans and their families. Be inspired at

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Published on Apr. 6, 2018

Estimated reading time is 5.2 min.

Views to date: 300


  1. Priscila Vermont April 25, 2018 at 10:57 pm

    Very nice article. It is good to know that those alternative ways are effective

  2. Paula Martin April 19, 2018 at 11:08 am

    Great article. I’m an RN & trained in the 5pt acudetox protocol. I would love to be involved in a VA program here in Memphis as a volunteer.

  3. Richard Johns April 14, 2018 at 7:28 pm

    I was happy the VA gave me an alternative to pain management. Battlefield acupuncture did not work for me. I have lower lumbar pain and severe neck pain. I received acupuncture and it caused me to have a migraine headache. I never had one before and as soon as I pulled the pins out of my ears it went away. I hope this doesn’t discourage anyone from trying it. It just didn’t work for me. Thanks VA for giving me an opportunity to try it.

  4. Lauren Hemedinger April 14, 2018 at 1:22 pm

    Hey what ever works…as for me it took the VA over 50 years to help a Korean Vet.

  5. Merlin Mundy April 14, 2018 at 10:23 am

    I received 14 accupuncture treatments through fee base (non VA care) for neuropathy in both feet, both hands, low back, and other pains. It even helped with PTSD & Diabetes. But of course the Fee Base people at the Indianapolis VA Hospital stopped the treatments, they never even notified me, they just called the provider and told them I had already had too many treatments!

    During the time of the treatments I didn’t take any pain medication, use any kind of pain salve, I reduced my diabetes insulin by half, lost 32 pounds, did not have any problems with depression or PTSD…For the first time in 30 years life actually felt good again but Fee Base in Indianapolis showed me how to deal with that they cut off treatments that were costing them $40 a week plus an $11.00 travel claim. I am 100% disabled from the wrong war Vietnam.

  6. Philip R Matin April 13, 2018 at 8:01 pm

    How can I find out if my local VA offers acupuncture?
    I’m hoping it will help with my back and shoulder issues.

  7. Jon Randell April 13, 2018 at 7:58 pm

    I’d like to try Acupuncture and will the VA pay & or provide this for Veterans ? 50% & + disabled ?? Please let me know. Than you.

  8. Richard Wayrynen April 13, 2018 at 4:11 pm

    This is a great story. In March I went to the Reno VAMC and got my first acupuncture treatment for a painful hip. I have had a second treatment this month and the results have been very positive. I don’t have to take the medication I had been taking and the pain is less.
    I’m very glad the VA has offered this treatment vs more pills.

  9. Lucy Postolov April 13, 2018 at 3:13 pm

    Please call your VA benefits program on the back of your Choice card or Triwest card.
    I am confident I can help you and your families.
    Lucy Postolov, Licensed Acupuncturist
    Los Angeles, California

  10. Lucy Postolov April 13, 2018 at 3:10 pm

    I am proud to be a part of the Veterans Choice and Triwest program.
    I look forward to helping Veterans in any way that I can (at NO cost).

    -Lucy Postolov, Licensed Acupuncturist
    Los Angeles, California

  11. Robert Corlew April 13, 2018 at 2:28 pm

    How do I get accupuncture care? Thanks,

  12. Robert Corlew April 13, 2018 at 2:27 pm

    I am a 100% disabled veteran. How do I apply for accupuncture therapy?

    Thank you,

  13. Kevin Davidson April 13, 2018 at 1:35 pm

    Take a hard look at the science based studies which say this is BS. Stop providing alternative pseudo medicine to our Veterans . They need Real help .

  14. Frank Sirianni April 13, 2018 at 12:58 pm

    I have tried acupuncture with two different persons..neither one helped my back..injured while in the Navy 1956..I live in Cumberland, WI so where do I find such a facility that you talk about? tks Frank Sirianni (

  15. Gary York April 13, 2018 at 12:09 pm

    I think it is really great that you are able to help these Veterans. Does anyone know if they have had any success with phantom pain?

  16. Karl R Reynolds April 13, 2018 at 11:45 am

    I don’t like drugs and I don’t like needles. My pain was bad and frequent to constant but varying in intensity and location. I decided I would try acupuncture and I went to a civilian practitioner. From the FIRST treatment, some major pains went away. He didn’t put needles (which I could barely feel) into the pain areas and I was in a relaxing room with soft music and scent of flowers. I commented on this with the VA and finally they said they had acupuncture so I went. That doctor put the needles where the pain was and drove in deep to make sure you felt it. When finished, he used a cloth to wipe up the blood off my back and never used any alcohol or anything to sanitize the area. I think the VA did a “quicky course” introducing doctors to acupuncture. Not going back. I’ll stay with the VA medicines. I do have a great VA primary care doctor.

  17. James R Menard April 13, 2018 at 11:37 am

    Could this work for tinnitus?

  18. Silvia Guadalupe Sanchez April 13, 2018 at 11:11 am

    I wish these alternative therapies where offered in my VA CLINIC IN VIERA, FLA. they just give us pills to keep us numb and quiet. You should see how several of them treat us i had x rays the other day when i asked for a real technician instead of student that had called me, real Technitan tall mean bald guy with glasses got so upset having to get up!

  19. Silvia Guadalupe Sanchez April 13, 2018 at 11:06 am

    I wish these alternative therapies where offered in my VA CLINIC IN VIERA, FLA. they just give us pills to keep us numb and quiet. You should see how several of them treat us i had x rays the other day when i asked for a real technician instead

  20. Robert and Mary Meyer April 13, 2018 at 10:50 am

    My husband is a Navy veteran who had received the battlefield acupuncture. He said it was so very beneficial for him.

  21. MSG (Ret) Nicholaus Carroll April 13, 2018 at 10:13 am

    I refused to take painkillers after surgeries returning from Iraq because I disliked the way meds were making me feel and act. I met quite a bit of resistance from doctors and “specialists” because of this. They said that I was “denying care” despite the fact that I knew what pain meds do to your body and spirit. I actually had to get an Ombudsman involved and was armed with information to the contrary. I began going to an acupuncturist to ease pain and have been doing so ever since. Clear mind and relatively lower pain is better than the possibility of addiction and a confused soul.

  22. Victoria Fromer April 8, 2018 at 1:27 pm

    I think what the VA is doing for the veterans to help them in their lives to make more enjoyable and more normal is great. Also the people who care for them have to be a certain kind of soul to have compassion for their fellow man.

  23. Noi That Chung Cu April 8, 2018 at 8:02 am

    Acupuncture is very good, I used to acupuncture

  24. Gerald Houston April 6, 2018 at 8:57 pm

    Great content. I like what you’re doing

Comments are closed.

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