BANGOR, Maine — As they filed into the kitchen area at Grace United Methodist Church, about a dozen veterans, active duty military personnel and family members each took a seat at one of the folding chairs set up in a circle.
There, each found an alcohol prep pad with which to disinfect their outer ears in anticipation of the placement of five thin acupuncture needles.
“It’s called auricular acupuncture,” said Marie Arnberg, one of five state-licensed acupuncturists who have volunteered their time and expertise to operate the Bangor Veterans’ Acupuncture Clinic.
Marking four years of service this month, the Bangor clinic is one of four in Maine. It, along with those in Portland, Augusta and Brunswick, provides acupuncture services at no cost to veterans, active military and their family members on a weekly basis.
The treatment used at the veterans’ clinic was developed in the 1970s by Dr. Michael Smith at Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx, New York, for treating people in substance abuse programs, according to the clinic’s website.
This simple use of five needles in each ear is commonly referred to as the National Acupuncture Detox Association, or NADA, protocol. While the treatment has been shown to alleviate withdrawal symptoms, it also provides relief from pain and generalized psycho-emotional distress, such as PTSD and flashbacks, according to NADA.
“The ear is a map of the body,” so many problems are being treated with contact to these points, Arnberg said.
The needles are placed and left in for 30 to 40 minutes, during which the lights are dimmed and soothing music is played. The needles then are removed by the volunteers, who work in pairs, and properly disposed of.
Those who have undergone acupuncture at veterans’ clinics have reported benefits that include increased mental clarity and alertness, improved ability to cope with situations, better sleep, reduced aches and pains, less anxiety and depression and fewer flashbacks.
That has been the case for U.S. Army veteran James Pitman, 42, of Garland, who served in the military from 2000 through 2014, when he was deemed 100 percent disabled from combat-related injuries.
His official role was in communications but he often wound up serving as a convoy commander. During his years of service, Pitman was on six combat rotations, including in Kabul, Afghanistan.
“I’ve been blown up to the point of being knocked out 42 times, Pitman said Wednesday in a telephone interview.
Pitman says acupuncture helps with his PTSD and high blood pressure, eases tension in his neck and spine, and also soothes his arthritis and occasional inflammation from past injuries.
“I used to take 23 pills a day,” he said.
Now, Pitman is down to the occasional painkiller, thanks to a combination of treatments that also include equine therapy and medical cannabis.
“I try to go once a week, if I can,” he said Wednesday, referring to the acupuncture clinic.
His family also benefits.
“We appreciate it a lot. I’m more relaxed and able to deal with day-to-day issues,” he said.
Vietnam veteran Jim Thiel, former chairman of the nonprofit Maine Injured Workers and Victims and manager of the locally popular Rockin’ Ron and the New Society Band, goes to the clinic weekly, except when he’s wintering in Florida.
“It’s not painful, unless you’re scared of needles,” he said during his treatment last week.
Thiel, who has lost more than 400 pounds, said acupuncture helps with his back and knee pain as well as other aches.
“These people here are wonderful. They’re here and they get us going, get us moving,” Thiel said of the acupuncturists.
The treatments have been especially helpful for post-surgery knee problems, he said.
“It eases the pain and I’m able to get up and walk around on it,” he said.
For information, visit the clinic website at bangorvetsacuclinic.org.