KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL)- The future of healthcare for Tennessee’s veterans could have more acupuncture – and fewer opioids. TriWest Healthcare now authorizes coverage for some veterans to receive alternative medicine like acupuncture – and local providers are eager to help.

“Veterans, I think, are more in tune to medications,” said veteran and Church Hill resident Linda Carter. “I think they’re warming up to alternative care, but I don’t believe it’s been in their normal path.”

Carter served in the army for 26 years as a nurse and colonel. After this service, she suffered both acute and chronic pain. 

“With the opioid addiction issues today, and many of us being given addictive kinds of drugs, I didn’t want any part of that either,” said Carter.

Her search for an alternative form of healing brought her to Acupuncture Associates in Kingsport. Here, veterans receive discounted treatments.

Owner and licensed acupuncturist Julia Thie says they currently treat about a dozen veterans, and hope to help more.

“Right now it’s just getting started, that we’ve become approved and we’re able to do it through the insurance,” said Thie. “Now the VA has finally changed acupuncture from a technique to a profession.”

But how can needles, gently placed in the skin, help treat PTSD and chronic pain?

“We put a needle in somebody, we’re creating a micro-trauma, which is then signaling to the brain, ‘Hey, get down here.’ You know, summon those natural pain killers, get that blood moving,” said licensed acupuncturist Amanda Leuthardt.

Acupuncture aims to target both physical and mental trauma. It can’t always heal pain, but Carter says it’s helped her manage it – changing her life. 

“Coming here, it’s really been a blessing for me,” she said. “Because I don’t like the idea of pouring more medications into my body to numb me or fix something when it might cause something else to not work right.”

Veteran care aside, more insurance providers are placing greater restrictions on opioid coverage. In 2019 BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee dropped coverage of Oxycontin, and added coverage of acupuncture. 

“Because of the opiate crisis, Tennessee has joined that mindset of saying, ‘Hey, this is not just an emergency situation anymore. This is chronic,'” said Thie.

For licensed acupuncturist Sara Robert, helping veterans is a matter close to her heart.

“My dad was a Vietnam veteran who was diagnosed 100 percent disabled with PTSD and exposure to Agent Orange. He never got to experience acupuncture,” said Robert.

After her father passed away, acupuncture helped Robert overcome her grief. She became a licensed provider herself, hoping to help people like her dad.

“Veterans like my father, who have been suffering in silence all these years, don’t have to,” she said. “There is help for them. They just have to reach out and we’re here for them.”