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Ana Pallés Yelen

Executive director and cofounder, Healing Warriors Program

“Nonprofits come into being because they find and fill a gap in what people need. Everyone can work to plug that hole, whether it’s taking a major action like starting a nonprofit or doing something small.”

Our nonprofit works to improve veterans’ quality of life and prevent suicides. At our clinic in Fort Collins, Colo., and at pop-up sites along the eastern range of the state, veterans receive free, evidence-based, non-drug treatments that reduce pain and anxiety, improve sleep and lead to hope. We have served approximately 2,500 veterans to date.

The problem I’m trying to solve

Veterans take their lives at a much higher rate than the general population — 32 per 100,000 veterans, compared with 18.4 for the general population. Those who have seen combat frequently suffer from post-traumatic stress, body pain, the inability to sleep and — especially with recent wars — traumatic brain injury. Improving their mental and physical health cannot rely on the long-term use of heavy-duty narcotics, as these can damage organs and lead to addiction. Our program provides free weekly sessions of acupuncture, craniosacral therapy and healing touch. We ask our veterans to rate their anxiety and pain before and after each session; on average, it diminishes by 50 percent. By providing relief from their physical and emotional trauma, we help the men and women who have served our country glean that further healing is possible.

The moment that sparked my passion

I’ve always felt a bond with American soldiers, dating to the day when my family left Cuba in 1962 and my father pointed out a man in uniform near our awaiting plane who was there to protect us. Decades later, as a hiring manager for a multinational company that employed a large number of veterans, I was struck by their suffering and the amount of medication many needed for their various conditions. I realized we could and must do better. Eight years ago, two other women and I decided it was time to be part of the solution by founding the Healing Warriors Program.

What I wish other people knew

It’s important for all of us to understand the severe issues many veterans are dealing with. Because of their training and experience, veterans have a higher tolerance for pain than the average person. But just because they seem to be coping doesn’t mean they are. Eventually, everyone’s tolerance erodes and can become overwhelming — one reason for veterans’ higher suicide rates. We all have veterans in our circles, even if they don’t tell us they are.

Why my approach is unique

Our approach is through the body’s expression of trauma, including pain, anxiety and sleep disturbances. We offer a combination of therapeutic modalities using providers who are trained and certified with appropriate credentials. Our role is to impact the factors that lead to veteran suicides. Taking someone who is severely compromised and bringing them to a place where quality of life is restored is a crucial deterrence. In addition to serving veterans of any branch, we also provide treatments for partners and parents, because the caregiving role is traumatic, too. And we provide treatments for active-duty service members and their families on the high-anxiety days they deploy and return, along with offering services to relatives while they are away.

Advice to others who want to make a difference

Nonprofits come into being because they find and fill a gap in what people need. Everyone can work to plug that hole, whether it’s taking a major action like starting a nonprofit or doing something small. When COVID-19 struck, for instance, we sent our clients cards handwritten by schoolchildren in our packages of food, masks, gloves and soap. Veterans told us the letter meant the world to them. Anyone can write to a veteran, an elderly person or anyone who feels isolated. It may not seem like much, but the simplest things can mean a lot.