Tomah VA’s battlefield acupuncture program reduces veterans’ pain with pins

TOMAH, Wis. (WKBT)- When we are in pain, many of us reach for a pill.  According to the CDC, prescription painkiller use is on the rise. The Tomah VA is helping veterans reduce their pain– with pins. The treatment developed for the battlefield is giving vets nearly instant pain relief at home. 

Pain, for Scott Gomer, is a part of life. The Air Force veteran’s back pain is manageable, but nothing Gomer has tried completely takes his pain away. Which is why he agreed to trade pills for pins. “I guess when I had the opportunity, I thought I might give it a try and see if it works for me, ” says Gomer.

Gomer is one of a growing number of veterans turning to the VA’s whole health approach to care. “The conversation is no longer what’s the matter with you, it’s what matters to you. It’s an amazing way to look at health, ” says nurse practitioner Nancy Patterson.

One of the most popular whole health options is battlefield acupuncture. Trained VA staff place gold pins into the skin of the outer surface of the ear. “There are specific points in the ear that are used for pain. Those are the energy fields that exit the ear. So, we set our pins on those five most prominent energy fields, ” explains Patterson.

The procedure is fast. Patterson can insert the pins in both ears in less than five minutes. And it’s nearly painless. But staff and vets say the biggest benefit to battlefield acupuncture is the results.  One in three veterans reports a reduction in pain after one treatment. Gromer says his back pain went from a three to a one just seconds after the last pin went into his ear. 

The pins fall out after three to five days, but Patterson says the pain relief can last weeks.I love this. The patient feels better almost immediately. And it’s so rewarding to me that I can make someone else feel better. And it’s so easy. It’s so easy, ” says Patterson.

The VA recently expanded its battlefield acupuncture program to offer the therapy at its outpatient clinics. Giving vets hope for a life with fewer pills and relief from pain.  The VA is also using battlefield acupuncture to treat anxiety. Researchers have found placing a sixth pin in the inner surface of the ear can reduce symptoms.