As SFTT reported earlier, the VA will soon be providing a limited number of Veterans with access to hyperbaric oxygen therapy or “HBOT” at the VA’s Center for Compassionate Innovation (“CCI”) facilities in Texas and Oklahoma.
SFTT has yet to learn when these programs will begin or how many Veterans will be enrolled in these initial programs. As important, SFTT and the HBOT community at-large is interested in learning how “test protocols,” “metrics,” and “clinical trials” will be set by the VA and DoD to determine the benefits of HBOT.
As one sorts through the often nasty exchanges between proponents of HBOT and the VA gatekeepers like Dr. David Cifu, one cannot be oblivious to the fact that the VA does not want to encourage the adoption of HBOT in treating Veterans with PTSD and TBI.
The VA’s claim is that “patient outcomes’ using HBOT are inconclusive based on VA and DoD trials.
Could it be – as many have suggested – that the test protocols were flawed to produce “inconclusive” test results? From SFTT’s experience in monitoring the DoD, it would NOT BE THE FIRST TIME that test procedures have been deliberately modified to produce outcomes more to the liking of current military dogma.
Many will argue that further HBOT tests are not required given the wealth research currently available. In fact, found below is an extract from a Jan, 2017 report:
Xavier A. Figueroa, PhD and James K. Wright, MD (Col Ret), USAF Hyperbaric Oxygen: B-Level Evidence in Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Clinical Trials. Neurology® 2016;87:1–7 “There is sufficient evidence for the safety and preliminary efficacy data from clinical studies to support the use of HBOT in mild traumatic brain injury/ persistent post concussive syndrome (mTBI/PPCS). The reported positive outcomes and the durability of those outcomes has been demonstrated at 6 months post HBOT treatment. Given the current policy by Tricare and the VA to allow physicians to prescribe drugs or therapies in an off-label manner for mTBI/PPCS management and reimburse for the treatment, it is past time that HBOT be given the same opportunity. This is now an issue of policy modification and reimbursement, not an issue of scientific proof or preliminary clinical efficacy.”
While Secretary Shulkin is wise to proceed slowly, he must exercise extreme caution in allowing the naysayers within the VA any authority over the initial CCI HBOT trial programs.
HBOT Infrastructure in Place to Help Veterans
Assuming the VA leadership can get beyond the hurdles they largely created, Veterans with “mild TBI” and “persistent” PTSD should be able to quickly access hundreds of HBOT facilities across the United States. With equipment already in place around the country in hospitals and private health clinics, there is no need to hold up treatment for Veterans to wait for the VA to outfit its facilities.
Clear treatment protocols and directives need to be established for each private clinic providing HBOT to Veterans. HBOT is administered in a series of dives or sessions (usually between 28 and 40) over a 6 week to 2 month time frame. Supervision by a trained clinician is required at each dive. Clearly, a larger “dive chamber” capable of offering therapy to a number of Veterans at the same will help bring down the costs of HBOT.
Costs “per dive” or “session” vary significantly around the country. Some hospitals charge $1,800 per session, but most private clinics offer this service at a cost of between $250 and $350 per dive. Given the bargaining power of the VA, it seems most likely that a series of battery of dives can be accomplished for well under $10,000, which is less than half of what the VA currently spends on Veterans with TBI/PTSD.
As SFTT has stated on many occasions, HBOT is not the “silver bullet” to eradicate this silent wound of war, but many more Veterans with brain trauma will begin to be able to reclaim their lives with less reliance on VA prescription drugs that simply mask symptoms rather than provide any lasting improvement in brain functionality.
This could be a BIG DEAL for ailing Veterans and family members who provide our Veterans such caring support.
Stand for the Troops (“SFTT”) has written extensively about treating Veterans with PTSD and TBI. Sadly, much of the publically available literature for brain-related injuries deals with identifying the symptoms and helping Veterans – and their loved ones – cope with terrible consequences of living with PTSD and TBI.
The issue(s) – at least in my mind – are these:
– Is treating the behavioral symptoms of PTSD and TBI enough for Veterans?
– Have we given up hope in helping Veterans permanently reclaim their lives?
Sadly, treating the symptoms of PTSD/TBI is generally confused with actually providing Veterans with a meaningful long term solution to overcome the debilitating impact of a war-related brain injury.
Now we learn that the VA is again studying the medicinal benefits of marijuana in treating Veterans with PTSD. As many Veterans have been experimenting with marijuana for quite some time, I believe that the study will conclude that “medicinal marijuana, if used wisely, can mitigate anxiety, wild mood swings and suicidal thoughts among Veterans suffering from the effects of brain-related injury.”
The phrase in quotes are my words, but I suspect that conclusions of the multi-million dollar clinical study will not differ significantly.
The use of mind-altering drugs – whether medicinal marijuana or opioids – will most certainly help Veterans cope with the debilitating pain and anxiety of PTSD and TBI, but will prescription drugs meaningfully contribute to curing brain injury among Veterans?
While the Department of Defense (“DoD”) and the Department of Veterans Affairs (“the VA”) have largely agreed that prescription drugs is not the answer, there is little evidence that the DoD or VA are clearly committed to provide Veterans with a clear path to full recovery.
Dr. David Cifu
In fact, the VA, represented by its spokesperson, Dr. David Cifu, continues to push a stale and failed agenda that states that the only two effective treatment therapies offered by the VA are:
– Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and,
– Prolonged Exposure Therapy.
As the SFTT and others have pointed out, the VA has little – if anything – positive to show in having treating tens of thousand of Veterans with PTSD and TBI with these therapy programs. You don’t have to be a brain surgeon (sorry for the very poor pun) or even Dr. David Cifu to recognize that currently recommended VA therapy programs have failed Veterans miserably.
Nevertheless, Veterans, the public and countless Congressional committees continue to listen to the same irresponsible dribble year-after-year and buy the same stale argument that Veterans are getting the best treatment possible. To use a popular phrase, a little “fact-checking” would go a long to way to dispelling this insipid myth.
Dr. David Cifu represents what is wrong with the VA: A lack of willingness to consider other alternatives. As Judge and Jury on what constitutes “authorized therapy programs,” the VA has effectively precluded thousands of Veterans from seeking “out of network” solutions that appear to provide a far better long-term outcome.
The VA claims otherwise as we have seen in a long battle over the efficacy of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (“HBOT”) in treating Veterans with PTSD and TBI. Dr. David Cifu stands behind questionable studies that suggest that there is insufficient clinical evidence to support the thesis that HBOT can improve brain function. In fact, Dr. Paul Harch, cites plenty of evidence in an academic study for the National Library of Medicine (Medical Gas Research) that conclusively demonstrates the lack of substance to Dr. Cifu’s bland and misleading opinions.
It is difficult to know whether new leadership within the VA will lead to more openness in providing Veterans with PTSD/TBI the support they require in finding therapy programs that work, but unless gatekeepers like Dr. David Cifu can be shown a quick exit, it is unlikely that much will change.
Our brave Veterans deserve far better than the sad and tragic delusional claims of Dr. Cifu.
Treating Veterans and Active Duty personnel suffering from TBI or PTSD with Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (“HBOT”) has always been regarded as “black magic” by both the VA and the DoD. In fact, earlier this year, the VA concluded their trial “study” with the following observations:
“To date, there have been nine peer-reviewed publications describing this research,” Dr. David Cifu, VA’s national director for physical medicine and rehabilitation recently told the Oklahoman. “All the research consistently supports that there is no evidence that hyperbaric oxygen has any therapeutic benefit for symptoms resulting from either mild TBI or PTSD.”
Conversely, the Israel Defense Forces (“IDF”) uses HBOT as a matter of course in treating personnel for traumatic shock. Roughly 120 patients a day are treated at the The Sagol Center for Hyperbaric Medicine and Research in Israel. In fact, many U.S. military veterans are now seeking treatment at the Sagol Center since they cannot receive treatment from the VA.
“In essence, our mental attitude is that we must take care of ourselves and through that process little Israel has become a blessing for the rest of the world…we treasure our soldiers, young and old. They are our only defenders….no one else will fight our battles. You can imagine that every concussive event will be treated with HBOT !” . . .“the policy of the IDF is that life has the highest value and they are committed to use any treatment, in any case, to save a life”.
It is hard to imagine that the VA and DoD don’t have the same commitment to the life and well-being of military Veterans as the IDF, but the facts suggest otherwise.
Should Vets Have Access to HBOT from the VA?
I suppose that the overriding question is how two nations at the forefront of international terrorism with state-of-the-art medical capabilities have widely different views on the efficacy of HBOT in treating Veterans suffering from PTSD and TBI.
Equally disturbing is the growth of HBOT treatment facilities in the United States which are attached to private clinics and hospitals. In fact, HBOT is currently reimbursed under Medicare Part B for certain conditions. It remains unclear whether this treatment is approved for reimbursement for Vets suffering from PTSD and TBI.
Despite VA and DoD “tests” to the contrary, there is an abundant of evidence worldwide that HBOT is effective in treating brain injury and restoring brain function by administering concentrated oxygen under controlled conditions. To argue otherwise is just plain foolish and self-serving.
Many have argued that the adoption of HBOT in treating Veterans would cut into the earning of Big Pharma, who continue to insist (read lobby) for a cocktail of opioids and antipsychotic medication. As a former military officer, I find it difficult to accept this premise; however, I now feel compelled to accept the obvious: the VA procurement process and treatment of Veterans is seriously flawed and, perhaps, criminally negligent.
In my opinion, the only way to destigmatize the use of HBOT for treating Veterans is for the VA to approve reimbursement for Veterans seeking treatment outside of the VA. Will this happen? Probably not. I would argue that it is highly unlikely that Vets with receive HBOT given the entrenched position of Big Pharma within the FDA, VA and Federal government.
For those who need more evidence on the efficacy of HBOT, please listen to this very informative video clip by Maj. Ben Richards, a U.S. Military Academy graduate, who underwent the HBOT treatment with Dr. Paul Harch:
Can we deprive our Veterans of this effective and relatively inexpensive treatment? If the answer is “No,” then contact your Congressman and Senator demanding action.
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?
Editor’s Note: Found below is a very moving letter from Maj. Ben Richards and the benefits he received from being treated by Hyperbaric Oxygen from Dr. Paul Harch. The letter is quoted in its entirety.
In the spring and summer of 2007 I (Maj. Ben Richards) had the privilege of leading Bronco Troop, 1-14 CAV, a Stryker-equipped cavalry troop, during intense combat operations in and around Baqubah, Iraq. Bronco Troop was blessed with the deep bench of top- quality Noncommissioned Officers that distinguishes great units from good ones. Five of the six officers in the troop were West Pointers. At one point all six of us were captains and the experience paid dividends in a challenging operating environment.
At the peak of operations a new second lieutenant arrived straight from the basic course to take over a scout platoon. I greeted him shortly after he arrived at our dilapidated combat outpost and told him we would have a Combat Action Badge for him the next day. His face showed that he clearly thought I was joking. By the following evening he had survived an IED hit to his Stryker, been in two firefights and earned his CAB. The rest of us had earned our CABs on our first day in town two months earlier as well. A few weeks later he was wounded by a grenade fragment while leading his platoon in a dismounted close combat assault on an al Qaeda fighting position. The courage, competence and character of these young officers was in every way a credit to our alma mater and a testimony to West Point’s continuing role as the corner stone of our Nation’s defense.
During those several months of combat operations, ninety percent of my men hit at least one IED- often more than one. In May 2007 a suicide-bomber driving a sedan laden with explosives rammed into my Stryker and destroyed it. A few weeks later we hit a second ‘plain vanilla’ IED buried in the road that damaged our second Stryker sufficiently that it was later coded out as not being worth fully repairing. After each hit, we got back up and returned to the fight because we knew that there was going to be a fight and we fight as a team, even when it hurts.
On returning home I, like so many others, began a personal movement to contact battle against an enemy that I could not see, could not anticipate and was neither trained nor equipped to combat. Six months after arriving back at Fort Lewis, I was diagnosed with PTSD. To be honest, I only sought help after being ‘command directed’ by my wife. At that time, I was not intimidated by PTSD. I had every confidence that it was something I could beat. I was surprised and not a little embarrassed that I had it all. I gave it a year, tops. By then I would be fully back in the saddle. The extent of damage to my brain caused by the pair of mild traumatic brain injuries was not recognized until over three years after the injuries and not fully diagnosed until yet another year had passed.
While I was serving in Iraq, I was extremely fortunate to be selected by the History Department at the Academy to return for a tour as an instructor. I arrived in the summer of 2010 in pretty rough shape. Less than a year into the assignment I collapsed under the weight of disabling chronic pain, memory problems, cognitive deficits, sleep deprivation, drugs (the legal kind), emotional problems and all the detritus that often accompanies invisible injuries. At one point, heavily under the influence of prescription medications, I even seriously considered taking my own life.
West Point was up to the challenge. The History Department leadership kept me in the department so that they could personally oversee my care. My fellow instructors, both civilian and military, took on the burden of my workload without complaint, as they would have carried me, my rifle and my ruck to the CASEVAC point. I’m sure theirs was a long, hard walk out. It was real leadership, at real personal cost and sacrifice.
The Department’s Colonels breached every administrative and bureaucratic obstacle to ensure I literally received the best care available in the Department of Defense for my injury profile. When it turned out that the best care was not enough, and after they had done everything within their power to assure my future well-being, they fare welled me with honors and fanfare well beyond those merited by a junior major.
The day I took off my uniform for last time was one of the saddest in my life. I saw only an empty husk of the new cadet who had marched in the rain on R-Day eighteen years earlier and so full of the potential that enables a Firstie to sit with generals and presidents while a second lieutenant hides from majors in the motor pool. I was permanently broken. The natural processes of neural plasticity had run their course and come up wanting at the end. Medications could only partially mitigate the pain while causing new problems of their own. The results of evidence-based psychotherapies became part of the new canon of evidence that those therapies, so promising for victims of rape and traffic accidents, are disappointingly much less effective against combat-related PTSD. Acceptance and accommodation were all that was left to aspire to.
It was at that moment of hopelessness that the Long Gray Line extended its hand to drag me back from the edge. John Batiste, class of ’74 , a retired general officer and president of the veteran-serving non-profit Stand for the Troops founded by the legendary COL David Hackworth (SFTT.org), hunted me down to deliver a life-changing message.
We will help you, he told me, and by that I mean really help you and not in the sense of providing a palliative weekend retreat or the cathartic commiseration of other wounded warriors.
Had John not been a grad and a soldier of such well-known reputation, I would have hung up the phone. I did not have the hope left to waste on vain promises with unlikely outcomes, but because John was who he was I gave him the time. He gave my life back.
The problem of invisible wounds and injuries was one that merited a Manhattan project. Instead it had the Army medical corps bureaucracy that ran Walter Reed into scandal, regularly abused invisibly wounded warriors exiled to Warrior Transition Units and never seemed to get past the word excuse, so clearly bookmarked in their dictionary, to the word execution. It was a corps of capable and dedicated medical operators who did not deserve their uninspired and ineffective leaders. Their obvious failures were difficult for me to understand after having spent a career in the company of men and women I would follow anywhere. And then there was the VA.
Unwilling to accept defeat at hands of inefficacious bureaucracies, John and SFTT recruited a team of medical experts and began scouring the country for new and more effective approaches to treating TBI and PTSD. Their rescue mission had led them to Doctor Paul Harch, a practitioner of Hyperbaric Medicine at the Louisiana State University Medical School in New Orleans. Harch, John said, would treat me.
Dr. Harch had become the point man for league of medical practitioners and researchers using Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy to treat brain damage caused by TBIs. By the time I arrived in New Orleans, these practitioners had already treated over a hundred invisibly wounded warriors as well as several well-known NFL football players to include the legendary quarterback Joe Namath. Harch had personally completed a research study with 20 soldiers and marines whose brains had been damaged by combat TBIs. The results were unprecedented.
When I was being evaluated by the military’s top neurologists in 2011, the prevailing medical wisdom was that modern medicine could do very little, if anything, to help a brain heal after being damaged by a mild TBI. There was a period of natural healing of up to several years, but at four years post injury, they had no expectation that my brain would improve and many reasons to suspect that it would instead begin to degrade. I arrived in New Orleans with repressed expectations.
I found Dr. Paul Harch to be a dedicated and innovative professional. He exhibited a reserved persona that I soon found to be a façade masking a burning passion for healing and especially for healing those that hope had passed by. Harch is a man of great moral courage, conviction and compassion. A classical gentleman endowed with the noblesse oblige of an heir of a great inheritance of character and natural capacity.
Harch and his colleagues had pioneered a protocol for using hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) to treat brain injuries. The medicinal effects of oxygen at higher the atmospheric pressure have been recognized empirically for over a century. It is perhaps best known as a treatment for diving injuries. It is also widely used for healing hard-to-treat wounds and is approved by the FDA for over a dozen different medical conditions. Using HBOT to treat brain injuries, like most of the prescription medications I had been prescribed by the DOD and VA, is considered off-label but its safety has been recognized by Institute of Medicine.
Treatment consisted of 40 one-hour ‘dives’ in a Plexiglas tank that I would describe as similar to a torpedo tube at a rate of one dive, sometimes two, a day. The tube is filled with 100 percent oxygen which is then pressurized to 1.5 atmospheres. Protocols for wound healing and dive injuries use higher pressures. The pressure loads oxygen into the blood stream like carbonation in an unopened can of soda. The introduction of the extra oxygen into the brain initiates a cascade of chemical interactions that my star-man roommate could probably explain but that I would struggle to elucidate here. The end result is the creation of new blood vessels (angiogenesis) and the repair or regrowth of brain cells.
Before I began treatment, we did a SPECT neuro-imaging scan of my brain. A SPECT scan uses an injective radioactive agent to image blood flow in the brain. It is one of the more sensitive imaging tools for detecting brain damage caused by mTBIs and in many cases is superior to CT or MRI scans, especially if more than a few months have elapsed since the time of injury. The images showed the poor blood perfusion typical of a brain damaged by TBIs- not unexpected as previous scans of other types had verified multiple points of structural damage. The image meant that my brain wasn’t using the amount of oxygen that a normal brain would have been. That difference was apparent not only in the scans but in the neuropsychological testing and other measures of cognitive and emotional impairment with which I had been evaluated.
By the time I had completed 20 ‘dives’ the changes I was experiencing were becoming undeniable. Nearly every facet of my injury profile began to improve. Pain levels dropped. Sleep improved. Memory improved. Attention span lengthened. Irritability decreased. I started feeling things I hadn’t felt in years. Good things. Happy things. I was able to sustain a light workout program for the first time since 2008. We scanned my brain again. The amount and extent of blood perfusion had increased significantly, matching the subjective results that even my guarded skepticism was compelled to recognize. The SPECT image is one of the most reliable predictors of the long-term prognosis of brain injury and mine had just changed radically.
The Harch’s covered the cost of my treatment from their own pockets, as they have for dozens of other veterans before me at no small sacrifice. John and SFTT rallied donors, mostly West Pointers, to help cover living expenses for four months of care. Gulf coast alumni quickly assumed an overwatch position and contributed several thousand dollars. I couldn’t have covered the costs alone. Even a 100% VA disability rating only matches the pay of a private first class. Not enough to maintain dual household with four kids at home.
HBOT has not completely healed my wounds, but it has given me more back than I thought possible. More than five years after leaving Iraq, a husband and a father finally come home to his family. The treatment that Dr. Harch provided unquestionably saved my marriage. It has enabled me to participate in and experience life in ways that I, and my DOD and VA doctors, had assumed were gone for good. I have even been able to contribute a little bit back. I am no longer a husk. Looking back on those dark days, I don’t think it would be unfair to say that Paul Harch and SFTT probably saved my life.
Editor’s Note: This very moving story by Maj. Ben Richards highlights the benefits of HBOT in treating PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury. Shouldn’t we be doing more for our brave veterans.
Eilhys England, Chairperson of Stand For The Troops received the following Thanksgiving note from Maj. Ben Richards.
I would like to thank Stand for the Troops and the many individuals and organizations who have contributed to help my family and me. We have been truly fortunate. Last week I returned home to my family in Iowa after a two-month course of pro bono hyperbaric treatment arranged by SFTT and conducted by Dr. Paul Harch in New Orleans. The treatment has been very beneficial. I will share more details about the treatment in a future post.
Dr. Harch is uncomfortable being spotlighted for his work, but I would like to recommend him to you as a man of extraordinary character, compassion and patriotism. All of us in the military community should be grateful to know there are men and women like Dr. Harch who are dedicated to healing the wounds we have incurred in our service at great personal cost to themselves. Dr. Harch has provided care to dozens of veterans like me who are suffering from the invisible injuries of war with great success and at his own expense. I would like to point out that Dr. Harch provides hyperbaric care for a number of other conditions at his clinic for less than a quarter of the cost of the same treatment at nearby hospitals. He has traded personal wealth to heal many who otherwise would not be able to afford healing care. It has been my privilege to get to know him.
Next week I will travel to Bethesda, Maryland, for two months of different type of treatment for TBI. The treatment is called Flexyx Neurotherapy. It uses small electrical pulses to improve brain activity. I will be undergoing treatment at the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences. The cost of treatment has been covered by a research grant. Travel and living expenses have been covered by generous donations.
I am more optimistic about my future than I have been in years and I am truly grateful for the blessings and support my family and I have received.
Editors Note: We too are delighted at the tremendous progress shown by Maj. Ben Richards. As chronicled in previous entries, the noticeable improvement after the hyperbaric treatment conducted by Dr. Paul Harch in New Orleans is little short of remarkable. We are hopeful of seeing similar results with the Flexyx Neurotherapy in Maryland. A special word of thanks to all those who have made contributions to support Maj. Richards on his road to wellness.
To his credit, former Vice Chief of Staff General Peter Chiarelli has always been at the forefront of focusing the public’s attention on the “unintended consequences of war” facing our brave men and women when they return home from repeated deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq. His moving and pointed introduction to the 2010 report seeking to understand the increasing rates of suicides among military personnel demonstrates his resolve in supporting our men and women in uniform. The 350 page report entitled “Health Promotion Risk Reduction Suicide Prevention,” painted a rather disturbing picture of the terrible and ongoing “mental” costs faced by our military veterans and their families. Sadly, two years later, the problems are compounding rather than diminishing.
General Chiarelli is currently CEO of One Mind For Research, a new-model non-profit dedicated to delivering accelerated new treatments and cures for all brain illness and injury within ten years time.
SFTT concurs with General Chiarelli grim assessment of the situation and has realigned its energies to focus on PTS (“Post Traumatic Stress”). In fact, SFTT has formed a Medical Task Force to evaluate current and emerging treatment methodologies to provide long term treatment to veterans who suffer from this debilitating injury.
While General Chiarelli and others have raised public awareness of the ravages of these debilitating injuries, we have been lax as a society to accept the consequences of sending young men and women to war. Make no mistake, PTS and TBI have terrifying social consequences that extend well beyond the individual who suffers these debilitating injuries. Thanks to the generous support of approach to dealing with trauma and many other concerned individuals, we are now beginning to mobilize the necessary resources to attack this problem head on.
SFTT welcomes General Chiarelli’s call to action to provide our military personnel with the best available treatment to help return them to wellness.
Mr. Kristof details the sad – but all too-often heard tale – of the debilitating problems of headaches, fatigue, insomnia and fainting spells that threatened to destroy his life and that of his family caused by repeated concussions while serving in Iraq. Unfortunately, Major Richards can’t get adequate treatment to deal with the injuries he has received serving our country. More disturbing is the fact that this growing problem is rarely addressed by either candidate running for President. As Mr. Kristof writes “Mental health still isn’t the priority it should be. Just about every soldier or veteran I’ve talked to finds that in practice the mental health system is clogged with demands, and soldiers and veterans are falling through the cracks. Returning soldiers aren’t adequately screened, diagnosis and treatment of traumatic brain injury are still haphazard, and there hasn’t been nearly enough effort to change the warrior culture so that getting help is smart rather than sissy.”
SFTT ‘You Are Not Alone’ Intervention for Major Ben Richards
“SFTT is responsible for linking Major Ben Richards with Dr. Paul Harch of Harch Hyperbarics in Marrero, LA. It all started on 10 August 2012 with the NYT article by Nicholas Kristof. When we read that Ben had been told there was no treatment for his condition, we quickly reached out to both Ben and Dr. Paul Harch, based on our knowledge of Dr. Harch’s success treating Vets – and Ben entered Dr. Harch’s treatment program on 23 September 2012. Dr. Paul Harch is providing the treatment pro-bono–he is a great American.
“SFTT’s ‘You Are Not Alone’ campaign is all about finding and resourcing alternative and more effective treatment programs for post traumatic stress and TBI. This is an effort to collaborate with the VA, community-based programs, and alternative treatment programs like Harch Hyperbarics.
“While Ben is undergoing the two month treatment in Louisiana, his wife and four children remain in Iowa. Ben was medically retired, so resources are tight for living expenses, rent, utilities, and airfare to bring the family back together for Thanksgiving. The goal is to get Ben back on his feet with the hyperbaric treatment so that he can regain his life’s momentum.”
Found below are extended excerpts from Mr. Kristof’s article, War Wounds, and all are encouraged to read the entire article to get the full impact of how little we seem to care for our brave heroes who have served our country so valiantly and now need our help:
“While the challenges are acute for those on active duty, they often become even greater when troops take off their uniforms and become veterans seeking services from the hugely overburdened Veterans Affairs Department. Ben and Farrah have found it immensely difficult to get reliable information from the V.A. about what benefits they can count on. Richards says that in 11 phone calls, he has heard different stories every time.
“’The V.A. is an abomination,’ he said. ‘You see that hole in the wall?’ He pointed at what looked like a rat hole. ‘That’s when I threw the phone after someone at V.A. hung up on me.’
“None of this is a surprise. The V.A. says that veterans wait an average of eight months to get an initial decision on the claims they file. When service members seek to retire for medical reasons, the process takes an average of 396 days. Eric Shinseki, the secretary of veterans affairs, notes that the V.A. processes more claims each year than it did before, but that the number of new claims surges by an even greater amount. The upshot is that the V.A. steps up its game but still gets further behind.
“Shinseki notes some areas of progress — the number of homeless veterans seems to have fallen significantly — and he points to new systems and hiring intended to make the system function better. The number of V.A. mental health staff members has risen from 13,000 in 2005 to more than 20,000 today, he said.
“At a time when nearly half of veterans returning from battle file disability claims, it’s fair to wonder whether word hasn’t spread that service members can claim some vague mental health ailment, like post-traumatic stress disorder, and get a paycheck from the government. The V.A. approves roughly half of claims, but the difficulty of diagnosis of mental health ailments means that they may not always be the legitimate ones. We may be getting the worst of all worlds: fraudulent claims approved, while legitimate ones are unrecognized or unconscionably delayed.
“’The V.A. certainly doesn’t care,’ says Jim Strickland, who runs the V.A. Watchdog Web site. ‘The very institution that should be at the forefront of caring for vets is dead last.’ The Web site declares: ‘This country is capable of drafting you, putting you in boot camp, teaching you to kill someone, and then putting you in a war zone within six months. So why can’t they process a claim that fast?’
Editors Note: Mr. Kristof’s article is a cry for help as countless brave veterans seek treatment for the “invisible” but no less destructive wounds of our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. SFTT has assembled a distinguished panel of physicians to help evaluate alternative treatment modalities. Your generous contributions help support SFTT’s investigative research and provide the funds to support brave heroes like Major Ben Richards.