Thursday, July 17, 2014
Alternative PTSD Therapy May Be Game-Changer, Dept. Commander Tells Convention
ALBANY — A therapy delivering 100% oxygen in a pressurized chamber may be a “game-changer” for treating military veterans with mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
That’s the word from New York State American Legion Commander Kenneth Governor, who is calling on the Veterans Administration (VA) to “put aside any reluctance and bias toward looking at a better way to treat veterans” with PTSD and mTBI. He spoke at a press briefing during the New York State Legion’s 96th Convention, where delegates had just unanimously adopted a resolution calling on the New York State Legislature to approve this oxygen therapy for veterans suffering from mTBI or PTSD. The convention is taking place July 17-19 at the Desmond Hotel and Conference Center in Colonie.
PTSD has traditionally been treated as a psychiatric disorder. But Governor points to a growing number of physicians who regard many cases of PTSD as a byproduct of post-concussive syndrome. “There’s growing evidence that a significant number of PTSD and mTBI cases should be treated as medical conditions, not psychiatric conditions,” he said.
In fact, the psychiatric medications usually given to veterans with mTBI or PTSD too often do not heal the underlying brain injury and can have serious side effects. “Treating mental health often happens because of a patient’s deteriorating ability to cope, resulting in depression, addiction, even suicide,” Governor said. “Instead of prescribing psychiatric medications for what appear to be mental health symptoms, we need to look at treating the condition behind the symptoms. Otherwise, it’s like treating a broken leg with pain killers and not setting the fracture.”
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) may be a difference maker.
HBOT works for a simple reason. A healthy brain uses 100% of the oxygen the body provides it. However, when there is trauma to the brain, it needs extra oxygen to heal. HBOT provides that extra oxygen.
“Oklahoma this year passed a law guaranteeing free HBOT for veterans suffering from traumatic brain injury, and several other states are attempting to follow Oklahoma’s lead,” Governor said.
Governor pointed to the suicide epidemic among veterans. “We’re losing 22 veterans a day who take their own lives, with another 44 attempts. We need to offer veterans with TBI/PTSD an alternative to a sliding slope of drug therapy. We need to do it now. Today.”
Governor stressed the importance of incorporating HBOT with a counseling and rehabilitation program to give veterans every opportunity to get better.
Recently, a contingent of American Legion leaders, including Commander Governor, visited Hyperbaric Medical Solutions (HMS) on Long Island after learning that the HBOT provider was offering free care to veterans with mTBI or PTSD.
Governor noted that the story of HBOT and veterans hits home personally for HMS Medical Director, Dr. Henry Prince. Dr. Prince’s son Jesse, a West Point graduate, served in Iraq and returned in 2011 with PTSD and a radical alteration of personality. Jesse first went to the VA Medical Center, where he was told nothing was wrong. He tried medications but they only made him feel worse. Dr. Prince had spoken to his son about the benefits of HBOT. After Jesse received 70 HBOT treatments at HMS, said Dr. Prince, “I got my son back.” Jesse’s PTSD resolved and he now leads a full and normal life in New York City with a career in commercial real estate.
Of the veterans treated at HMS, Dr. Prince said, “We don’t have large numbers yet but almost 100% of those we have treated have had significant benefit from hyperbaric treatment.” HMS is currently treating Matthew Scanapico, a 29-year-old vet with TBI and severe PTSD. He lost his entire squadron in Iraq; he alone survived. For over six years he suffered terrible insomnia and recurring nightmares. Medication did not help and he finally turned to HBOT. He has more sessions to complete but already reports that he “feels like a completely different person” and for the first time in seven years, he can sleep through the night.
Commander Governor pointed to Israeli research that demonstrates through the use of SPECT brain scans that HBOT has the potential to heal brain injuries, even years after the incident. HBOT pioneer Dr. Paul Harch has also used SPECT scans to document similar results of the treatment. The SPECT scans show that there is a correlation between psychological symptoms and actual abnormalities in the brain.
Governor also cited the National Brain Injury Rescue and Rehabilitation (NBIRR) Coalition, whose network of HBOT facilities have, on a pro bono basis, successfully treated 270 TBI/PTSD casualties, including active duty, veterans, National Guard, and reservists. Dr. Harch is launching a new study using HBOT for mTBI in his work at Louisiana State University.
Governor noted that HBOT has not received adequate attention as a therapy for TBI/PTSD due partly to a few government studies that, he said, Dr. Harch has criticized as being scientifically flawed. The recent advances are compelling enough to recommend the immediate use of HBOT, Governor said. Like Dr. Prince, he questioned current attitudes toward PTSD treatment.
“Often people speak of it as a psychiatric disorder, but it may not be,” Dr. Prince said. “The average Marine in Iraq or Afghanistan suffers approximately eight concussive episodes from being near explosions. Is this rampant PTSD we are seeing a psychiatric disorder, or in fact, a manifestation of chronic concussive symptoms, minor traumatic brain injury? Maybe this huge increase in PTSD is a result of the different kind of war these men are fighting.”
“Another prejudice against HBOT is the perceived high cost,” Governor said. But, as Dr. Prince noted, a life-time of drug therapy could be exponentially more expensive than a full series of HBOT treatments, which might cost about $15,000.
Added Governor: “While cost is always a concern, we need to put the focus where it belongs — we’re talking about giving our men and women back their lives.”