EAST LYME, Conn. — Acupuncturist David LoPriore had just placed 12 needles in Vito Fatone's left ear and was ready to start treatment on the right ear when LoPriore commented on the 91-year-old Fatone's World War II Army service.
"You were in some serious combat, so even after all these years, that stress is still there," said LoPriore, at Tuesday's session of free community-style acupuncture for U.S. active duty military and veterans at the East Lyme Community Center.
On a prior visit to Community Acupuncture for Veterans (CAV), Fatone had told LoPriore about his role in the D-Day invasion at Omaha Beach and the Battle of the Bulge.
"That was worse," Fatone, of East Lyme, said when LoPriore mentioned the unsuccessful counteroffensive launched by the Germans in December 1944 aimed at turning the war in Hitler's favor.
"That's why we are doing this for guys like you, Vito," LoPriore answered. "We want to thank you for what you did for us."
In early spring, LoPriore, a state-licensed acupuncturist, martial artist and military combat teacher and 40 of his students and friends established CAV to treat active and past servicemen and women for post-traumatic stress, chronic pain, anxiety, depression and addiction problems, as well as other mental, emotional and physical conditions suffered by military personnel after deployment or discharge.
It's not necessary for veterans to have seen combat to be treated, although a number of those at Tuesday's session had.
The elder Fatone was at CAV with his son, Guy A. Fatone, 68, an Army veteran of Vietnam.
"Well, we're right down the street, and it's free, and I know acupuncture works," Guy Fatone, also of East Lyme, said when asked why they were there.
For 72-year-old Ken McCarthy, of Old Saybrook, an Air Force veteran of the Vietnam War, it was his third visit to see LoPriore.
"I have a lot of back pain, and a lot of other things, and it does help me," he said, adding he also enjoys the opportunity to meet and talk with other veterans.
This week, he brought a fellow member of the Westbrook Veterans Honor Guard, former Marine Edward Shensie, 73, for his first visit. The two are part of a group that attends funerals for World War II, Korea and Vietnam veterans. They have been to more than 900 funerals.
"This helps us to cope," McCarthy said of the acupuncture.
Clients are treated in a group setting, fully clothed, in a seated position. Very thin, filament-like needles are placed in the outer ears at specific points that LoPriore explained have been shown over hundreds of years to be effective at providing relief.
While the same protocol is used for everyone, each client gets about 10 minutes of individual attention, and then relaxes for about 30-40 minutes until it's time for the needles to come out.
Everyone at Tuesday's session said it was painless, and most said they've seen results.
Vietnam Army veteran Philip Maniscalco, of Westerly, was attending his fifth session and said his overall well-being has improved.
As he was explaining to a newcomer that veterans come back from a war like Vietnam and try to mentally pack away what they've brought home with them, Guy Fatone interjected, "Like a shadow."
"Yes, exactly. It never leaves," said Maniscalco.
Those mental, as well as physical pains, are what LoPriore is working to alleviate.
In addition to being a senior teacher and practitioner of acupuncture, counseling and Asian medicine for a quarter century, he has also taught traditional martial arts for the last 30 years. In that capacity, he met active duty military and veterans, and seeing the need, honed an acupuncture treatment program specifically geared for the military.
Although Veterans Affairs has recently cleared LoPriore to provide acupuncture in his private practice to patients, that wasn't always the case, so he started CAV, under the auspices of Warriors for Warriors, which is pending approval for nonprofit status.
Other businesses and church groups donated funds to get the program up and operating, the town of East Lyme donated the space, and there's been an organized effort to get the word out about the acupuncture sessions.
"This treatment really helps to optimize all their physical, mental and emotional systems," said LoPriore, who donates about 15 hours a week to running CAV. "There's no pain, and it's a protocol that really works because I add specific points for individualized systems."
Shensie, of Westbrook, was there for himself but said he's grateful for the program for younger men and women coming home from war.
"There's a lot of young guys coming back with PTS, and this will help them," he said.
"It helps with clarity of mind and health and well-being," said Maniscalco.
"These guys come in here and they thank me," said LoPriore. "But it's really about us thanking them. This is our way of saying thank you."