Expert: Treat to restore brain health – not just 'new normal' – for injured vets

Expert: Treat to restore brain health – not just 'new normal' – for injured vets

U.S. Marines fill out research consent forms before taking psychological tests in a program testing hundreds of Marines and soldiers before they ship out to search for clues that might help predict who is most susceptible to post-traumatic stress disorder. (AP File Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Expert: Treat to restore brain health – not just 'new normal' – for injured vets

Concussion, traumatic brain injury (TBI), and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in service members have been misdiagnosed and improperly treated for decades, according to a leading expert. Without treating the brain wound, he says, underlying damage will continue to precipitate, worsening symptoms in many who defend America.

Dr. Robert Beckman is co-founder and executive director of TreatNOW.org, an organization that has had success using hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) to treat concussion, TBI, and PTSD. The former Air Force KC-135 pilot and veteran of the Vietnam War acknowledges that service members are typically required to undergo a medical out-processing screening. However, as he tells American Family News, he has questions about those medical exams:

  • Are they adequate and through?
  • Are they performed by qualified and authorized personnel (i.e., neurologists, psychiatrists, physiatrists, and neurosurgeons)?
  • Do they reflect objective or subjective criteria?
  • Can you trust either the written records or the subjective recounting by the patient?

Unfortunately, Beckman explains, his experience tells him the out-processing medical exam does not accurately reflect the current state of brain health. "Service members hide their concussions, TBI, and PTSD while on active duty to avoid jeopardizing their careers," he shares. "They don't want the stigma of being a mental health casualty."

As a result, Beckman points out, many service members "claim their injuries, typically without records" as they near the end of a contract or plan for retirement. Others, he notes, may not realize the extent of damage they've experienced until a much later date.

"While all brain wounds are different," he explains, "they are similar in the aggregate, [meaning] brain wounds start a process of degeneration that could lead to down-the-road manifestation and/or eventual chronic traumatic encephalopathy [CTE], suicide, loss of control, and more."

Beckman argues service members must be encouraged to admit they are having problems. "Their future well-being, after they've served the country, is at stake," he laments.

Do something

Beckman explains that out-processing with a health physical "may or may not catch all that is involved with polytrauma [multiple injuries involving multiple organs or systems], particularly if there is a history of blast injury." An unclassified report [PDF] released by the Marine Corps in 2019 defines a blast overpressure (BOP) injury as an "injury caused by the effect of the blast wave on a body."

AFN recently reported on the plight of Javier Ortiz, a Marine Corps artilleryman who has suffered greatly as a result of fighting ISIS in Syria in 2017. Today, he still battles a fraudulent discharge, having been given drugs to mask his problems rather than treatment to cure his injuries.

In the case of combat-wounded service members like Ortiz, Beckman admits what almost always follows is a "long list of symptoms over time" that are typically controlled with drugs and talk therapy.

Beckman, Dr. Robert (TreatNOW) Beckman

"Never in the process – whether in Department of Defense, Veterans Affairs, or in private clinics or TRICARE – will the brain wound actually be treated to restore brain health," he adds. "[Instead] the default clinical practice guidelines for concussion, TBI, or PTSD is symptom palliation or reduction, [along with] various psychological interventions to get the wounded patient used to their new normal."

Beckman explains further: "The supposition here is that if brain damage is found, something must be done about it that actually helps heal the wounds and restores the patient to the physical normal state of health, not a new normal of degraded capability."

While he continues to have success using hyperbaric oxygen therapy to treat concussion, TBI, and PTSD, Beckman also encourages legislators to play their part in passing legislation with "teeth and accountability, calling for brain wound healing, not simply the masking of symptoms." Current bills on the table include Veterans National Traumatic Brain Injury Treatment Act (H.R.3649), TBI and PTSD Treatment Act (H.R.105), and HBOT Access Act of 2021 (S.2189).