Veterans Find Relief with Acupuncture, Support and Camaraderie
The 11th of this month is the day we celebrate our nation’s veterans each year. But a couple of local health care providers recognize their service every single month.
Thanks to a partnership with the Riverton Soldiers House, Soleiana Abernathy and Alisha Bynum have had the important opportunity to provide an essential service to military veterans since June 1, 2015.
On the first Monday of each month, from 10 a.m. to noon, the community’s veterans gather in the living room, spare room, and dining room of the Soldiers House.
“It’s important vets receive the care they deserve and that it makes a positive difference for them,” Soleiana said. “I have the chance to improve the quality of life of our neighbor veterans by treating their pain, depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic-depression disorder with acupuncture.”
During the free treatments, Soldier House living room buzzes with conversation among patients, some seated in chairs, others on the couch. In the dining room, one patient discusses his pain with Soleiana, and in the sitting room to the side, another sits quietly with her mother while Alisha checks on her. Most have numerous acupuncture needles evident—in ears, in hands rested in laps, in bare feet set on the hardwood floor, in shoulders exposed by rolled-up t-shirts. Some rest quietly, even with eyes closed, and others chat about everything from family to facial hair to politics and military life. Soleiana and Alisha move about the house, pausing to focus intently on one patient in a chair for a few moments, moving on to the next on the couch to carefully administer needles, circling back to check on each of them as they move about the veterans, the furniture, and around each other.
Despite the assortment of voices and overlapping conversations, there is a peacefulness in the house, which pairs with what the vets say they experience as a result of their treatment here.
Michael Rhue, who served in the Army 1987 through 1991, has been coming to these monthly sessions for nearly a year now for severe anxiety, depression, and PTSD in combination with counseling. In this year, he’s found great relief.
“Acupuncture was part of the process of getting me back to at least somewhat normal,” Rhue chuckled, adding, “At least I can live with it.”
“If I hadn’t been turned on to this program at the time, it could have been a lot worse. This is what helped me through that,” he concluded.
Like the others in the room, Rhue says he would recommend acupuncture for anyone experiencing what he has, from mental health to physical ailments.
Terry Tessman’s knee pain used to nearly bring him to the floor. Since starting these acupuncture treatments about six months ago, he’s seen a dramatic drop in pain. On this particular Tuesday,
Tessman, who served from 1961 to 1965, explains his shoulder pain has been waking him up, even making it impossible for him to don his jacket that morning. He chats away with animation while Soleiana focuses on inserting a handful of needles in the shoulder.
At one point while the acupuncture does its work and Tessman does his storytelling, his voice breaks and his eyes well up when he talks about the National Anthem and the upcoming presidential election. But when he gets up to walk out the door, he lifts his hand over his head without pain and with a great smile on his face.
Bob Spengler has found similar relief, on both fronts. The monthly treatments have helped him with relaxation and PTSD, as well as with his restless leg syndrome.
“It’s a real service to vets who probably wouldn’t do this on their own,” Spengler said.
As is the case with most of the patients in the house, Spengler had never had acupuncture prior to this free service. They all shared a curiosity, but little anxiety, and we glad to have the opportunity to see how it could help.
“One time [receiving acupuncture], you get experience, the second time you get initial relief, and after several times it seems to build,” Spangler advised, hoping others would also give it a shot.
As Spengler gets up to leave after about 45 minutes, the radio plays and more patients make their way in and out of the Soldiers House for the morning. The clam bustle continues, and the room starts to clear out in a peaceful, grateful manner.
“It’s nice to be here with the other guys—it makes you feel like you’re not in the boat alone,” Rhue reflected.
As long as Soldiers House, Soleiana, and Alisha are here, they’re certainly not alone in this battle for their recovery.