Posted on Jun 19, 2024
At our in-person meeting on June 19, highlighting one of the local non-profit organizations that will benefit from the upcoming Kathy Nicol Memorial Golf Tournament, Wendy Miller, the Executive Director of our local Healing Warrior Program (HWP), gave us an overview of some of the mental/emotional challenges faced by honorably discharged veterans and their families as they re-integrate into civilian society, summarized what her program does to assist them in meeting those challenges, and gave us an overview of the successes of that program.  The program has some 40 licensed and certified practitioners around the state of Colorado focusing on no-cost, non-narcotic treatment of a wide range of physical and psycho-social issues, working toward a suicide-free world where all veterans and their families can thrive.  After an initial consultation to evaluate the individual needs of the client and develop a plan for addressing those needs, the program practitioners use acupuncture, cranio-sacral therapy, and/or healing touch energy therapy as well as providing care-management services to connect the client to relevant community services. 
What is the extent of the problem?  In 2021, suicide was the 13th leading cause of death of veterans overall, but 2nd for vets under 45 years old – a rate of around 34 per 100,000 veterans.  Veterans who contacted the Veterans Administration (VA) in the year before committing suicide reported symptoms of pain (56%), sleep problems (52%), increased health problems (41%), relationship problems (34%), and decline in physical activity (33%), effects of which can build up over time to result in suicide ideation.  The statistics are that the average time between deciding to commit suicide and effecting that decision is 70 minutes.  One of the philosophies of the HWP is to chip away at those negative issues to reduce those impacts and lead to a more positive outcome.  The VA provides some support to the HWP, allowing for enhanced intakes and mental health screenings as well as staffing expansion and enhancement.  
The client path is in four steps.  First is an intake appointment of some 30 minutes (in person, by phone, or on-line) where the potential client’s needs and individual goals are assessed, a plan is worked out, and the client is connected with any community resources that could address the needs identified.  Second is an introductory three-session series (approximately one hour each), one each for acupuncture, craniosacral therapy, and healing-touch therapy.  Step 3 is a 30-minute program consult (again in-person, by phone, or virtually) to assess which treatments have worked and what additional processes/therapies might be needed to meet the client’s goals.  Step 4 is a custom treatment series scheduled based on the needs of the client but typically involving treatment once per week until the series is completed.  The last step also includes referral to relevant community services. Note that even if the veteran or family member ultimately feels better and leaves the program, he/she is free to return, still at no cost.  
To date, HWP across the country has treated over 10,000 veterans through over 40,000 appointments with zero suicides, resulting in 55% decrease in emotional discomfort, 60% decrease in anxiety, and 51% decrease in physical pain. Much of this is within the framework of the Four Pillars of Suicide Prevention:  strengthen access to care (access to on-site and pop-up clinics); provide the resource of a client-care specialist (providing access to resources such as housing, food, employment, and mental health options); promoting connectedness (both within the immediate family and across wider society); and providing coping tools (including gun locks and safes as well as military-approved pre-loaded guided imagery for grief, sleep, anger, etc.).  Some of this effort and success will be highlighted in an “Energy Medicine Documentary” being released later this year. 
Given that guns are primary tools in the military and also the primary avenue to suicide, what sort of assistance is provided?  Part of the program includes education and tools for addressing the availability and dangers of guns, as well as more support to deflect suicide ideation.  This is in addition to the provision of gun locks and gun safes.  
How do they help returning vets re-integrate into society?  One of the issues is to make the returning vet feel like a skilled and valued part of the community.  Younger vets, although hard to pin down, may be directed to one of the many non-profits that focus on these issues.  One of the issues is transitioning from work in the service to work as a civilian, including developing heightened awareness of the fight or flight reaction – at some level, the nervous system has to be re-normalized.  In an effort to provide newly discharged vets with information about the services available, they have started going to deployments to talk with soon to be discharged service members.  
A request to review the programs that HWP provides or provides access to.  She briefly revisited the therapies of acupuncture, craniosacral therapy, and healing touch therapy.  
How do they retain mental health professionals?  Although this can be an issue, she revisited that part of the service they provide is referral to outside providers, even outside the VA, when the service is unavailable in-house.  
Do they provide EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy) and other therapies and processes? Although they plan to expand and may be able to offer other modalities, they currently refer the client to outside providers.