PTSD, TBI and HBOT

It seems like the more we know about PTSD, the more there is to know.  While the term PTSD didn’t enter our language until the 1980s, writers since Herodotus have been describing it. I’ve talked here before about the various treatments in use now, modalities that range from holistic to pharmaceutical.  One thing I didn’t mention earlier was hyperbaric oxygen therapy, or HBOT, the application of pure oxygen.

It’s been known that oxygen promotes healing.  Hyperbaric treatment for wound therapy has been in use for some time.  Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy is being used now to help amputees, many of them injured veterans, heal stumps faster so that they can proceed with rehabilitation. Increased oxygen in the blood helps cells repair faster, accelerating healing. Patients are placed in hyperbaric chambers where the oxygen content rises from the 21 percent in the air we breathe to 100 percent. The standard treatment session is 90 minutes, and a course of therapy could run several weeks.

HBOT Appears to have a Positive Effect on PTSD and TBI

An unexpected possible side effect of HBOT has been reported.  HBOT appears to have a positive effect on PTSD and TBI.  When you think about it, this makes sense, since TBI is often a result of a concussion, a brain injury.  Kenneth Governor, New York State’s American Legion Commander, quoted in American Legion News in July last year, said, “There’s growing evidence that a significant number of PTSD and mTBI cases should be treated as medical conditions, not psychiatric conditions.” He says a growing number of physicians consider many cases of PTSD as post-concussive syndrome.

PTSD, TBI and HBOT

While the VA initially showed interest in HBOT, their position now is that the evidence is only anecdotal. Undeterred, a group called The Independence Fund established a clinic in Charlotte, North Carolina using HBOT to treat veterans with severe physical injuries.  When patients being treated for wounds began to describe positive results of the treatments on symptoms of PTSD and TBI, the group moved quickly to expand the number of patients they can serve.  Currently, two more centers are in process, one in Myrtle Beach and a second in Palm Key.

The VA saw the same evidence but lacked the initiative or the funding (or both) to pursue a larger research project to prove the efficacy of HBOT in cases of PTSD and TBI.  Their position was that the positive effects had not been proved.  But what they couldn’t do was disprove it.

This small independent group moved ahead, acting on what they saw.  There’s something to be said for the flexibility and agility of a smaller organization.  This is the model for much of the innovation we see across the spectrum of business and technology.

Right now, centers using HBOT in the civilian sector are located in urban areas, near large teaching or research hospitals.  HBOT equipment can be costly and requires trained medical staff, but we need to compare that to the cost of a lifetime of expensive pharmaceuticals that in some cases, mask the source of the problem.

I’m not suggesting that HBOT Therapy is for every case because it isn’t.  But at the very least, I think we need to raise awareness of HBOT therapy as a possible mode of treatment for veterans who have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan with visible and invisible wounds. Don’t we owe them that?  If you agree, call your representatives and tell them.

As the founder of the National Veterans Foundation, I’ve been working with and advocating for vets since 1970.  Our counselors provide information and support to vets and their families.  If you know of a veteran who needs help, please pass along our number: 888.777.4443. 

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Shad Meshad

As a U.S. Army Medical Service Officer in Vietnam in 1970, Shad Meshad began pioneering treatment techniques for what would later become known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He is the founder of the National Veterans Foundation and founder and co-author of the VA’s Vet Center Program.

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