TAMPA, Fla. — The local VA is under fire for cutting access to a popular alternative treatment program.
Some veterans are saying those changes are having a negative impact on their health.
“I did what I was asked to do,” U.S. Marine Corps veteran Ron Randall said. “When I got injured, they promised to take care of me.”
Randall is one of more than a hundred veterans who had been receiving treatment at a Tampa acupuncture clinic. There, a doctor uses thin needles to provide relief for pain, anxiety, PTSD and insomnia, after regular treatment methods have failed.
“I came in on a walker, and I got off the walker and I got on to a cane. And I went from a cane to regular walking. So it’s meant day and night to me,” Randall said.
When asked about his chronic pain, he said it’s gone.
U.S. Air Force veteran Robert Coto also receives treatment at the clinic.
He suffered neuropathy after undergoing cancer treatment several years ago, which he says the neurologist at the James A. Haley VA Hospital was unable to relieve.
Coto said the neuropathy caused him to trip over his feet and fall, but after receiving acupuncture treatment, he no longer has that issue.
“It’s been around for thousands of years and it’s worked,” Coto said. “Everything has improved I’d say 95 percent.“
U.S. Army Veteran Jose Burgos Polo said acupuncture has alleviated his chronic shoulder pain.
“I was taking a whole bunch of medication, which within two weeks to a month, they all went away,” Burgos Polo said.
He says the treatment allowed him to return to riding his bike, performing in community theater and continuing his work as a dentist.
Veterans were told no more appointments
But in September, veterans at the James Haley VA were told they couldn’t get any more appointments.
“I called for additional visits and they told me I had to participate in a program called Whole Health,” Coto said. “They were talking about Tai Chi, stress management. I didn’t have any stress.”
In a letter sent to veterans, the program said it would instead offer acupressure by video.
“Acupressure… I have arthritis in my fingers, so I didn’t feel that would work for me,” Coto said.
In a written statement, a spokesperson said the VA temporarily suspended acupuncture appointments this summer due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But she says the VA has started offering in-house acupuncture appointments at the VA, which provided 1,200 appointments last year.
“Everything was referred to an in-house acupuncturist,” Randall said.
But after calling Whole Health multiple times to try to schedule an appointment, Randall said they didn’t call him back.
VA recommends Tai Chi and yoga
A VA spokesperson, in a statement, encourages veterans to keep calling for an appointment and “employ another pain-reducing practice such as walking, yoga and Tai Chi.”
She also indicated a transition from one health care provider company to another caused delays in referrals for some veterans.
And due to the pandemic, there is a backlog of follow-up appointments for referrals.
Veterans say the VA should continue offering outside clinic appointments while the VA works to address those delays.
“If they’re overwhelmed, make sure they send them onto community care. And keep the clinics,” said Coto.
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