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'It's Not Too Bad': An Air Force Vet Trades In Pain For Battlefield Acupuncture

CHICAGO (CBS) -- When we are in pain, many of us reach for a pill.

But the VA hospital in Tomah, Wisconsin is helping veterans reduce their pain, with pins instead.

CBS 2's Marie Saavedra explains how the treatment is now giving vets nearly instant pain relief.

Pain. For Scott Gomer, it' s a part of life. The Air Force veteran's back pain is manageable. But nothing Gomer has tried has completely takes his pain away.

Which is why he agreed to trade pills for pins.

"I guess when I had the opportunity, I thought I might give it a try and see if it works with me," Gomer said.

Gomer is one of a growing number of veterans turning to the VA's whole health approach to care.

"The conversation is no longer what's the matter with you, it's what matters to you. It's an amazing way to look at health," said nurse practitioner Nancy Patterson.

One of the most popular whole health options is Battlefield Acupuncture. A therapy to reduce pain, without narcotics.

Trained VA staff place gold pins into the skin of the outer surface of the ear.

"There are specific points in the ear that are used for pain. Those are the energy fields that exit the ear. So we set our pins on those five most prominent energy field," said Patterson.

The procedure is fast. Nurse practitioner Nancy Patterson can insert the pins in both ears in less than five minutes. And its nearly painless.

It's a little bit of a sting to it, but it's not too bad," Gomer said.

But staff and vets say the biggest benefit to battlefield acupuncture is the results. One in three veterans reports a reduction in pain after one treatment. Scott said his back pain went from a three to a one seconds after the last pin went into his ear.

The pins fall out after three to five days. But Patterson said the pain relief can last weeks.

"I love this. The patient feels better almost immediately," Patterson said. And it's so rewarding to me that I can make someone else feel better. And it's so easy. It's so easy."

Easy and more accessible than ever. The VA recently expanded its battlefield acupuncture program to offer the therapy at its outpatient clinics.

"We ran with it," Patterson said.

Giving vets hope for a life with fewer pills and relief from pain.

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