James Nicholson was hurting. He pointed to his upper back, lower back and then neck. Next to the 61-year-old White City resident were other military veterans, all seeking relief from pain that won't go away.
Men and women gathered inside the People's Choice Acupuncture Center in Ashland on a recent Saturday morning to receive free acupuncture, massage and other treatments from alternative-medicine providers who donate their time to veterans once a month.
The idea, says Joshua Graner, a board-certified acupuncture and Chinese medical practitioner, is to bring holistic health to people who have served, here or overseas. "Vets being treated through the VA (U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs) don't have a lot of say in their health care," says Graner, 35, who was a combat medic and taught life-saving skills to deployed officers for 10 years. "Vets don't have the income generally to go outside of the network and seek other kinds of care. They are stuck in the bureaucratic cycle."
What: Free veterans' clinic
When: Saturday, Nov. 17
Where: People's Choice Acupuncture Center, 1640 Siskiyou Blvd., Ashland
Contact: Joshua Graner of Ashland Integrative Medicine, 541-708-1595
Although Graner started this clinic in March, other cities across the country have offered free treatments to veterans for years, some modeled after the Military Stress Recovery (Veterans) Clinics, formerly called the Veterans Project.
Volunteers with the 5-year-old Portland Veterans Acupuncture Project treat 1,250 veterans a year.
The Oregon Veterans Clinic in Grants Pass has operated out of the Acupuncture at Riverside office on Saturdays also for five years. And the Klamath Veterans Acupuncture Project, which started on Veterans Day 2011, provides free services on Fridays.
Studies show that acupuncture may help people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder sleep easier and reduce anxiety and headaches, says Prudence Marshall, who was a medical researcher at the VA for 22 years and is active with the Portland veterans project.
Minutes before the Ashland clinic opened its doors to 21 waiting veterans, Graner brought his volunteers together. There was Tom Ferguson, a massage therapist, and acupuncturist Chad Moyer, who was donating his time and the use of his practice space.
Chiropractor Matt Sheehan was there, too, as well as Felipe "Flip" Romero, who was at the front desk, asking the veterans what treatments they wanted.
Graner reminded the returning practitioners that they would have limited time — from 20 to 30 minutes per patient. But the goal of the day was not so much about healing or therapeutic effects, but to introduce those suffering from chronic pain, PTSD or injury how to tap into self-healing mechanisms.
"That doesn't mean surgery, physical therapy, drugs, herbs and nutrition aren't necessary," he says, "but if we create the right environment, our bodies are more receptive to endorphins and other natural opiates, and our bodies want to heal."
He then explained the larger goal: to welcome "warriors" back into the community.
"We may not agree why we are going to war, especially in a community like ours that celebrates peace," he says, "but it doesn't mean we can't take care of the people who engaged in conflict."
Before Graner opened the door to let the veterans into the large treatment space, he made sure everything was in place. There were five acupuncture reclining chairs and three massage tables spaced as far apart as possible for privacy.
Chiropractic physician Casey Frieder was standing next to a table, ready to heal with his hands.
He gave up his Saturday because his father and brother served in the military. "Veterans are such an important part of our population, and yet they are so commonly overlooked," he says.
A smaller room was reserved for Helen Curtis Crozier, a biodynamic craniosacral therapist who was volunteering for the third time. She does so, she says, "because everyone is so appreciative."
Graner greeted the first veteran and asked which treatment he wanted. The man replied: "I want to do it all."
Over the eight months the free clinic has been open, Graner has seen a lot of repeat visitors. Today, there were new faces, including Cynthia Britt, a 35-year old Navy vet wearing a "Got Freedom?" T-shirt. The Grants Pass resident saw a flier about the clinic while attending classes at Southern Oregon University.
Seven acupuncture needles were put in her left ear, leg, arm and foot, and one in the crook of her right arm, all to relieve stress. This was her first experience with acupuncture, and afterward she said she felt taller, calmer and grateful.
"I have never come across people who were so nice to veterans," she says. "They kept asking, 'Is there anything we can do more?' "
She said veterans arrived at the clinic with problems they didn't want to share. "They carry internal burdens, and these volunteers give their time and their ability to help us," she says. "It's awesome."
Reach reporter Janet Eastman at 541-776-4465 or firstname.lastname@example.org.