Veterans and casual observers continue to be mystified why the Department of Veterans Affairs (the “VA”) continues to insist on failed therapy programs to treat Veterans with PTSD.
Dr. David Cifu, the senior TBI specialist in the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Veterans Health Administration, argues that Veterans treated with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Prolonged Exposure Therapy are receiving the best therapy possible to treat PTSD. There is no reliable third-party verification to support Dr. Cifu’s bold assertion.
More to the point, Dr. Cifu dismisses other treatment alternatives arguing that there is no scientific basis to support them. In particular, Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) has been singled out for particular disdain by Dr. Cifu.
Specifically, 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.”
Frankly, there is voluminous scientific evidence that HBOT is both a viable and recommended treatment alternative for Veterans suffering from PTSD and TBI.
Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT)
Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy or HBOT is available at many privately-owned hospitals in the United States and around the world. There is compelling scientific evidence that HBOT reverses brain damage.
In fact, HBOT is the preferred therapy of the Israeli Defense Forces (“IDF”) for service members with head injuries. Frankly, this assertion alone trumps any argument to the contrary by Dr. Cifu.
In its most simple form, HBOT is a series of “dives” in a decompression chamber (normally 40) where concentrated oxygen is administered under controlled conditions by trained physicians. There is clear and conclusive evidence that brain function improves through the controlled application of oxygen. In effect, it stimulates and may, in fact, regenerate brain cells at the molecular level.
In addition, HBOT is far cheaper to administer than currently approved programs at the VA. Maj. Ben Richards argues that all Veterans with PTSD and TBI could be treated with HBOT for less than 10% of the VA budget allocated for pharmaceuticals.
More to the point, the annual VA treatment costs for Veterans with PTSD and TBI are roughly $15,000. For this annual expense, many Veterans could receive HBOT.
Dr. Figueroa asks, What are we Waiting For?
Almost 3 years ago, Dr. Xavier A. Figueroa, Ph.D., in an article entitled “What the <#$*&!> Is Wrong with the DoD/VA HBOT Studies?!!” clearly sets forth a compelling scientific argument why Veterans with TBI and PTSD should be treated with HBOT.
Found below is a summary of Dr. Figueroa’s conclusions (footnotes removed):
A large fraction of the current epidemic of military suicides (22+ service members a day take their lives) are more than likely due to misdiagnosed TBI and PTSD. Although the DoD and VA have spent billions (actually, $ 9.2 billion since 2010) trying to diagnose and treat the problem, the epidemic of suicide and mental illness are larger than ever. Drug interventions are woefully inadequate, as more and more studies continue to find that pharmacological interventions are not effective in treating the varied symptoms of TBI or PTSD. In many cases suicide of veterans have been linked through prescribed overmedication.
HBOT is a safe and effective treatment with low-to-no side effects (after all, even the DOD accepted the safety of HBOT back in 2008). Access to HBOT is available within most major metropolitan centers, but the major sticking point is money. Who pays for the treatment? Those that are willing to pay for it out-of-pocket and state taxpayers picking up the tab for brain-injured service members forced back into society without sufficient care (or forced out on a Chapter 10, when it should have been treated as a medical condition).
The continued reports of studies like the DoD/VA sponsored trials allow denial of coverage and provide adequate cover for public officials to claim that more study needs to be done. As we have seen, the conclusions of the authors of the DoD/VA sponsored studies downplay the results of effectiveness. There are sufficient studies (and growing) showing a strong positive effect of HBOT in TBI. More will be forthcoming.
The cardinal rule of medicine is “First, Do No Harm”. With HBOT, this rule is satisfied. Now, by denying or blocking a treatment that has proven restorative and healing effects, countless physicians and organizations, from the VA to DoD, Congress and the White House, could be accused of causing harm. Never mind how many experiments “fail” to show results (even when they actually show success). Failure to replicate a result is just that…a failure to replicate, not a negation of a treatment or other positive results. You can’t prove a negative and there are many clinical trials that do show the efficacy of HBOT.
The practice of medicine and the use of HBOT should not be dependent on the collective unease of a medical profession and the dilatory nature of risk adverse politicians, but on the evidence-based results that we are seeing. Within the VA, there are hard working physicians that are trying to change the culture of inertia and implement effective treatments for TBI and PTSD, using evidence based medicine. Unfortunately, evidence-based medicine only works when we accept the evidence presented to us and not on mischaracterized conclusions of a single study (or any other study). Our veterans, our citizens and our communities deserve better than what we are currently giving them: bad conclusions, institutions too scared to act in the interests of the people it serves and too many physicians unwilling to look at the accumulated evidence.
Indeed, it is time to for Dr. Shulkin to rid the VA of Dr. Cifu and embrace cost-effective treatment therapies which provide some hope for Veterans with PTSD and TBI.