LEWISBURG — Acupuncturist Trey Casimir has been treating veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and other ailments such as chronic pain and cancer for about five years.
"Most people don't realize that acupuncture is among the many treatments approved by the active military on the battlefield and by Veterans Administration," he said Friday.
Currently, demand for acupuncture outpaces availability within many facilities, which is where acupuncturists in rural areas, such as Casimir come into play.
According to the Veteran's Health Administration's Healthcare Analytics & Information Survey, acupuncture was one of the top three requested complementary and integrative health services by veterans (these services were acupuncture, chiropractic, and massage therapy).
To meet the demand for care, the VHA utilizes care in the community to offer acupuncture through programs such as the Veterans Choice Program.
In 2017, for example, more than 47,000 veterans were authorized to receive acupuncture care outside VHA medical centers.
Acupuncture can also help service members with post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD, a condition that is characterized by anxiety and stress that results in avoidance, arousal and reactivity, and cognition and mood symptoms according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
“PTSD can be a consequence of experiencing combat or repeated exposure to dangerous situations,” Casimir explained.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that 11-20 percent of military personnel who served in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom have PTSD. That number is even higher for Gulf War veterans (12 percent) and those who served in the Vietnam War (15 percent).
On the battlefield, injured soldiers usually would be injected with morphine to deal with pain. "Then, the military discovered that using acupuncture was as effective as morphine, and didn't come with all those side effects. Right away they started training their battlefield medics in battlefield acupuncture (BFAs, it is called)."
Acupuncture helps with PTSD through lowering anxiety and stress levels, Casimir said. "This very simple ear treatment, needles in the ear, is also very effective for people who are just experiencing a lot of agitation."
Casimir, who has been an acupuncturist for 20 years, is honored to be able to help local veterans, he said.
"Over the years," Casimir said, "I've dealt mostly with chronic pain, PTSD — and people with ailments such as cancer."
Alan Lynch, of West Milton, a Korean War Army veteran came to Casimir suffering from Stage 4 colon cancer.
"I am well aware of my situation," Lynch said Friday morning. He is now about to enter an experimental treatment program at Geisinger Medical Center, but he went to Casimir "to avoid having to depend on opioids to deal with the pain."
Lynch had never before experienced acupuncture. "Interesting experience," he said. "It helped me, I think."
"Lynch looked at all of his options, and realized that with acupuncture there weren't the risks associated with some of the other possible treatments," Casimir said."He came to see me for improved energy, reduction in pain, and improved organ function."
Casimir also learned through experience that when he treats someone with cancer, "my patients do better — for example, in dealing with side effects from cancer treatments."
A typical patient for Casimir "might have been blown up in Iraq and has suffered headaches and back pain. But also can go back to that moment of terror, chaos, and confusion in an instant. It all gets tangled up together. A lot of emotions are involved. Some people aren't scared, they're angry."
Casimir believes that part of what acupuncture does is "addresses our unconscious defense mechanisms. So if you are on a battlefield, where there is shooting and people dying, your defenses to haywire. This overloading of defenses is a common characteristic of PTSD.
"They come to me and I have to gain their confidence," he explained. "I'll do an acupuncture treatment that shows them they are not in danger. This guy knows what he is doing. I feel safe. This is the difficulty with vets. They tend to be tough people and their experience in the armed forces further toughens them. They don't come in with all the details of their emotional distress. They say one or two words to let me know — they don't sleep much, or their wife is scared of them sometimes."
Casimir needs to figure out what to treat: anger, fear, or grief.
He might use the ear points, "which is almost like a pressure valve, and you can sometimes turn the pressure down, the emotional feelings, by using these points. But, it's tricky. If you push too hard in the wrong place, these battle-hard veterans can break."