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Shaheen Introduces Legislation to Expand Veteran’s Access to Non-Opioid Alternative to Chronic Pain Treatment

(Washington, DC) – Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), a senior member of the Armed Services Committee and a leader in the Senate on efforts to respond to the substance misuse epidemic, introduced the Acupuncture for our Heroes Act to expand access to acupuncturist services for veterans enrolled in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care system. According to a report by the Veterans Health Administration, 80 percent of VA providers identified acupuncture as one of the top three services most often requested by veterans. Currently, only 60 percent of VA health centers provide often limited acupuncture services on site, and 14 percent do not provide acupuncture services at all. 

“We need to make sure alternatives to opioids are being made available when it comes to pain treatment, particularly for our veterans, many of whom suffer from chronic pain because of their service,” said Shaheen. “Acupuncture has proven to be an effective pain treatment for many patients and is in high demand by veterans. However, access to acupuncture through the VA remains limited in many areas of the country, including in New Hampshire. This bill would make sure veterans have increased access to this treatment option, and avoid the risks associated with opioid painkillers. This is a common sense proposal that improves the health care options available to our heroes who put everything on the line to defend our country.”   

Specifically, the Acupuncture for Our Heroes Act would:

  • Establish a program to expand acupuncturist services to veterans enrolled in the VA health care system;
  • Direct the VA Secretary to carry out the program in at least one facility of the VA in each Veterans Integrated Service Network (VISN), of which there are 23;
  • If the VISN includes a state without a full-service VA medical facility, then the VA Secretary is directed to carry out the program in that state.  
  • Ensure veterans could seek acupuncture services from licensed acupuncturists to treat a variety of conditions, including chronic pain, cancer pain, joint pain, stress management, mental health conditions, substance abuse and symptoms relating to traumatic brain injury and PTSD;
  • Require the VA to provide materials to healthcare providers that explain the benefits of acupuncture services and establishes an Acupuncture Advisory Committee at the VA; and
  • Instruct the committee to review and evaluate the ability of veterans to access acupuncturists at VA facilities. 

Senator Shaheen has fought tirelessly to ensure that Granite State communities have the resources they need to battle the substance use disorder epidemic. She helped negotiate the bipartisan agreement in 2018 that outlined the two years of opioid response spending – totaling $6 billion to respond to the opioid crisis, which included a critical $142 million set-aside for hardest-hit states like New Hampshire. Shaheen recently unveiled sweeping new substance use disorder legislation, the Turn the Tide Act, to help tackle the substance use epidemic and provide resources for Granite Staters struggling with substance misuse.  The Turn the Tide Act provides $63 billion in funding over ten years to deliver flexible treatment funding to providers, establish proven prevention programs and address the substantial workforce challenges in the treatment field.

Yesterday, Senator Shaheen introduced bipartisan legislation with Senator Martha McSally (R-AZ) to provide female U.S. servicemembers and veterans with improved breast screening options. Earlier this year, the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act – bipartisan legislation backed by Shaheen to ensure “Blue Water” Navy veterans get the disability and health care benefits they deserve as a result of exposure to Agent Orange – was signed into law.

The full text of the legislation is available here.