Why Not Hyperbaric Oxygen for Veterans with PTSD?

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SFTT consults with hundreds of Veterans with PTSD each year and many – if not most – are frustrated at the quality of treatment they receive from the VA.  While most Veterans will acknowledge that VA staff members have their heart in the “right place,” the bureaucratic landscape facing Veterans suffering from PTSD are formidable.  Why has it been so difficult to get Hyperbaric Oxygen Treatment to Veterans suffering from PTSD?

SFTT reported earlier in the week of a new grant by DARPA to embed sensors in the brains of Veterans to track brain waves to aid in the treatment of PTSD and TBI.  While it is still unclear whether Veterans will volunteer for this new DARPA initiative, there are plenty of active programs in the private sector which have demonstrated considerable success in treating Veterans with PTSD.  One of the most successful programs has been the Hyperbaric Oxygen Treatment (“HBOT”) promoted by Dr. Paul Harch.  This program has been featured often by SFTT, but remains unappreciated by the folks at the VA.

In a scathing article by Xavier A. Figueroa, Ph.D. published by the Brain Health and Healing Foundation, the author calls to task both the press and malingerers at the VA who sit on the sideline and continue to discredit the benefits of HBOT. Found below are some of his comments and questions which have all of us at SFTT scratching our heads in wonder at the astonishing behavior of the VA:

If the VA and DoD are willing to try anything, why not HBOT?  Why the hesitation?  That is the real question that is lost amid this debate, but seldom asked. Hopefully, now that a few brave souls in the mainstream news outlets have entered the field of HBOT, other journalists might be tempted to ask some of these questions.  I’m not holding my breath on it. If two solid science/medical journalists couldn’t see through the knot, it bodes very poorly for any therapy that cannot push through the noise of life.

The field of hyperbaric medicine has always been viewed with suspicion by outside practitioners. It has been called a “therapy in search of a disease” and ignored or ridiculed. Something relatively simple as breathing a gas just doesn’t seem like a real treatment for such a complex organ as the brain. Yet, the successes continue to pile up and rigorous science continues to show us promising venues for application with this therapy. There is something going on that will not go away with HBOT.

Kudos to Barry Meier and Danielle Ivory for reporting on the controversy surrounding HBOT, but the real controversy remains to be reported. Why does the VA and the DoD support unproven drug therapies for PTSD and TBI?  If the VA and DoD allow unproven drugs or therapies to be used, why is HBOT singled out for exclusion?  If HBOT is so ineffective, why are so many people demanding access?  Simply ask Retired Army Brigadier General Pat Maney:


Now, I don’t have the answers, but when 22 Veterans are committing suicide on average each day you would expect the VA to take more than a second-look at this treatment which offers such promise for Veterans trying to reclaim their lives.  Isn’t it time to DEMAND that our VETERANS receive the TREATMENT they deserve.  If so, why not HBOT?




Veterans to Receive Brain Implants to Treat PTSD?

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Photo: Wikimedia Commons

In yet another startling revelation, “the Pentagon is planning to implant veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) with small electronic sensors that will map their brains. The project will proceed with the help of a $30-million grant provided by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).”

According to a statement released by Massachusetts General Hospital — the creator of the chip — the “deep brain stimulation (DBS) device … will monitor signals across multiple brain structures in real time.”

“Our goal is to take DBS to the next level and create an implantable device to treat disorders like PTSD and TBI. Together with our partners we’re committed to developing this technology, which we hope will be a bold new step toward treating those suffering from these debilitating disorders,” said Dr. Emad Eskandar, director of functional neurosurgery at Massachusetts General Hospital and the project’s principal investigator.

Draper Laboratory, a non-profit research group with experience in the development of “miniaturized smart medical devices,” will partner with Massachusetts General and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in creating the brain implant.  Source:  The New American.

One would hope that DARPA knows what it is doing in partnering with Massachusetts General Hospital and Draper Laboratory to treat PTSD and TBI, but you seldom hear the outcomes of studies conducted by independent contractors.

For instance, where is the data collected by the Department of Defense on at least two studies dating back 7 years on sensors embedded in military-issued helmets?   Did the DoD discover that our military helmets didn’t provide our military personnel the protection they deserved?  While I am not a great believer in conspiracy theories, I find it surprising that sensor data collected for at least 7 years has not been made public.   Is there something the military doesn’t want Veterans and active duty personnel to know?

The American Psychological Association (“APA”) has rightfully concluded “that psychologists should no longer aid the military at Guantánamo Bay and elsewhere – in effect reversing more than a decade of institutional insistence that such participation was responsible and ethical.”  This statement by a former President of the APA was printed by The Guardian and is the fallout of a damning report suggesting that the APA endorsed 9/11 prisoner torture policies that even the CIA rejected.

Outside contractors continue to profit through generous grants provided by the DoD and other government resources.  While SFTT applauds the use of scientific research to study PTSD, it would be useful to know whether Veterans will volunteer to be part of this Massachusetts General Hospital study.  Furthermore, how will the results of these studies be communicated with the general public.

After waiting 7 years to see the results of sensor studies on military helmets, the general public is still waiting for information.



Call to properly equip our frontline troops

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Gen. Robert ScalesIn a fascinating article published on September 27th in the National Defense Magazine, retired Maj. Gen. Robert Scales argues that  the Department of Defense (“DOD”) “has failed to pay adequate attention to improving the equipment and training for small infantry units” currently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Gen. Scales, a former commandant of the Army War College and military historian, claims that while “we’re still the best ground force in the world . . .”   when it comes to ground combat, the American military “hasn’t come as far as it should.  It doesn’t dominate in the tactical fight.”

In a speech delivered to a gathering of defense experts and journalists at The Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., Gen. Scales argues that the tactical superiority the United States enjoys in the air and on the sea hasn’t manifest itself on the ground.  According to the National Defense Magazine article which

Years of combat have shown that the soldiers and marines who are the most likely to die are the ‘least trained and equipped for this dangerous calling,’ Scales says.”

Citing a “Beltway culture this is fixated on big-ticket weapons,”  policy-makers ” dodge meaningful discussions about the tactical aspects of war on the ground because close-contact combat is ‘dirty, horrific and bloody,’ says Scales. ‘People just don’t want to talk about that.’”   Citing his experiences at a recent congressionally mandated panel, Gen. Scales commented that during countless hours of testimony “I don’t believe the topic of ground combat ever came up.”  “These wonderful neat things inside the Beltway tend to trump the bloody and uncomfortable aspects” of the wars U.S. troops are now fighting, he says. “There are so few people in positions of authority who have had experience with that sort of thing.”

The Defense Department’s scientific communities have never made small units a strategic priority in research and development. Scales specifically pointed his finger at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. “The greatest disappointment is DARPA,” says Gen. Scales. “It doesn’t appear that the reality of the tactical battlefield has worked its way into the scientific and technological development entities . . . We still view the preparation of small units as an industrial process of mass production.”While we spend billions of dollars on instrumented training ranges and digital simulators, Gen. Scales notes that “small unit leaders still have to gain proficiency the old fashioned way: in combat, by shedding the blood of their soldiers.”

Gen. Scales is not the first to point out that the grunts on the ground appear to get short-changed in the procurement process when it comes to making sure that they have reliable – why not the BEST?combat gear and protective gear. Are we too fascinated by the techie toys such as the Predator to consider the well-being and safety of our troops?  Perhaps, it is as Gen. Scales so eloquently argues, “there are so few people in positions of authority who have had experience with that sort of thing . . . close-contact combat is dirty, horrific and bloody!”

General Cartwright, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,  recently argued that “low-end” wars would become increasingly common and that these wars would call for increased emphasis for troops to be deployed in hostile war zones.   If this is a war-planning scenario that our military leadership believes probable, shouldn’t we be making haste to insure our ground troops have the best combat equipment and protective gear available.     Gen. Scales believes so – as do many of the families of troops currently deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq.