For veterans haunted by chronic pain, Doug Huseby’s charity does what the VA can’t or won’t.
Pain Free Patriots rolls into church parking lots and shopping malls with mobile trailers equipped with state-of-the art technology, offering free treatments, such as muscle and nerve therapy and spinal balancing.
Since it was started five years ago, more than 450 veterans have been through the program, with testimonials from former Navy SEALS to Marine grunts from the Vietnam era. Almost all have tried conventional help through the Department of Veterans Affairs health care system with little or no success.
The 72-year-old Huseby, who made his money as the owner of Becker Furniture World, says he is able to offer results when the VA has failed because he cuts through stifling bureaucracy and embraces different approaches to treatment.
“Why is the post office not up to UPS or FedEx? Anything run by the government is going to be slower with more red tape,” he said. “I’m a business guy. I go in and I’ve figured out how to fix people.”
Organizations like Pain Free Patriots are emerging as the VA struggles with how to handle hundreds of thousands of veterans in chronic pain. Almost 60 percent of veterans returning from the past decade of war list chronic pain as their most common medical problem.
For years, the VA’s answer was to prescribe highly addictive painkillers called opioids. During an 11-year period ending in 2013, the number of prescriptions from the VA for pain meds like oxycodone and morphine surged 259 percent nationally.
But concerned about misuse and overdoses, the VA abruptly changed its policies, drastically reducing the amount of opioids it prescribed. Critics say it has left many vets who relied on the medications with few alternatives; and it has left the VA ill-prepared for the consequences, leaving outside organizations to fill the void.
The mobile units of Pain Free Patriots come equipped with over $250,000 in technology. The outside of the trailer is festooned with nearly as many sponsors and corporate logos as a NASCAR team.
Potential clients must show evidence of military service, either their discharge papers or a military identification, and fill out a one-page questionnaire about their ailments. Few are turned away. The vets are provided grants that average about $5,000 for their treatments, which usually run several times a week for about three months.
Chiropractor Sheldon Osvold, who works with the program, said the advanced technology and protocols allow him to pinpoint treatments and speed recovery.
“For me, it’s a way of helping somebody who is under served,” he said. “Not necessarily that they don’t have adequate care, just that they don’t get this type of care and this allows them to have access to it at a reasonable rate. I can’t take away that you were blown through a wall and you’ve got some significant structural damage, but if I can make your life as pain free as possible, that’s my goal.”
A typical treatment
On a recent Tuesday afternoon, Neil Krenz, who retired as a captain with the Minnesota National Guard, made his way to the Pain Free Patriots trailer parked next to the Living Word Christian Center in Brooklyn Park.
Krenz was deployed to Iraq with the Guard in 2005 and served 12 years in the military. He never suffered any traumatic injury. Instead, the constant wear and tear of carrying 50 pounds of Kevlar plates and helmet left him with sharp pains in his neck and shoulders, coupling a pre-existing abnormal curvature of the spine with degenerative disc disease. The VA wanted to prescribe painkillers, but he resisted. The VA offered him chiropractic care, but would authorize only four visits.
“We all know that isn’t enough to scratch the surface. You are just getting started at four sessions,” Krenz said. He’s participated in the Pain Free Patriots program for more than a year, including twice-a-week sessions for the first four months.
“The everyday stress seemed to be lifted,” he said.
Ron Green, a Marine veteran who served during the Vietnam War era, gets treatment for foot problems that had nearly prevented him from walking. Green, who also has type II diabetes, said he was in tremendous pain with feet that were bleeding in June when he began treatment, but now his pain has all but gone away.
“It’s totally life changing,” Green said, adding that he stopped taking pain medication two weeks earlier. He says his doctors at the VA, who had once talked about the possibility of amputating his foot, are amazed by his progress.
“They just went nuts, they couldn’t believe it,” he said.
Offers to partner with the VA
Huseby says he has offered to partner with the VA in informal discussions, but each time the VA contact person has left the VA or the conversation has seemed to be quickly forgotten.
“I want to be the solution,” he said. “I want to go to the VA and say, ‘Let me help you.’ ”
The Minneapolis VA said it has no problems with a charity providing care to its veterans.
“If there is a grant available to our patients to access free, quality services outside the VA, we would welcome it with open arms,” said Minneapolis VA spokesman Ralph Heussner.
Pain Free Patriots operates under an umbrella BFW Charities, which posts modest revenue of several hundred thousand dollars a year.
Huseby has unabashed ambitions for the program. Nashville recording artist and Army veteran Rockie Lynne has signed on as a spokesman, producing a video for the charity’s website. Huseby says the History Channel has contacted him about a project to follow vets through their treatments.
The charity has a fundraising gala planned later this month, and Huseby hopes to expand the program, enlisting corporate sponsors for individual veterans.
He says it is the least they can do.
“Why wouldn’t you write a check out?” Huseby asked. “Every company should recognize that you wouldn’t have a company, you wouldn’t have freedom, if these veterans didn’t go out and risk their lives.”