East West Free Herb Clinic Serving Homeless Veterans at California’s Monterey County
STAND DOWN EVENT
by Michael Tierra, LAc, O.M.D.
The old warrior survivor of the Vietnam war broke down in profound tears of regret as he unloaded a heavy burden of guilt because “I killed so many.” Fifty years later, homeless, suffering from PTSD, chronic anxiety and depression, he has been dealing with these problems, which remain unresolved.
Another, also homeless and also suffering with severe anxiety and PTSD, was more upbeat as he showed us the scar in his head where a bullet was finally surgically removed. Another piece of shrapnel remained lodged under his skin, at the base of his skull.
These were no stunt men from some TV action thriller. They are real people, 100’s of them, maybe thousands, flocking to the Stand Down event for homeless veterans. This weekend they could get old misdemeanor convictions expunged from their records (which prevented them from being hired for work) by one of the 3 on-site state, supreme court judges who were present. Food, a change of clothes, dental work, haircuts, home refinancing, food, and so many other services were offered at various tents set up throughout the now defunct Fort Ord army base in Seaside, Monterey, California. The special Stand Down event happens periodically throughout the country and this one was held from Friday, August 19 through the Sunday August 21, 2016.
The East West Free Herb Clinic consisted this day of approximately ten clinical herbalists, including three acupuncturists and a well-stocked dispensary of herbal supplements to give away. We were all kept busy, each seeing several clients, for five to six hours straight beginning at 10AM. It was our busiest day since we began our first clinic on January, 2015 at the Rebele Homeless Shelter. Later, we expanded one morning each month at the Mental Health Community Action Network and more recently, another monthly morning for vets at the Veterans Hall in downtown Santa Cruz.
I read that there are approximately 117,000 homeless veterans nationwide. Being homeless for even a short period makes it increasingly difficult to be considered for a job interview. From our perspective, most who we see suffer from various degrees of PTSD from their combat adventures. This causes many of them to fall further down the ladder into alcohol and drug abuse. Nevertheless, those whom we have worked with have a sincere desire to help themselves and each other, regain their health and self-respect. Needless to say, this can be very difficult. We’ve also seen a few women veterans who have different stories to tell, many who have been sexually abused and/or raped.
The majority of veterans have exhausted most of the governmental resources that might be available. Suitable shelter is the most obvious problem. When discharged, these men who have gone through so much, are pretty much dumped into general society and expected to get a job and fare for themselves. Some can do it but evidently at least 117,000 of them cannot. It’s hard to say what effect living in constant fear can have on a human being, let alone if they are suffering injuries.
I’m sure many feel some patriotic sense but when it’s just a few guys facing an enemy who want to kill you at every turn, they experience a rare kind of bonding and comradery not available in civilian life and that keeps many of them reenlisting. Eventually each of them must retire from the military and face the often difficult adjustment to finding a job, supporting a family and civilian life. Some government support is available but; often, it is not enough, and few expected when they first were drafted or enlisted that they’d have to adapt to a lifetime of anxiety, depression and nightmares.
It is always a very special privilege to serve veterans because we all know that they’ve given so much of themselves, sustaining physical and mental scars; while all along, we can continue to amuse ourselves with wartime blow-em-up thrillers. These movies somehow never seem to depict the aftermath of constant exposure to fear and violence. While serving the vets in our clinics, we also get to enjoy a slight experience of their comradery. It is evidently so wonderful that some of them keep enlisting so they can continue to experience the ‘bond of brothers’ interdependency.
The East West Free Herb Clinic consists of a varying number of advanced and graduate clinical herbalists, acupuncturists, homeopaths, nutritionist and a registered nurse. Perhaps not quite the same experience as combat veterans, there is nevertheless a rare satisfaction and an incredibly deep fulfillment when a group of healers work together in a spirit of charity and compassion to deliver quality holistic healing for the underprivileged and underserved. Most of us work and study together as a team and many who have come to us for assistance have received benefit.
One thing each of the three demographics of patients we see suffer with is depression and anxiety. One common herb that we have found to be incredibly effective and can, in many cases, serve as an alternative for depression is the flower and bark of the common mimosa tree (albizzia species), known as he huan hua or he huan pi. We have seen this herb completely turn things around in the positive direction for one vet who was unable to sleep because of terrible dreams and nightmares. Similarly the Traditional Chinese herb formula Bupleurum and Peony Combination (Xiao Yao Wan) sold as Free and Easy Wanderer Pills by May Way is wonderfully effective for heavy mood swings and depression.
Pain is another common complaint and the Chinese formula known as Angelica root and Loranthes Combination, which is sold in local stores as “Solitary Hermit” (Plum flower brand) is fantastic for relieving back and joint pains. It also relieves the symptoms of both osteo and rheumatic arthritis. These are just a few of the many herbs and formulas we use, sometimes integratively, along with prescribed pharmaceuticals. Often our clients find that the herbs work better, in some instances, than the drugs but without the threat of side effects.
To donate to the Veterans Transition Center, please visit www.vtcmonterey.org and click on the donations button at the top of the page.
The Monterey County Stand Down is a biannual event dedicated to helping homeless veterans and their families.Visit http://www.vtcmonterey.org/event-homeless-veterans-stand-down_4.htm for a map to the Stand Down site, a Stand Down veteran application and transportation schedules to the event.
For contributions of money, volunteering as part of our team of healers, and to learn more about the East West Free Herb Clinic visit http://cagba-ahg.org. You can also visit our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/East-West-Free-Herbal-Clinic-925112020908921/ — and please don’t forget to ‘like’ us.