On a bright May morning I step outside with one of my patients to see how the spring weather is shaping up. He glances at another patient’s license plate and recognizing a fellow veteran blurts out “Oh, there’s an old tin can you don’t see too often”. I have just enough grasp of the lingo to understand what’s going on: my patient, a veteran of World War 2 is recognizing a brother.

This takes me off guard for a moment here in the parking lot of my clinic where I go out of my way to maintain visitors’ privacy.  It really shouldn’t come as a surprise to me though.  For the past three years, I have been treating veterans in our Chatham, NY Acupuncture clinic, free of charge. License plates are just another one of the ways they have of spotting each other.

War is something I have been fortunate enough to not see up close in my life. Despite the coverage, the images, and the statistics, I haven’t been there, so I don’t really get it. But, as my wife says, service is service. While some wars have been more dividing and controversial than others, all veterans have offered themselves in ways most of us can’t understand.

Numbers from the Veterans Administration are sobering. There are over 24 million vets in the United States. Last year over 6 million of them sought treatment at VA clinics and over 3 million were receiving disability benefits. So while navigating the healthcare system is a challenge for anyone, and even though the VA is doing it’s best within it’s budget, is it any wonder that when you ask a vet whether he or she is receiving adequate mental and physical health benefits, the answer too often is a resounding “No”?

The ways I have gained from offering free acupuncture to vets are innumerable.  First, I think I’m helping a couple of people with acupuncture who might not have gotten it any other way, and that feels good.  I also get to hear stories from people who have had experiences that I haven’t. There are also the quirky expressions of gratitude, like one patient who brings me baklava each visit for my efforts. And then there are those moments like that one in the parking lot.

The patient I was walking with got home, went online and found an image of the other guy’s boat. He made a copy and left it for him at my front desk.  This is beautiful I thought. This is the kind of identification and camaraderie that transcends time and personal affect. One sailor saw another’s car and in effect said, “yeah I know him”.  As a former Paramedic I can relate a bit, in that ever July I go to a reunion that meets behind Harlem Hospital. A lineage of Paramedics and EMTs that goes back over thirty years migrates home from all over the country to stand on common ground. Even if it’s the only thing we have in common, it shaped our lives. Seeing this between my patients makes me happy.

With the Holidays upon us, this is a good time of year to consider how you or your business might support vets, whatever your politics. You don’t have to love war, but love people.
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