ALBUQUERQUE (AP) - For decades, Raul Rojas Jr. suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.
After serving two tours of duty in Vietnam, nightmares, an inability to sleep, flashbacks, depression, fear of groups and high levels of stress, anxiety and anger were the norm.
"Over the years, people didn't even know what PTSD was," said Rojas, 59. "I had a lot of anger and guilt, and didn't know why I felt that way."
Veterans groups were a place to connect with others, but did nothing to relieve the symptoms.
Rojas, who was born on Ysleta del Sur Pueblo near El Paso, Texas, and now lives in Corrales, N.M., finally is getting some relief.
Once a week, he attends a free acupuncture clinic for war veterans at the office of Carla Lee, doctor of Oriental medicine, near the University of New Mexico.
Acupuncture is an ancient form of Chinese medicine that aims to restore and maintain health by stimulating specific points on the body with tiny needles.
Veterans and family members come in from 5 to 6:30 p.m. every Wednesday, receive an acupuncture treatment in each ear, and sit calmly for 45 minutes.
Rojas said that after his first treatment a couple of years ago, he was finally able to get a good night's sleep. The flashbacks have stopped. Between acupuncture sessions, he feels more patient and relaxed. And the treatments have helped him get off antidepressant medications.
"I'm a mind racer - that's the training of war, always thinking ahead," Rojas said. "Acupuncture brings me down. It relaxes my mind."
The free clinic stems from the work of Acupuncturists Without Borders, an Albuquerque-based nonprofit that sends acupuncturists into underserved communities affected by disaster, war and poverty. There is another free veterans clinic each week at Healing Arts Center in the Pueblo of Pojoaque Wellness Center north of Santa Fe.
Acupuncturists Without Borders was founded in September 2005 by acupuncturist Diana Fried of Albuquerque. In response to Hurricane Katrina, she organized a group of 80 acupuncturists from the U.S. and Canada to travel to New Orleans and provide free on-site care to people traumatized by the event.
"Acupuncture is a powerful tool for helping people who've gone through trauma," Fried said. "When somebody is in a state of trauma, their nervous system is all keyed up. And if you don't treat the trauma, it gets perpetuated in other parts of their lives."
The group treated nearly 8,000 people in New Orleans over the course of a year, using a simple "ear protocol."
Five sterile and disposable acupuncture needles are placed in each ear in areas that stimulate the healthy functioning of the liver, kidneys, heart, lungs and sympathetic nervous system. It takes only a few minutes to insert the needles. Recipients then sit calmly for 45 minutes before the needles are removed.
"What this treatment does is calm people down and help them feel the way they felt before the trauma," Fried said. "They remember who they were, which is an important part of healing. That's why this treatment is so important for veterans."
Since the Hurricane Katrina disaster, Acupuncturists Without Borders has sent groups to flood-ravaged parts of Iowa and communities in California affected by wildfires. Its "Healing Community Trauma" workshops teach acupuncturists how to do "field" acupuncture in severely traumatized communities, Fried said.
Individual acupuncturists have gone on to start 17 free clinics in the U.S. to treat war veterans, with the support of Acupuncturists Without Borders.
"If it didn't help, I wouldn't keep coming back," said 78-year-old Lester Buck after receiving an acupuncture treatment at Carla Lee's clinic.
Buck, who began attending the weekly clinic a few months ago, served in the Korean War and lost two of his sons in Vietnam. He suffers from depression, anxiety, nightmares, inability to sleep and headaches.
"I don't think I have as many nightmares," he said, "and when you get rid of them you can sleep better."
Since he began the treatments, his psychiatrist also has reduced the dosage of some of the antidepressant medications he was taking.
Carla Lee, who treats two to three veterans and their families each week, was inspired to start the clinic after attending a Healing Community Trauma workshop last April. She is a member of Acupuncturists Without Borders, though her clinic and practice are autonomous from the group.
"So many of these vets were suffering from PTSD and it wasn't recognized or acknowledged," said Lee, who has been practicing acupuncture since 2007. "I know acupuncture can help, and I would like to see the clinic grow and to even be able to do it in a larger setting."
Lee doesn't ask questions because that may trigger emotions, she said.
They come to the clinic, receive the ear protocol, enjoy themselves and come back again. Consistency is important for experiencing long-term benefits from acupuncture.
"They have a chronic condition and it takes time," said Lee.
Carolyn Bleakley, a doctor of oriental medicine in Santa Fe, runs the acupuncture clinic for veterans at the Healing Arts Center in the Pueblo of Pojoaque Wellness Center. She hosts the clinic every Wednesday.
She has treated Vietnam veterans and some who fought in World War II. The number of people attending the clinic ranges between four and 15.
She said the big challenge is reaching out to soldiers coming back from Afghanistan and Iraq.
"When we do this as a group, there's an energy that adds to the treatment," Bleakley said.
After Lee placed needles in Rojas' ears at a recent clinic, a look of calm washed over his face. Forty-five minutes of silence passed. When the needles were removed, he looked to the person next to him, and with a smile said, "La-la land. On the way home, I'll definitely be yawning."